It is estimated that between 12,000 and 15,000 Australian women married American servicemen during World War Two.

Some made a life in the USA, while others returned to Australia with or without their husbands in the years following the war. While public perception about war brides paints a narrow picture, it is clear that there are many different reasons why Australian women married American servicemen.

Caldwell Family Portrait. Reproduced courtesy Joe Caldwell

The much-used phrase “overpaid, over-sexed and over here” showed the growing resentment that many Australian men felt about Americans coming in and “taking their wives”. But the sheer number of American troops stationed in Australia during the Pacific campaign, at a time when many of Australia’s own young men were away fighting in Europe and the Middle East, meant that for many Australian women American men provided much needed company. As one Australian war bride remarked, ‘…those were the days when you really got fed up with all female company and you just longed for somebody to take you to dinner.’

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Australian National Maritime Museum Project

In 1991 the Australian National Maritime Museum conducted a series of oral history interviews with Australian war brides and their husbands.

The interviews were part of research done for an exhibition in the museum’s USA Gallery called “Operation War Bride”. It told the stories of Australian war brides, their experiences in Australia and America and the extraordinary tale of the bride ships that carried thousands of brides to their new home. The collection of oral history recordings is held in the museum’s library as a resource for future researchers.

This web exhibition makes some of this audio material available along with personal items generously lent or donated by many of the participants. While each bride tells a different story, many share common experiences such as language difficulties, homesickness and the long wait for passage to the USA. What these stories reveal is that the common stereotype of women who dated American GIs as “good time girls” is far from the full picture.

Resources

  • Campbell, Rosemary, Heroes & Lovers: A question of national identity, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1989
  • Dyson, Catherine, Swing By Sailor, Hachette Australia, Sydney, 2007
  • Fallows, Carol, Love & War: Stories of war brides from the Great War to Vietnam, Bantam Books, Milsons Point, NSW, 2002
  • Overseas War Brides Association, Overseas War Brides, Simon & Schuster (Australia), Roseville, 2001
  • Potts, Annette & E. Daniel Potts, Yanks Down Under 1941-45, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985
  • Potts, Annette & Lucinda Strauss, For the Love of a Soldier: Australian war brides and their GIs, ABC Enterprises, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Crows Nest, 1987
  • The “Operation War Bride” Oral History recordings are held at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Vaughan Evans Library

Oral history

  • Charlton, Thomas L., Lois E. Myers & Rebecca Sharpless, Thinking about Oral History: Theory and applications, Altamira Press, Lanham, MD, 2008-09-29
  • Frisch, Michael, A Shared Authority: Essays on the craft and meaning of oral and public history, SUNY Press, Albany, 1991
  • Green, Anna, ‘Returning Oral History to the Community: Oral History in the Museum Setting’, Oral History Review, vol. 24, no. 2, Winter 1997, pp. 53-72
  • Jones, Rebecca, ‘Blended Voices: Crafting a Narrative from Oral History Interviews’, Oral History Review, vol. 31, no. 1, January 2004, pp. 23-42
  • Perks, Robert & Alistair Thomson, The Oral History Reader, Routledge, New York, 1998
  • Shopes, Linda, ‘Commentary: Sharing Authority’, Oral History Review, vol. 30, no. 1, Winter –Spring 2003, pp. 101-110
  • Wilmsen, Carl, ‘For the Record: Reproduction of Meaning in Oral History’, Oral History Review, vol. 28, no. 1, Winter-Spring 2001, pp. 65-85

Exhibition staff

  • USA Gallery Curator Paul Hundley
  • “Operation War Bride” exhibition curator Penny Cuthbert
  • Oral history interviews conducted by Penny Cuthbert & Lucinda Strauss
  • ANMM Photographer Andrew Frolows
  • Web Development Manager Richella King
  • Web exhibition curator & text Mary-Elizabeth Andrews

Image: Banner image war brides on the SS Marine Falcon 1945 ANMM Collection Gift from Jan Smith.