Memories of an East London war bride

On Monday, one of our Sugar Girls,  Eva, introduced us to a good friend of hers who we were keen to speak to for our next book, which is about women who married American soldiers during the Second World War.  Alice ‘Jimmy’ White is now 88 but can still vividly recall her experiences in the war, and in particular the American and Canadian soldiers who came to Britain and caused such a stir among the English girls.

Jimmy got her nickname because her mother, Edith, had always wanted a boy. Her father, a gas fitter, had died when she was just five years old, and she had grown up a headstrong, determined girl.

Jimmy was 15 when war broke out, living on Beaumont Road, Leyton, and witnessed her entire street ablaze with fire after an incendiary bomb attack. A couple of years later, when her mother sent her out to buy a sack of potatoes, instead of the potatoes Jimmy returned with a form and asked her mother to sign it: she had volunteered for the army even though she was underage. Her mother knew there was no dissuading her, and signed it.

Soon Jimmy was sent off to Scotland, along with other girls from East London, for 12 weeks of basic Army training. After a hard day’s work the girls headed to the local pub, only to be told: “Sorry, the pubs here are for men only”.

Jimmy was put in the heavy artillery, where her job was to calculate the height of enemy planes to be shot down. The girls were sent to stay near Beverley, Yorkshire, and on their nights off would gather in the market square and dance with foreign soldiers who were stationed nearby – Canadians, Americans, Free French and Poles. The heavy artillery wasn’t far from the barracks where the Canadian soldiers were housed, and every time they shot down a plane, the poor Canadians would get showered with shrapnel.

Betty, Jimmy’s friend, was in charge of driving a truck into the village on errands and frequently fetched fish and chips for the Canadian soldiers. The truck had gained the nickname the Passion Wagon, and Betty had already started seeing a Canadian called Bill. One day she convinced Jimmy to join her and Bill in the truck on a fish and chip run, along with a friend of Bill’s who she said wanted to meet her.

Jimmy agreed and was introduced to a tall, blue-eyed young man Henry, who had joined up to get away from life on his parents’ farm in Canada. The two of them soon started courting and were still together six months later, long after Betty and Bill had broken up.

Henry had two left feet on the dance floor but he was a crack shot as a sniper. Soon he was sent off to Belgium, and the couple stayed in touch by letter. While he was abroad, he bought an engagement ring in exchange for several hundred cigarettes from his rations. It was 24 carat gold and raised such suspicion back home that Jimmy was followed and questioned by the CID about how her boyfriend could have purchased such an expensive piece of jewellery.

Henry and Jimmy got a special license so that they could marry quickly when he came back on leave, and Jimmy excitedly ordered the ingredients for her wedding cake from the bakers. But each time the date drew near his leave would be cancelled and the ingredients would have to be given away for another girl’s wedding cake. Meanwhile Jimmy was injured in the shoulder while shooting down an enemy plane and was given heat treatment. She was taken off the guns and put into the pay department.

Eventually, the day came when Henry was allowed back on leave and the two were finally married. They spent the night in Leyton, in the house of her grandmother – who gave up her bed for the newlyweds. Unfortunately the feather mattress was so soft that when the two of them went to lie down it completely swallowed them up!

When the war came to an end, Jimmy got a letter telling her she would be setting sail for Canada on the Aquitania in a week’s time. It was a mad rush to get ready and say farewell to all her relatives before she left to join her husband and start her new life. Jimmy and a group of other war brides were taken to a hotel where they spent the night before boarding the boat the next day.

As she waved goodbye to Britain, little did Jimmy know that Henry was on the same ship, on his way to be demobbed. The couple were reunited and spent the voyage planning their new life in Canada.

Do you know anyone who dated or married an American or Canadian soldier in the Second World War? If so, we would love to hear their memories for our new book. Please get in touch at