War Brides: The Queen Mary Transports WW II Brides

War Brides and Soldiers Transported via 
Cunard Queen Mary during WWII

Cunard is Celebrating 175 years of service
Crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary is a wonderful alternative to 10 hours in a plane and on some crossings, can be well priced even for a solo passenger.
On a crossing last fall I steeled myself to sit at a table with 9 strangers only to find this crossing offered several very interesting dinner companions.  
H. T. was quiet at first but later had amazing stories to tell about the QE
And you NEVER know how interesting a stranger may be unless you speak with them.  H. T. appeared quiet and one evening mentioned to the group that his mother had crossed the Atlantic with Cunard on a war brides ship!   I had not heard of this before and was fascinated.   

I found out later in a conversation with H. T. that he only sails on Cunard and I found he is a Cunard armature historian.  

There is a exhibit on deck 2 Forward, that describes how Cunard’s ships assisted during WWII and the story of transporting war brides and their children to the USA and Canada.

   After some additional  research I discovered a great deal has been written about the transportation of war Brides in 1946 to the USA and Canada and the role Cunard Ships played in the WWII.

I interviewed H. T. on the ship and later he shared more stories via email.  Stories he remembers about his mothers’ first crossing on the QM and also others he took with her.   I realized that story about Joan was far more interesting.

This is a lovey story that was shared with me:

My mom’s name was Kathleen Joan Horton, nee Hatherley.  She was always called Joan by the family.  I 

remember as a kid,  friends from (her) work called her Kathy,   I thought it so strange.   Dad was Carl R 

Horton.    He was a waist gunner on a B17 and  flew 50 missions.”   Stationed in the UK, “he saw her at a 

canteen for the GI’s, arranged an introduction and they were engaged 3 weeks later.   They were married in 

Halesworth (UK) on January 29th, 1944.”   It must have been love at first site since their union lasted 50 years

“When dating, my mother teased my father to take her to an eating place she liked very much, called Bobbie’s.  From then on, dad always called her “Bob.”  Cards, gifts were always addressed:  “To Bob,  From Carl.”  Years later, my cousin Lesley would always call her “Aunt Bob.”

Joan on her wedding day

First Night in a bomb shelter:  “Friends and neighbors pitched in to see that my parents had a real wedding cake.  There was strict rationing, for example, each person was allowed only one egg a month.  It was a small cake but it was very tasty.  
I did not recall where they were going for a honeymoon, but they spent their wedding night in a bomb shelter as German bombers were passing over on their way to bomb London.

The Best Man:   “Dad wanted his cousin, Harold Ballard, to be best man at the wedding but Harold, who was stationed in Northern Ireland, could not get leave.  Harold did visit later.  It took him almost 24 hours to get to Ispwich (near Halesworth)  because of all the train connections and also because the trains were so full,  
He had to stand all the way.  Right after he got to bed, another raid heading for  London appeared and he spent that night also in a bomb shelter. 

Harold did get to do  the toast at my parents 50th wedding anniversary party.  I remember the big laugh he got when he delivered  the line:  “You know, 50 years is a long, long time to be married to the same woman!”

H.T. told me her friends pooled their ration card to make a cake for her special day

Exact records of passengers on each ship may be traceable if family members have documentation on the date of departure and or arrival.   H. T. shared information from his file:  ‘Trip to America 1946’.

The exact departure date for Joan’s trip to her new home may not be documented but H. T. has a copy of ‘her orders to go to the ‘reception center’ on January 28th, 1946.   She was to depart her hometown, Halesworth at 9:54 am and arrive in London at 1:35pm- sailing date (was) was not included at that time”.    “Joan remembered the day the ship was to sail, the band on shore was playing “There Will Always Be An England”, so lots of tears and sad feelings and mixed emotions”  For some unknown reason the ship did not sail until the next day.

There is also a telegram sent to Mr. Horton in Rochester, NY informing him of the orders and a copy of the telegram Joan sent her sister is dated Feb 7th, 1946 from the Queen Mary.

In that letter Joan talks glowingly about “the wonderful food to include roast duckling, plum pudding, ice cream, coffee, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, chocolate, an egg every morning and (Joan) think the Queen Mary must be a magical name to have all the good stuff on board”.  “The ship is traveling slower because there are lots of children on board.  Joan is somewhat seasick but not real bad”.

After years of rationing during the war, the variety and quantity of food on the ship must have been overwhelming.    From other documents ‘archived’ by Joan, H. T. knows what the on board daily program for the dates of  February 7, 8 and 9th (1946).

H.T. believes this sailing of the Queen Mary was the first to transport war brides.  The ship would have arrived on February 10,1946.  (passengers stayed overnight on the ship)  Cunard arranged for passengers to be met and assisted on their onward journey.  Sadly I read in other stories that some ‘brides’ were never met at the dock and were required to return to England.  Transportation was supplied by Cunard.

Joan departed NYC on February 11, 1946 for Rochester, NY where about 30 members of her new extended family awaited her arrival.    How strange it must have been to arrive in a ‘foreign’ country and begin a new life.   Even the language was different although still a version of English.

Even at the late arrival time in Rochester, Joan and Carl drove the 90 minutes to Penn Yan to see the new farm that would be their new home.    From city/village life in Halesworth to farming.   Another challenge for Joan.   H. T. tells me that “as a child Joan was afraid of everything:  trains, cars, strangers.  So for her to marry an American and leave home was really so out of character for her.”
Now she was living on a farm,” learning to tend berries, grapes, cows, chickens and grains.”

I am trying to recall what I have read about rural life in the USA during the 40’s.   The family farm was a way of life and livelihood outside the cities.

Joan did not know how to cook when she arrived to start her new life!    So the pie story that H. T. shared with me is poignant.   On the farm, she was cooking  for my father, and many times my grandfather
and uncle who owned the adjoining farm. My father was a tease,  One time she baked a pie and he (Dad) complained the crust was “too flaky” which sent her off to the bedroom in tears.  This story was often repeated through the years, my mother use to laugh at how innocent and naive she really was in the early days in this country”

Another story is about Aunt Norma::

.I would also like to mention my dad’s sister, my Aunt Norma.  The whole family did welcome my mother into the family (not all war brides were so lucky)  but Aunt Norma took a special interest and really looked out for my mother. 

Mom was soon pregnant with me after she arrived here and very sick,  Aunt Norma would take her to the doctor, whose office was up a flight of stairs.  One visit, at the sight of a blood pressure cuff coming her way, mom passed out.  Doctor says to Aunt Norma “Well, as long as she is going to be like that, I might as well do everything I have to do while she is out.” 

“Going back down the stairs to street, Aunt Norma asks mom if she is all right, the reply was yes, but 

out she went again at the bottom of the stairs.  Despite the constant morning sickness  and problems keeping 
food down, I was born a happy,healthy baby, pink and rosy at birth.”  

When farming no longer prosperous, Joan worked in a factory for 10 years,   She learned to drive.  She ran and completely manged a summer restaurant, Terry’s Drive In, on Keuka Lake for 17 years!

In August 1952 and again in the summer of 1962.   Joan and H.T. traveled again on the Queen Mary for a return visit to Joan’s family.  The 1952 sailing was only one way.  Joan went back to work at the Halesworth post office to earn the fare home, dad sent money too.  

“Mom (Joan) was feted and made a big fuss of by her friends and was really given the royal treatment, so much so, that she told her family she would stay in England.    Nana said ‘absolutly not’.  Mom was told by her mother that if she stayed, she would soon be one of the group again and the special treatment would go away, but more importantly:  HT was an American and deserved to be brought up in the Sates”

On their 50th anniversary………….and it all started at a GI canteen

“So we returned (to the USA).  Dad had a Christmas tree and gifts when we arrived back in February”  “My mom became a naturalized citizen in 1953.”

“Although my mother’s English accent faded thru the years, a stranger would always notice it and ask where she was from.   However, on the telephone, the accent came back in full force- in  a very formal, brisk,  proper ton.e.  That phone accent always took me by surprise.”   

All the photos of war brides were taken from the exhibit on QM II
and are the property of Cunard

Just as the ship I was on arrived in NYC harbor, in 1946 a newspaper article in the Times Union Albany NY announced “Queen Mary brings war brides into New York Harbor” with 1,719 war brides and 615 children on board.   click here for article

There are web sites, membership groups for wives and dependents as well as a number of books describing the voyages and the hardships many of the wives faced arriving in a new country, meeting a family she did not know and not having the means to return to her own family for a visit.

According to Lynda Bradford, a participant in the Cunard Forum dated August 15, 2014 there is a WWII War Brides Association.  “This group estimate that as many as 1 million women from 50 countries married Americans between 1942 and 1952.

“Transportation of the may war brides was not the only war service the Cunard ships participated in.
On the web site for World War II Troop Ships, details the first time the Queen Mary transported 8,398  American troops from Boston to Sydney, Australia.  On May 5-11, 1043 Winston Churchill traveled to NYC to meet with President Roosevelt.  Also aboard were 5,00 German prisoners of war.

Between February 3 and May 19, 1946 12,886 European brides and children were transported in six voyages.  May 23 to Sept 18, 1946 another seven voyages brought brides and children to Canada, along with 10 stowaways.”

Published by Lee Laurino

A traveler not a tourist, searching for experiences not in travel books. Solo traveler who travels as long and far as possible sharing photos of the people and places I discover

4 thoughts on “War Brides: The Queen Mary Transports WW II Brides

  1. I agree, at first it was just a story on WWII war brides but it really was a story about Joan….I am hoping to get permission to write about her friend Betty. I keep wondering what happened to the brides who were 'returned' to the UK…..thank you for finding my blog! and reading it….read your profile and you have an exciting life!


  2. What an interesting story. Was this transport on the Queen Mary that is now in Long Beach? Is the exhibit on board the ship? By coincidence, I just read and helped edit a memoir written by a woman who was a war bride and made the crossing by air. It sounded like a dreadful trip.


  3. so glad you found the story, yes i believe it is the ship that is now an hotel, the may who shared this story know all the details, i was only taking the ship to return to the USA rather than fly.Joan had a good friend who is now in a nursing home and i have asked through intermediaries if she would share her story…..are you able to share the title of the book you edited? it may have some leads to a follow up piece I would like to do on the brides that were never met when the ship docked. they were sent BACK to the UK…. cant imagine how horrible that might have been. thanks so mch for sharing


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