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Group History

War Brides





by Doreen Shears


I was actually an “After the War” Bride. My home of Exeter, in Devonshire County, is a beautiful city in the southwest of England – about 50 miles form Plymouth. During the years of WWII we endured 19 air raids. The most devastating raid came on the night of May 3rd, 1942. It was a full moon and we had listened to our radio about a week before, when “Lord Haw Haw” – the German equivalent of “Toyko Rose”, announced that Exeter was the next target. Everyone had air raid shelters – either in their back gardens or as we had an indoor type that looked like a big steel table with a set of springs under to lie on. My parents and I spent part of many nights there, but on this particular night, bedroom got a direct hit with an incendiary bomb – otherwise the rest of the house was spared, as were we. That night 40 planes dropped 75 tonnes (metric spelling) of bombs, 160 high explosive and 10,000 incendiary and parachute mines. The raid destroyed 30 acres of the inner city and most of the principal shopping area. According to statistics 265 people were killed and over a thousand injured. I worked downtown in an office in the daytime, and my friend and I were secretly hoping the ‘old building’ would be reduced to a pile of ashes. Several days later we gals picked our way over piles of rubble and past burning buildings to find that while half the entire street was gone. “IT” was still standing. An announcement on the German radio said. “We have chosen as targets the most beautiful cities in England. Exeter was jewel. We have destroyed it !” the raid was to be in retaliation for an RAF raid on Lubeck. (Hilter’s orders)

In 1943 on the outskirts of Exeter the Americans were starting to build a large Supply Base for the “SeeBees” in preparation for the invasion. All we knew was that our City suddenly seemed to be overflowing with US Sailors. Some of the British males didn’t appreciate this but most of the females thought it was O.K.

The churches all had coffee and donuts on Sunday evenings for all the Service men or women and it was at one of these in the winter of 1943 that I became aquatinted with the Sailor who later became my husband – Leonard. He was stationed in Exeter until Sept. 1943 when he returned to the US and back home to West Virginia. I was engaged to a British Marine (childhood sweetheart) at the time, but later received a “Dear Jane” letter after he was stationed in Alexandria, Egypt. Leonard and I continued to correspond and on May 1947, I came to the US to be married.

Another local girl that I knew was also coming out to marry a buddy of Leonard. We were too impatient to wait for our names to come up a “Ship Quota” list, so booked up in an American Airlines plane to New York. It took us 18 hours with stops at Shannon, Ireland and Newfoundland. The boy-friends met us at LaGuardia – in civilian clothes this time ! In later years I realized how very hard it must have been for my parents (I was an only child) to say good-bye to me, but at age 20, for me life was a big adventure. After we were married, Leonard and I built a home in Belpre, Ohio. We were blessed with 35 good years together. He died in January 1982 and in 1993 I sold my house and brought a smaller one.