We have detected that you are using an older version of Internet Explorer and to have access to all the features on this site, you will need to update your browser to Internet Explorer 8. Alternatively, download Mozilla Firefox or Chrome.

Western FrontOctober 1943

GI Bride from Oxford

Tess Stevens
Married to an American serviceman 15 years older than her, she discovered that life in America was not the dream she had hoped.

Tess Steven's words are read by Poppy Gillespie

Testimony Transcript

Laurence Rees: When the Americans arrived in Britain during WW2, Tess Stevens was 16 years old and working for AC Neilson in Oxford. And the arrival of the Americans certainly made an impression on her.

Words of Tess Stevens: Overpaid, oversexed and over here. I think that was what it was. Something like that. They were friendly naturally and ready to mix and have a good time.Their uniforms - compared to the English uniforms - they were like officers uniforms. And they had money, and the poor old Pommies didn’t have any money.

Laurence Rees: Tess loved to dance – and so did the Americans.

Words of Tess Stevens: There’s a dance hall up in old Heddington and I lived like just around the corner from it, I don’t know how much it costs now, maybe 6 pence or a shilling to get in, something like that. I danced every night. Every night except Saturday, no every night except Sunday, and then I’d go visit my mother and take my laundry.

Laurence Rees: It was at the dance hall in Heddington that she met Charles, an American army nurse in his early 30s.

Words of Tess Stevens: I remember the first night because he got up and sang with the band. He was pretty good singer, he was from, well he was from all over, he was from New York, and his mother at one time had had a nightclub and he used to sing in it. I was kind of impressed with him, and then he asked me to dance, and he was a really good dancer, and I was a good dancer, so we used to really cut a rug, people would step back and watch us. I had never gone out with someone that knew his way around like this guy did. It didn’t take him long to seduce me.

Laurence Rees: Soon Tess was preganant, by this American who was 15 years older than she was.

Words of Tess Stevens: I mean back then what a disgrace. From a good home and bla bla bla. And, yeah, I was ostracised practically. When the family heard about it, no one in the family thought much of me after that.

Laurence Rees: But, luckily for Tess, her mother didn’t desert her.

Words of Tess Stevens: She was supportive actually. I eventually had to tell her, because I didn’t know what to do you know, I was a young kid, working and starting to show and anyway I told my mother. And bless her heart I still don’t know to this day how she did it, but she found this place in London, for me to go, it was a catholic convent, where they took in the unmarried girls, and I suppose she paid for it. And I was supposed to go ahead and get the baby adopted, and that was the plan. He wanted to marry me. I didn’t want to get married, I’d seen my parent’s marriage, and the last thing I wanted to do was get married. I was not interested. But then I changed my mind. And so he came up to London and we got married.

Laurence Rees: Tess got married (8 months pregnant) on the 3rd of October 1943. The following year her husband went to France with D Day and she saw him only once more before he returned to America at the end of the war. But she soon followed him to the United Sates, on one of the mass transports for GI Brides, organised by the American authorities.

Words of Tess Stevens: They picked me up, and they paid your way to Salisbury plain, not far from Stonehenge. I mean we had 4 days of processing, and it was not very good, it was in the middle of March, it was very cold, it was snowing, we had to stand out with the children and the babies, in line to get in the mess hall at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning to get breakfast. They stripped you and made you stand in a drafty hallway with nothing round you but a towel. And the soldiers could all walk by you where you were, and you just got physically examined for venereal disease and everything. It was very humiliating.

Laurence Rees: There then followed a crossing of the Atlantic that was far from relaxing.

Words of Tess Stevens: It was the middle of March and it was a rough journey. And the women without children were in the ballroom, in like triple bunk beds, the whole ball room was full of triple bunk beds. And then I was in a cabin on the main deck, and they had double bunk beds, and the bottom ones had cages round them, so you slept on top, and the baby was in the bottom one.

Laurence Rees: And Tess soon found that the reality of life in America was a million miles from the dream.

Words of Tess Stevens: He’d told me a whole lot of stuff that wasn’t true, I mean he made it, you know sound like really wonderful, and of course it wasn’t. Because you didn’t get paid much money, you know a male nurse, they don’t make a lot of money. It wasn’t really that good to start with, cause, because he wasn’t enamoured of his son, he was jealous of the child, because the little boy had only been around women, you know because there were no men around, my son had been around nothing but women, soft spoken nice pleasant people. And his father was big and loud, and it scared him, and he cried. It made him furious, because the child cried, you know. But anyway so that wasn’t a good start.

Well I was pretty stuck wasn’t I, my mother told me you made your bed you gotta lie in it. So there was no way I was gonna let my Mum know that things weren’t good. I mean we had nothing in common, we really had nothing in common. And I was very unhappy. So I waited until my kids were grown, my son was in service, he was a Vietnam vet, and my daughter got married right after high school. And I got divorced. I was with him a long time, we were married 23 years. Well you make the best of what you’ve done you’ve got to make the best of it. But I mean he didn’t treat me bad, he wasn’t a bad husband, he just wasn’t right for me.

Laurence Rees: But Tess’s story has a happy ending as once she was divorced she found a new – and very different - American man.

Words of Tess Stevens: I was on my own 2 years before I met Judd. It wasn’t you know falling madly in love, it was just finding someone you really like, to get along with and had so much in common, so it’s just much better. The only reason I went with him two years, was I felt this man’s too good to be true, I’m not going to make a mistake again. So I went with him for two years and I couldn’t find anything wrong with him.