Resident and War Bride Reunite after 55 Years
by Corina Miller, Staff Writer for "The Colony Courier Leader"
As told by Joan Stubbs & Bill Longo
Bill Longo and Joan Stubbs shared a historic nine-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean. But it wasn’t until
recently, 55 years after their voyage that the two finally connected.
Longo, a resident of The Colony and a World War II merchant marine, opened his email one day to find a note
from Stubbs. In her note, she told Longo she was an English war bride who came to the United States in February 1946 on the T.E.S. Argentina, the same ship that Longo , then a merchant marine, was assigned to. As they conversed,
they discovered they’d been on the same trip, which was the first such operation ordered by the U.S. Government.
"I really enjoyed hearing from her," Longo said. "I thought it was amazing that after 55 years, something came
out of my past."
Stubbs started searching for other war brides approximately five years ago, hoping to collect their stories in
commemoration of the 50 anniversary of their arrival. Her searching led her to another war bride who also came to the United States via the Argentina. She then referred Stubbs to Longo, who had previously sent her information
regarding the ship.
Stubbs then contacted Longo. And once the two connected they began reminiscing and recalling the historic
journey that brought Stubbs and 455 other war brides to American shores via the T.E.S. Argentina. They also found they shared the same historic trip that brought nearly 500 war brides to the United States.
"It’s wonderful to reminisce," Longo said. "She was excited to find somebody with information about the ship."
Longo joined the Merchant Marine in the late 1944. Then in 1946 some months after peace had been declared, the
U.S. Government began to focus on bringing eager American troops home from foreign shores.
The crew of the T.E.S. Argentina was preparing to journey to France to pick up U.S. troops. But at the
last moment, they were ordered to sail for Southampton, England where they would pick up English women who had married American G.I.s during the war and bring them to New York City.
“Some of the G.I.s were upset that we were being told to pick up war brides,” Longo recalled.
According to an article published in "Life Magazine" of February 18th, 1946, the Argentina carried
456 wives and 170 babies of U.S. soldiers. Stubbs, who now resides in Virginia, recalls the mixed emotions she felt while waiting to board the T.E.S. Argentina.
She recalls feeling "anxious and excited in seeing my husband and his family who I had been writing to since
we first met." But she was also "sad at the thought of leaving my family." But the idea of making a life in the United States hardly frightened her.
"I had a good idea of what to expect life in the U.S. would be through Red Cross meetings for brides,
magazines and family letters, and of course, movie," she said.
Stubbs recalls spending a week prior to the nine-day trip on the Argentina at Tidworth Army base, where war
brides received physicals, lectures on U.S. life and travel instructions. The passengers were advised they were allowed 200 pounds of luggage.
Passengers boarded the Argentina at Southampton on the afternoon of January 26, 1946, and sailed at
approximately 4:30 p.m.
“We were kept busy with the first view of the ship which looked huge,” Stubbs said. “As the ship pulled away
from the shore at 4:30 p.m. we had no idea what was in store for the next 9 days. Our thoughts were many---happy and sad, a new life ahead of us. We lined the rails. Some sang "There'll always be an England." Many a tear was
shed. No one knew when they would see England or their families again.”
To relieve their loneliness, passengers turned to one another and wrote many letters home. The nine-day
journey was difficult for some of the passengers, as some fought motion sickness.
Still, according to "Life Magazine" article, the wives occupied their time and minds through activities such
as baby contest and a variety show of sorts dubbed "Argentina Antics."
And each prepared herself for the new life that laid ahead in her own way. One bride who married a southerner
spent time practicing a Southern accent, the article said. Many of Stubbs memories surround the storm they encountered three days after leaving England, a storm so fierce that, according to "Life," tossed the Argentina
about the seas so roughly that a baby was thrown from his crib and incurred a slight head injury. The winter storm forced the Queen Mary which was carrying war brides and troops to New York to turn back.
Longo also remembers the storm very clearly. On the way over to England, Longo had a fellow Wiper who kept
talking about hitting a mine, he reminded Longo about the many mines that still lay beneath the sea. Longo's quarters had two leaking portholes, but lulled by the rocking of the ship, fell asleep.
When the storm came it hit with such force that it tossed the ship up and down. The Argentina’s bow
came way out of the water and slammed down with such force that it tossed Longo out of his top bunk. When he landed on the deck it was full of water that had came through the portholes while he slept. "I had been dreaming
that we hit a mine and the water was all I needed to grab my life jacket and head amidships at a fast clip. Someone stopped me and wanted to know where I was going. I told him we hit a mine. He said a few choice words and said it
was just the storm."
Six days later after the storm, coated in ice and a tug boat strike, the Argentina docked in New York
City, Pier 54 Hudson River. Stubbs was mistakenly sent to the Red Cross Center in New York. She met her husband’s aunt there and saw the Rockettes. Later, she boarded a train and reunited with her husband. They lived with his
family for a year then got an apartment. Longo believes stories such as Stubbs deserve to be told.
"I told her maybe Hollywood will call if the story’s good." He said with a smile.
Joan’s Story - Part 2
"As Paul Harvey would say, "Now for the rest of the story."
A week ago, I found myself writing an article about a local man, a former merchant marine, meeting up with one
of the 456 war brides he and his crewmates transported from Britain to the United States in January 1946.
I thought Joan Stubbs' story was pretty interesting ... a young British women leaving her country and family
behind to build a life with her new American husband. But after opening the package I found in my mailbox Saturday morning that Joan had sent, I thought it was a great story.
Joan Stubbs' story began in the fall of 1942 when she met a young airman named Walter. The two met at
Fred’s Café in the British village of Bourne End. They met again at a wedding reception. And as time went by, the couple fell in love and married on September 2, 1944.
Walter was sent back to the States a year later. And six months later Stubbs began the journey that would take
her to Walter’s side. The process started when Stubbs received a letter requesting she present herself at the U.S. Embassy, where she would be interviewed and provided with documents that would get her to the United States.
A letter told her to report to Waterloo Railroad Station on January 17, 1946. But three days later she
received a second letter that told her to instead report on January 22, 1946.
Stubbs spent the last day at her parents' home celebrating Walter’s birthday, fully realizing what the next
day would bring.
"I decided to take a last trip around the village and visit the old church, the watercress farm, and Winkwell,
where the 15th Century pub, The Three Horseshoes, (was) so beautifully located on the Grand Union Canal," she wrote. "I will miss the British countryside."
Then the day that began her journey to the United States arrived. After an early breakfast with her parents,
she boarded a train with approximately 400 war brides and waved goodbye them as the train made its way to an army base at Perham Down in Andover.
The next day began a week long schedule of orientation, finger printing, luggage checks, a physical and money
"The days were busy with talks of what to expect in our new country, naturalization and so forth,” Stubbs
recalled. "We were able to take showers with no water restrictions. During the war our baths were only allowed five inches of water in the tub. The trip to the PX was special and we bought things we had not seen during the war
years or had been rationed, like soap and chocolate."
The brides rose early on January 26, 1946, the day they caught a train that took them to Southampton, where
they would board the T.E.S. Argentina. A sense of excitement mingled with strains of sadness filled the air.
"We all lined the rail and tears were shed," Stubb recalled.
But soon, Stubbs and other war brides forged new friendships with one another. And it turned out the journey
was pleasant, as they were aboard a ship that had once been a luxury liner. Stubbs and many others, that is those who were not seasick, enjoyed strolling on the deck, and socializing with one another. And keeping them company
was a team from Life Magazine, producing an article and photos that would document the wives journey. Stubbs appeared in the article, which ran February 18th, 1946.
"While walking the corridors, we had to hold a handrail. The outside decks were awash with the seas that we
were plowing through. The crossing was beginning to get rough, even though it was said the (Captain) had gone of course some 500 miles to avoid worst weather."
Most of the brides got seasick. But Stubbs held on and nursed others who were ill.
The following day, Stubbs and the others were told to radio their husbands and tell them not to met them in
New York, as they would not be able to travel together. So although disappointed, Stubbs planned on meeting Walter in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Argentina arrived in American water on February 4, 1946.
"Up at 2:45 a.m., we had to see it all," Stubbs wrote. “We lined the rails to see the Statue of Liberty at 5
a.m. It was alight and such a wonderful sight to see in the early hours after so many years of blackout.”
After the ship docked, Stubbs was sent to the Red Cross Center, where she was told Walter awaited her. But
when she arrived, she found there had been a mix-up. So she called some of Walter’s relatives, and together they saw the sights of New York and arrange for Stubbs to fly to Norfolk the next day.
But a snowstorm in Washington D.C. interfered. A disappointed Stubbs was told to take a train to Norfolk where
Walter’s family lived. After hours on a crowed, over-heated train, she arrived at a ferryboat that would take her to Norfolk. But still no Walter.
She then called him, and he said he was getting ready to come meet her. And as she waited for Walter to arrive
she found another surprise.
"When he arrived, he did not see me at first, and found me sitting on a bench marked ‘Colored’ in the baggage
room. This was when everything was marked colored or white, and the colored people had to sit in the back of the bus, something I though very strange."
So Stubbs was joyfully reunited with Walter. After six months of separated by an ocean, nine days at sea, a
terrible storm, a day in New York City, hours on a train.
But when it was all said and done, Stubbs' journey to the United States was actually the start of a journey
that would take a happy couple through a wonderful lifetime together.