“War Brides” by Helen Bryan is a work of fiction based on true World War II stories told to Bryan by family and friends in the United States and England.
This story is about the unsung female heroes of war; the women whose husbands were off fighting or working for intelligence divisions. Unprepared for the stress and trying times of war, the wives were left home by themselves, sometimes for years, to fend off enemies, raise the children and keep the household, and help the war effort on the home front.
“War Brides” follows a small group of women in the small English town of Crowmarsh Priors:
Evangeline Fontaine comes from a wealthy but dysfunctional family in New Orleans, Louisiana, whose fortune is slowly diminishing. Evangeline is a lazy, spoiled, rebellious young lady who, having grown up with brothers, is constantly getting into mischief and trouble; when the book starts, she is pregnant with the child of a black slave.
Alice Osbourne was born and raised in Crowmarsh Priors. The daughter of a vicar, her only contact with a man was with Richard Fairfax, who proposed marriage to her and then went to the United States, only to return married to Evangeline. Left alone to care for her mother and the church, Alice fears that she will never marry.
Antoinette Joseph—Tanni—a Jew living in Germany, is forced to marry Bruno Zayman and flee in the middle of the night as the Germans are closing in on the house. She leaves her mother, father and two sisters in that moment, never to see them again—and spends years of her life trying to find them.
Elsie Pigeon Hawthorne grew up dirt poor in Crowmarsh Priors. One of eight Pigeon children, she and her siblings had to wrap rags and dishtowels around their bodies on laundry day. Though she is a rebellious teenager, she married at fifteen years old.
Frances Falconleigh is also a wildcard. Having grown up without a mother, she lacks grace, manners and basic etiquette. After having rejected nanny after nanny and being rejected from schools, she runs “wild in London with a fast set of unsuitable men.” Frances grows up to join the Special Operations Executive (SEO) and become one of England’s most active and proud spies.
Penelope Fairfax, a relative of Evangeline’s, joins the SEO and helps enroll families in Kindertransport so children will be in a safe place during the war.
Despite their differences in background and personality, the women come together in crisis and become lifelong friends; they help each other through bombings, births, miscarriages, weddings, nursing wounded husbands, housing and feeding refugees and the endless search for lost relatives. “War Brides” is a remarkable story about women’s strength and their will to carry on for the next generation.