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Monday 6 January 2014

G I Brides by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi

The ‘friendly invasion’ of Britain by over a million American G.I.s caused a sensation amongst a generation of young women deprived of male company during the Second World War. With their exotic accents, smart uniforms and aura of Hollywood glamour, the G.I.s soon had the local girls queuing up for a date, and the British boys off fighting abroad turning green with envy.
But American soldiers offered something even more tantalising than a ready supply of chocolate, chewing gum and nylon stockings. Becoming a G.I. bride provided an escape route from Blitz-ravaged Britain, an opportunity for a whole new life in America – a country that was more affluent, more modern and less class-ridden than home. 
Some 70,000 G.I. brides crossed the Atlantic at the end of the war to join the men who had captured their hearts – but the long voyage was just the beginning of a much bigger journey.
Once there, the women would have to adapt to a foreign culture and a new way of life thousands of miles away from family and friends, with a man they hardly knew out of uniform. Some struggled with the isolation of life in rural America, or found their heroic soldier was less appealing once he returned to Civvy Street. But most persevered, determined to turn their wartime romance into a lifelong love affair, and prove to those back home that it really was possible to have a Hollywood ending.

Back in August of last year, I read and reviewed The G I Bride by Iris Jones Simantel, this is Iris' own story about how she met and married her own GI and went over to America to start a new life with him. Not long after my review was published, I was contacted by Duncan Barrett who told me about his own book; G I Brides which was published by Harper Collins on 29 August 2013.   I read G I Brides over the Christmas break, and have enjoyed this story so much.

This book concentrates on four young English women; Gwendolyn, Rae, Margaret and Sylvia, just four amongst the thousands that left Britain at the end of World War II to follow their new husbands home to the United States.  The authors have carried out many many interviews and have put together a wonderfully informative, entertaining and poignant look at what life was really like for these women.  Duncan Barrett's co-author; Nuala Calvi is the granddaughter of Margaret, which just makes her particular story even more compelling.

Life in the United States wasn't easy for any of the four women.  They were all young, fairly inexperienced and found themselves in 'the land of plenty' after living through the tough war years, on meagre rations, dodging the bombs and generally living life from day to day.  Arriving in American after what was often a horrendous journey across the ocean was not always the beginning of a dream life for them, in fact it is fair to say that a couple of these brave women actually found themselves in a living nightmare for a time.

Racial inequality, language differences, hostile parents in law, gambling, alcoholism, pregnancies, the weather, personal illness .. the list goes on and on.  Despite the almost never-ending problems and some extremely challenging times, these women pulled themselves through it all and made lives for themselves that were fulfilling and productive.

This is not all 'happy ever after', this is real life, real women and real hardship.  What it is though is a uplifting book filled with stories that show the strength of these four incredible women.   It is essential that stories like these are recorded as sadly it won't be long until there are no living memories still with us.

I enjoyed every page of this touching book, it is well-written with warmth and at times, humour.

For more information about the book, and the women visit the dedicated website and visit the Facebook page and Twitter @gibrides

My thanks to Duncan Barrett and Virginia from Harper Non-Fiction who sent my copy for review.

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