by The Digger
The beautiful setting of Langford Lodge in 1942 where Richard Neff was based. The inset shows Bob Hope, the entertainer, pictured at a party at Langford in August 1943, Richard Neff is pictured standing just to the right of Bob Hope.
RICHARD Neff had spent the whole of the entire war on the base at Langford Lodge until the end of the war in 1945. He was to be moved to another base in the Lancashire area of England. The base at Langford Lodge closed at the end of July 1945.
Fortunately, Myrtle had relatives in the Liverpool area and she was able to be with her new husband for a short period of time. Richard was subject of another transfer to the south of England. They would part there and Myrtle made her way back to Northern Ireland by boat. Richard returned to the United States and the couple spent both their first Christmas and wedding anniversary apart, separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
Reunification would take place in a few months time, after Myrtle's traumatic experience aboard a "G.I. Bride ship."
It is interesting to browse through the local press reports from that time. The departure of the "G.I. Bride ships" made the headlines on more than one occasion. Strict measures were put in place for travel. It was reported that one of the regulations of the U.S. War Shipping Administration forbade wives to sail aboard the same ship as their husbands. The strict regulations were adhered to as two ladies travelling from these shores to Glasgow in March 1946 would discover. They were due to sail to the United States but unfortunately their husbands were sailors aboard the ship and the ladies were left behind in Glasgow.
On Monday 4th March 1946 it was reported that a number of Northern Irish wives and children of American Servicemen boarded the 12,000 ton SS. Henry Gibbins, at the Pollock Dock, Belfast, with a further number of wives to board the following day.
Those boarding were not only saying farewell to their relatives, but also to coupons, points, rationing and sterling currency. It was stated that each of them had �15 worth of dollars in their handbags to spend in the onboard shop.
The dinner menu was reported to include spring onions, sweet pickles, macaroni soup, fried flounder, lemon butter, Russian dressing, pineapple pie, dinner bread, cheese, crackers, fresh fruits, coffee and tea.
There were onboard nurseries, play centres, library onboard films and talks by the Captain relating to topical subjects that would form part of their new life in the United States.
Several published photographs portrayed relatively happy smiling newly weds. Mothers had toddlers proudly displayed in their arms and on their knees.
Shortly after 10am on the 5th March 1946 the Henry Gibbins sailed out of the Herdman Channel. It was reported that a group of dockers gathered on the Quay and sang "Land of Hope and Glory" and "Come back to Erin." "Don't worry Mary, I've posted on your Shamrock" shouted a mother from the shelter of a shed. Myrtle on board recalls: "We all stayed on deck, tears rolling down our faces as we watched our beautiful homeland grow dim."
The Henry Gibbins would return again for a second departure to the United States with 452 passengers on the 4th April, 1946 on her second and last voyage from an Irish port.
Captain T.J. Snaddon described the first voyage to the reporter and he stated, 'the brides soon became acquainted with each other and virtually sang their way across the Atlantic."
He told reporters that some of the ladies composed three songs during their voyage. On arrival he stated that: "the happy reunions gave them all a thrill."
Myrtle describes how, the day before boarding she had been given a grilling by a senior ranking officer to check her arrangements when she disembarked on the other side of the Atlantic. "How do you know your husband is going to be there?... When was the last time you heard from him?..." The questions continued until Myrtle told the officer that she was in possession of a letter from both Richard and his mother that had arrived that morning. After rigorous security checks, fingerprinting and questioning Myrtle was now free to sail and boarded the ship on the 5th March 1946.
Her experience aboard the S.S. Henry Gibbins
would be in stark contrast to the press reports. She
described it to me as a "nightmare."
March was not considered a good time of the year to sail. Myrtle recalls vividly the strong disinfectant smell on boarding the ship. She was of the belief that it had actually permeated the food, compelling her to resort to a diet of oranges and chocolates, the latter having been purchased from the onboard ship.
"All I wanted to do was get out on deck and breathe fresh air. I didn't care how rough the sea was. I welcomed the spray in my face," she recalls.
The ship had previously been used to transport 982 refugees from Italy to America in 1944. Their story is told in a book called "Haven" by Ruth Gruber.
Most of the ladies on board the ship in 1946 had a very limited experience of travel, and after several days on board some of them became violently ill, whilst the vessel battled against stormy seas. Luggage moved from bow to stern and in Myrtle's words "virtually had to be nailed down."
Fortunately for Myrtle she wasn't seasick, and she was in a position to assist and take care of the babies whose mothers were too ill to care for them. She had been issued with an armband that permitted her to go anywhere on board the ship. Myrtle had no experience of caring for babies prior to her boarding. She remarks she had never changed so many "diapers" in her life until this point.
Myrtle shared bunk accommodation with about
twenty others, initially occupying a lower bunk. Her time in
the lower bunk was short lived after a girl in the upper
bunk became ill. Myrtle spent the remainder of her voyage
the upper bunk.
I sent copies of newspaper press reports to Myrtle for her perusal. She was adamant that she did not hear any singing on board, and if there had been she would have been too exhausted to join in, after spending her time assisting with the young children on board.
Myrtle recall that on the evening of the 16th of March they reached New York, but the vessel remained in the harbour that evening in order that they would sail past the Statue of Liberty early the next morning on St. Patrick's Day. That symbolic gesture only prolonged the agony for Myrtle.
As Myrtle disembarked the next day she swore to herself that she would never set foot aboard a liner again, and to this day she has kept that resolution. Myrtle's luggage made it onto the dock before her, and beside it stood her welcoming husband Richard.
Next: Where the grass is always greener?
The Digger can be contacted at Ulster Star Office or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.