Authors: June Tate
For two terrific women.
My daughters, Beverley and Maxine
Thanks to copy-editor, Sandy Draper, for sorting the wheat from the chaff. Great job!
27th January 1946
Gracie Rider, née Brown, stood waiting at the rail of the SS
, a grey-painted American ship sailing for New York, carrying the first GI brides to their new homeland. The weather was cold and wet. The drizzle did nothing to cheer those who searched for familiar faces standing huddled on the quayside. There were only about a hundred people as the families had been advised to stay away, but Gracie had seen her parents, standing, waving, her mother wiping tears and her father trying to look cheerful.
The small crowd were singing
There’ll Always Be an England
. Passengers shouted back, ‘We won’t forget you!’ Gracie’s own tears trickled slowly down her cheeks, as she waved furiously as the ship slowly pulled away from the dockside. She waited until there was nothing but water to be seen and walked slowly away.
It had been a very long day. Before dawn, buses had arrived at the barracks at Tidworth Camp to start loading their human cargo for the drive to the ship. Then on board there had been an allocation of cabins. Hers was to accommodate up to twelve people. The bunks were in two
tiers and every other bunk was folded up, but there was little room between them to move.
The women chatted as they tried to sort themselves out. Some had got to know one another at Tidworth Camp, so there was a sort of camaraderie among them, which helped the situation along.
The first meal on board was a luxury with food not seen during the austere days of rationing, and this went some way to cheer the women who were facing such a dramatic change to their lives. Roast beef was devoured with great enthusiasm and the pudding with ice cream savoured slowly, but many found it was too much too soon and were unable to eat all that was put before them. Such rich food had been off their table for too long.
After dinner, Gracie and Valerie Johnson, another war bride whom Gracie had befriended in the camp, put on their coats and walked on the decks to get some fresh air. It was cold and dark with just the deck lights giving any illumination. The sea beyond looked black and the sky was devoid of a moon. It was an alien environment. Soon they found their way inside and to comfortable chairs in a public area. There they sat down, pleased to be in the warm. The smell of new paint lingered on the air.
Taking out a packet of Craven A, Gracie offered one to Valerie. They puffed on the nicotine eagerly to help settle the nervous tension both were feeling.
‘Well, we really are on our way!’ Gracie eventually said. ‘I can’t believe it, can you?’
Her companion shook her head. ‘No, it seems unreal to be honest, as if it’s happening to someone else and I am a part of it whether I like it or not.’
‘Is your husband meeting you in New York when we dock?’ Gracie asked.
‘Yes. He lives in New York, so we don’t have a long journey. You?’
‘Yes, Jeff said he’d be there. We have to go to Denver in Colorado, wherever that is. I’ve looked it up on the map, but America looks so vast against the map of Great Britain and I just can’t visualise it at all. To be honest it scares me to death. We are staying with his family until we find a place of our own and I can’t say I’m looking forward to that. What if they don’t like me?’
‘Or you don’t like them!’
‘Oh my God! I never thought of that!’
‘Fortunately Ross has found us an apartment so I don’t have that problem,’ Valerie told her. ‘But of course I’ll still have to meet his family.’
‘What’s Ross’s job in civilian life?’
‘He works for his father who has a law practice.’
Gracie wasn’t surprised. From the beginning she’d assumed by Valerie’s demeanour that she was well educated and from a moneyed family, unlike her, but it hadn’t stopped them from becoming friends.
‘What does your husband do for a living?’ Gracie was asked.
‘He’s a salesman, but I’ve no idea what he sells.’
She frowned and thought,
I don’t really know much about the man I married at all!
During the heady days of their courtship it didn’t seem to matter but now the future with him loomed and she was scared. She hadn’t seen Jeff for six months and, although he’d written regularly, she was nervous about meeting him again.
Would he seem a stranger? She rose to her feet, needing to be alone with her thoughts.
‘I’ll see you later,’ she told her friend and walked through the door leading once again to the deck and solitude.
Jeff Rider had come to Gracie’s rescue at a dance held by the Red Cross to introduce the American GIs to some of the local residents. One of the soldiers, somewhat the worse for drink, had been hassling her for a dance and was becoming a nuisance when she declined. He’d grabbed her by the arm, but Jeff had stepped in and pushed him away.
‘Take off buddy, she’s with me,’ and he’d led her on to the dance floor.
Gracie thanked him profusely.
As he took her into his arms, he smiled and said, ‘Well I couldn’t see a damsel in distress and not come to her rescue could I?’
After that, they had spent the rest of the evening together.
The dance was well attended by the young women of the town who were intrigued by the soldiers who seemed far more exciting than the local boys. They were brash in comparison, full of confidence … exciting and generous. Chocolate and nylon stockings were on offer, but in many cases, the prize came with a price. Sex was not something a decent girl was prepared to pay for such a return, but there were those who were happy to accept. Jeff hadn’t been like that. He’d bought her a drink and treated her with respect and so they’d started to meet regularly.
Gracie leant back against the bulkhead and closed her eyes, remembering how it felt to be in his arms and feel his mouth on hers. He’d been so much more experienced than
the young men she’d dated before. He hadn’t rushed her and took his time before his caresses became more intimate, making her aware, as never before, of her own sexuality. It had been a revelation – and eventually he’d had a weekend pass.
They had been to the cinema and as he walked her home, holding her hand, he stopped and drew her into a shop doorway, held her close, kissed her longingly, then spoke.
‘Gracie honey, I’ve got a weekend pass,’ he said softly.
‘How lovely! How are you going to spend it?’
She could see his face in the light of the moon. He stared into her eyes and hesitated for just a moment. ‘I would love to take you to Bournemouth, book into a hotel and spend the whole time with you.’
She was taken aback. ‘You mean you want me to sleep with you?’
He smiled, amused by her shocked expression. ‘Is that such a bad idea? You must know how I feel about you by now.’
But she didn’t. He’d been attentive, loving, but that was all. Now this! She’d had several boyfriends and almost got engaged to one, but she’d never been intimate with any of them. But Jeff – Jeff had made her feel like a woman, not a girl. She was twenty years old and a virgin! She knew that a few of her friends had slept with their boyfriends but she had never allowed herself to be persuaded, although several had tried. She was now confused because she knew she wanted to go with him. Be with him, to know what it was like to be made love to.
He caressed her cheek. ‘I’ve fallen in love with you, Gracie and I want to show you how much I love you. Please
say you’ll come with me. We can leave on Saturday morning and return early on Monday morning.’
She thought quickly. She could tell her parents she was going to stay with her friend Betty, another clerk who worked in the same office. It wasn’t unusual. The two girls often stayed at each other’s houses. She gazed into the eyes of her boyfriend and saw the longing mirrored in them. At the same time her body betrayed her with its message.
‘Yes, all right, I’ll come,’ she said.
It had been so easy. Her parents didn’t question her when she told them she’d be at Betty’s for the weekend and would go straight to work from there. Jeff had promised they’d catch a train in time for her to get to her office on Monday morning.
‘It’ll give us an extra day together,’ he told her, ‘and I don’t have to report back until noon.’
On Friday night, she’d packed a small overnight bag, with some trepidation. As she lay in bed alone that night, she tried to envisage how it would be when she was sharing a bed with Jeff. Although she was extremely nervous, she was also excited. However, she didn’t know what was expected of her. Would he be disappointed with her lack of experience? How dreadful that would be! She now began to wish she’d said no!
Jeff was waiting outside the train station for her. He took her case, kissed her and ushered her inside where he bought two return tickets to Bournemouth. As the train drew in, they boarded and were able to find two seats together in a crowded carriage where they settled by the window.
After placing their cases on the overhead rack, Jeff sat down and put an arm around her shoulders. ‘You OK, honey?’
She smiled and nodded, trying to ignore a few hostile glances from one or two of their travelling companions. Not everyone had welcomed the arrival of the American troops in the town. ‘Overpaid, oversexed and over here!’ was the well-known cry from many. In particular from the British troops, who were not as well paid as the Americans, whose uniforms were not made of such fine material and who resented the fact that the GIs were more popular with the females of the town. Elderly female citizens were appalled at the behaviour of some of the girls who were seen with them, many of who were prostitutes that had swarmed into Southampton where business was brisk.
When the train arrived at Bournemouth, they took a taxi to the hotel, left their cases at the reception, as their room wasn’t ready, and went in search of coffee and breakfast.
Once settled in a nice café, they ordered a meal and poured the coffee when it was served. Jeff reached across the table and took Gracie’s hand.
‘I can hardly wait to get you alone,’ he said quietly.
Gracie felt the colour flush her cheeks. ‘Shh!’ she exclaimed.
‘Don’t be embarrassed,’ he said, ‘you have no idea how much I’ve longed for this moment. To be able to hold you, love you.’
Gracie looked round quickly to see if anyone had heard him, but the other diners were far too busy to be interested.
‘Please, Jeff, not here,’ she pleaded.
He laughed at her discomfort. ‘You look so guilty, darling. Don’t be. We are going to have a great time.’
Fortunately the waitress served them, which stopped any further conversation.
After the meal, they walked around the shops, looking in the windows before making their way to the promenade, where they sat looking out over the sea.
‘This couldn’t be more different from my home in Denver, where I live. It’s at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. There are lakes, of course, and beautiful scenery like you wouldn’t believe. Everything seems so much smaller here in England. Quaint even. The folk are more conservative, but then they’ve really suffered during the Blitz. We in the States have been lucky, except for Pearl Harbour, of course.’
As he told her about his home and country, Gracie couldn’t help but think it sounded like a different world altogether. Then they made their way to the hotel.
Jeff had signed the register on their arrival and so, after picking up the key to their room, he took her into the bar for a drink. As he passed her a gin and tonic, he smiled at her.
‘For goodness’ sake Gracie honey, relax! You’re not going to the electric chair you know!’
She suddenly started laughing. ‘Oh dear, does it show that much?’
‘Yes it does. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to you know. If you just want to lie in my arms, that’s fine. I’ve never forced any woman against her wishes and I don’t intend to start now.’ He squeezed her hand. ‘Besides I want you to enjoy yourself, understand?’
She felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. ‘Yes, I do understand but you must realise this is new to me. Does that surprise you?’
‘Not at all, darling, I know you’re a good girl. Why do you think I love you so much?’
‘Do you really?’ She frowned waiting for an answer.
‘Enough to take you home now, if that’s what you want.’
‘You’d do that?’
‘Of course. Do you want to stay or go?’
Suddenly everything felt right. ‘No I want to stay … very much.’
‘Great, then drink up.’
They sat at the bar chatting and after her third drink, Gracie felt relaxed and a little tipsy. When they left the bar and took the lift to their room, any inhibition she’d had seemed to fade as Jeff took her into his arms, rained kisses on her and slowly undid the buttons on her dress. She was completely carried away with it all and when he too undressed and led her to the bed, she went willingly.
Jeff, knowing of her innocence, was gentle. He held her, kissed her and caressed her until she was filled with longing for him, surprised by her own wanton behaviour.
His mouth took her nipple, gently raking his teeth on it, making her squirm with excitement and when his kisses covered her stomach, then her thighs, she thought she would die with longing and eagerly spread her legs for him arching her back as he slowly entered her. As she lost her virginity, she cried out in ecstasy, winding her legs around him, tossing her head on her pillow as he increased his pace. She had never known the feelings that were flooding through her body and she was carried away on waves of sexual pleasure.
Jeff lay on top of her completely exhausted. Gracie beneath him was silent; her eyes closed hardly believing what had taken place but having loved every moment.
‘Oh, Jeff,’ she sighed.
‘You all right honey?’ he murmured as he slid off her, holding her in his arms. ‘I didn’t hurt you did I?’
She didn’t answer, just kissed him, her mouth lingering on his.
He chuckled softly. ‘Mm, that good was it?’
‘It was wonderful! I had no idea sex was anything like that.’
‘Oh Gracie, you are quite a surprise,’ he whispered and kissed her slowly and gently.