Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, May 27, 2022

How the AEF Dealt with War Brides

Two AEF War Couples

It was reported in the 25 Jun 1919 New York Times article "War Brides Taught American Ways" that at least 10,000 soldiers had married in Europe.  Susan Ziegler in her work on these unions, Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century, puts the number at  closer to 5,000. In any case, it was an impressive number. 

Ziegler points out that it was an unanticipated phenomenon that the AEF leadership found perplexing as it began emerging even as hostilities were still underway:

For the leaders of the U.S. military effort in World War I, relations between U.S. soldiers and local women posed a largely unprecedented set of questions with military, diplomatic, and domestic implications.  AEF leaders were unprepared for the range of policy problem they were asked to face, from the licensure of brothels to the resolution of paternity disputes.  Marriage the most public and visible of these problems, was among the most vexing.  Many within the military establishment advocated a ban on soldier marriage overseas.  There wer many reasons to support marriage, however.  What proved to be most significant was pressure from Al;lied leaders, who were outraged by mounting evidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and fears for the future of young women abandoned by American "boyfriends."  General John Pershing, commander of the AEF, ultimately took a stand in favor of  marriage for U.S. troops under hi command created policies to facilitate inter-cultural marriage. . . [These were] the first foreign "war brides" recognized by the U.S. government.

US citizenship laws during the WWI era allowed foreign-born wives to become American citizens by marriage. So in addition to the demobilization of troops, AEF policies and procedures to transport "war brides" and their children to the USA were also implemented. New couples were required to complete the necessary paperwork to secure the bride's government-sponsored transport to America, leaving the genealogists and descendants a researchable treasure chest of documents.

While awaiting transport on vessels nicknamed Honeymoon or Bridal Ship, war brides were tutored in English, and schooled in the "American Way" at "bridal camps." France held popular seaport bridal camps in abandoned French barracks in Brest, Bordeaux, and St. Nazaire. Approximately 6,000 soldiers held Franco-American marriage licenses, to include 2,000 recorded marriages between Black soldiers and French women. These European camps, supported by the U.S. Army, U.S. State Department, and even the French government, were staffed by the American Red Cross, YMCA, and YWCA.

Brides of all nationalities, some as young as 14 years old, were transported on ships to America. Icelandic and British women reached France for transport. Italian girls Czechs, Serbians, Portuguese, Spanish, Norwegian, and Russian wives also arrived at the various European camps to await transport. Even German brides, who soldiers were forbidden to marry without an officer's permission, occupied bridal ships, especially during the Germany occupation (1919), when there was an increase in German-American marriages. 

The system established by General Pershing was in good part still viable when the Second World War came around.  After the war 45,000 new war brides came to America.

Sources:  The U.S. National Archives; Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century

1 comment:

  1. Excellent little recognized subject coverage.