I’m happy to have my dear friend Patty Koontz here to share the fascinating, romantic, and touching story of her Irish mother and American GI father. Portions of Patty’s post and the wonderful images are part of an oral history project at the Northern Ireland War Memorial in Belfast, Ireland. Called The War and Me, the project features a collection of stories about GI Brides and the American presence in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. As their website says, most GI Brides have now sadly passed away, so it is often their children who tell their stories. This is Patty’s.
Patty: My beloved Irish Mum, Evelyn Vance, married my father, Luther M. Taylor, an American Sergeant, during WWII. Evelyn was born January 20th, 1925 to her loving parents, Thomas Vance and Alice McMaster Vance, in a quaint home nestled in County Down, Northern Ireland. Little did they know, their daughter would endure a life of many challenges. Her courage, strength, and the adventures she faced, changed not only her life, but those of many others for years to come. Her story is her legacy.
My Mum was a beautiful lady, both inside and out. It made me smile how people always complimented her on her long, thick red hair. I can still hear her soft Irish brogue and see her brown eyes sparkle as she shared stories of her family and homeland. Her Grandfather, William McMaster, from Portrush, Ballymoney, was a fisherman who died at sea. Unfortunately, his body was never found, and his death had a huge impact on the entire family. Mum’s grandmother was a dressmaker/seamstress to help support her children, although one child was sent to live with nearby relatives, during tough times.
Mum bore scars on the left side of her chin and neck from a childhood incident that left her trapped inside a fiery room. She rarely spoke of the accident and was self conscious about the scars. Her hero, her father Thomas, rescued her from the blaze and saved her life. After losing all her beautiful hair, she was forced to wear a cap to school. Kids teased her about her cap until one day someone pulled it off. She ran home in tears, but again, her father came to her rescue. With her family’s encouragement, she returned to school.
From the stories she shared, I believe my Mum was a wee bit of a tomboy. She inherited her love for the ocean, (and how to swim with dolphins), her love for horses, dogs, and storytelling from her beloved Father and five devoted uncles.
On January 22nd, 1942, (just two days after her 17th birthday), my Mum received her recruiting instructions to The Women’s British Army (WBA). She had enlisted in the ATS. (The thought of her enlisting at that age is still hard for me to imagine). Even though her mother was not happy about this turn of events, Mum was determined to do her part to help the war effort.
She served from 1942 to 1946 as a cook and assisted in the infirmary, attaining the rank of first lieutenant. The toughest thing she said she had to do was walk through a closed building filled with teargas, without a mask. She told me they were required to do this in case they ever encountered this situation. She also spoke about nightly blackouts, bombings in Northern Ireland, and food and clothes rations. A dear friend of hers was shot and killed during this rough time. Her best friend, Mary Flynn, served with Mum. They remained close and kept in touch until my Mum passed.
I love the story of how my parents met. During the war, occasional dances were held for the enlisted men and women. Mum and her friend decided to attend one evening, at a nearby recreation center/hall in Belfast. Due to the blackouts at night, the hall was also quite dark, but they enjoyed the music and opportunity for the break. Mum remembers starting to dance with a British lieutenant, and halfway through the song, she felt her arm slightly lifted. When the dance was over, my five-foot two-inch Mum (in heels), was escorted off the floor by a handsome six-foot four-inch American Sergeant. My father. Daddy always said it was love at first sight when he spotted her.
A few days later, my father was introduced to my Grandparents, and her five protective uncles.They welcomed him into the family, and from my understanding, they knew right away this was the man Mum would marry one day. They included my father in family meals and outings and treated him as their own son. Mum gave Daddy the grand tour of the legendary Antrim Coast, they walked the beach on Port Stewart Strand, (where I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to visit myself).
I get goosebumps remembering how I walked through the beautiful places where my parents walked, hand-in-hand.
I believe my Daddy enjoyed visiting the Mourne Mountains, as he loved the mountains that reminded him of home. My father often spoke of the kindness and hospitality the Irish people always showed him.
My parents soon married, on April 6th, 1945 at Cregagh Methodist Church in Belfast. Mary Flynn, Mum’s best friend who later became a nun, was her Maid of Honor, and Charles Chapman was my Dad’s best man.
I was told my parents walked beneath a row of raised, crossed swords, held by both British and American soldiers, forming a line facing each other.
How I wish there was a photo of that. Unfortunately, the only photo I have of their wedding is of their beautiful cake. The good luck symbol of the black cat inside the horseshoe hung beneath the cake on the left side of the table.
I believe my parents wore their uniforms on their wedding day. A wedding dress was never spoken of.
After my father returned to the states, they corresponded in writing letters and by telegram until my Mum could obtain passage to come to the United States. With help, she obtained her immigration records and departed from Southampton, England on the ship named the USAT Saturnia, arriving in New York on June 1, 1946, over a year after their wedding.
She brought the handmade ship inside an old whiskey bottle, made by an elderly sea captain, that was given to her in memory of her grandfather who was lost at sea. My Mum said that she would never forget the first thing she spotted that welcomed her to the United States.The Statue of Liberty. That statue made a huge impression on Mum.
My handsome father, Luther M. Taylor, was born June 7th, 19221, son of Bertie M. and Ethel Taylor of Carroll County Maryland. After enlisting as a Private, in the US Army on July 3rd, 1942, he soon found himself traveling by ship, to report to Ebrington Barracks, located in Derry, Northern Ireland. My father earned the rank of Sergeant and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, one of the largest battles the US Army ever fought. He fell in love with not only my mother, but her family, uncles, the Irish people and the beautiful green countryside. He was sent to Holland for a short time, where he became fascinated with their windmills.
In 1984, Daddy built a windmill in my family’s back yard with colorful tulips enveloping his creation. His work of art was photographed and featured in the Carroll County Times newspaper, and in later years featured in the local “back in history of our town” paper section.
My father, a tall, quiet man, worked hard all his life. He was a stone mason by trade and loved surprising my Mum by making wooden furniture. His last project is that of an eight-foot-tall grandfather clock made out of cherry wood; at the bottom of the base, he engraved my Mum’s name, Evelyn, into a hand-carved shamrock. My parents continued to attend and enjoy dances at the local VFW for many years until their health worsened. My Daddy never spoke of the war. His family said he had changed when he came back to the states. He was wounded during the war and carried shrapnel in parts of his body.
Mum said my Daddy had seen too much, which haunted him until he died. He named his first-born son, (my brother), Robert, after his best friend who was killed in the war. My father only spoke of my Mum’s family, the fun he had with her uncles, and of the sincerity and hospitality he was given. Unfortunately, my father never returned to Ireland, but enjoyed working at home and in his community. One item he brought back with him from the war was a painting which hung in our family basement. Mum told us it was given to my father as a gift from a prisoner of war, in exchange for cigarettes my Daddy had given the man.
Daddy’s love for his wife and children were his life. Sadly, he died on November 18th, 1986 from “old wounds” from the war. My father was happy spending time with Mum’s family in Ireland, and I sometimes wonder how their lives would have been if my Daddy had decided to live there.
A year after the birth of her first child, Mum was proud to pass her test and receive her US citizen papers on November 25th, 1949. She stood in front of a judge at the Circuit Court here in Westminster, Carroll County Maryland. Below is a copy of the handwritten letter she read to witnesses after receiving her papers. I truly believe she learned more about the history of this country from doing her own research, than I actually did from school. Her words brought tears to my eyes as I read the following, I’d like to share a few of her sentences that touched my heart:
“Freedom and What it Means. What a wonderful word, Freedom, do you know what it means? We here in America can’t possibly know its meaning. Just think of the men and woman, yes and even children, who risk their lives each day for one little glimpse of freedom. Something we all take for granted. We here in America are free to worship, have freedom of speech, and have the right to vote, for whom we want in office. Have you ever stopped to think of the men who died for this great country of ours, and also the men who risk their lives each day to keep us free. Let us use the privilege we’ve been blessed with and pray for peace and a better world to live in for all mankind. And remember our pledge, one nation, under God with Liberty and justice for all.” She also wrote a prayer below that for the ending.
Mum was a goodhearted person who did not have an easy life. She was only able to return to her beloved Ireland when her own Mother was sick and passed away. Mum was always homesick, (especially during the holidays), but refused to leave her children. She was thrilled when her sister Pat and niece Yvonne came to the states to visit several times. I remember how heartbroken she was when they left to head home, as she somehow knew this would be the last time she’d ever see her sister again. Mum always said she felt fortunate, as she had two countries to cherish. She carried the memories of her family and homeland in her heart until she passed from heart disease and kidney failure on November 28th, 1994. Her love of God, of her husband, her children and grandchildren are what kept my mother going.
During my beloved Mum’s short life on this earth, her warm personality, compassion, and kindness touched the lives of many. She may be gone from this world, but her legacy and spirit lives on forever.
A final thought: Every year until my Mum died, we watched the famous Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne in one of our favorite movies, The Quiet Man. My parents enjoyed these actors, as did I. Knowing the lovely actress was born in Dublin, a little over four years earlier than Mum, I always imagined what a wonderful thing it would have been if they had met. I never did mention this to my Mum. I know it wasn’t meant to be, but I sometimes think, if only those four could have met, I’m sure they would have been great friends. Believing people would consider me foolish, I never voiced these thoughts, but the older I’ve become, the more I’ve found life’s too short not to share loving memories of my parents, which always help to brighten my day. I hope this brightens yours.
For Patty’s piece on her mother at the Northern Ireland War Memorial, visit their website at: http://www.niwarmemorial.org/
A talented storyteller, artist, and craftswoman, Patty inherited her love of all things Celtic from her beloved Mum. For more on Patty, visit her Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Patty-Koontz/e/B01N7QZNGG
Her website at: https://pattykoontz.wordpress.com/
Thank you for stopping by. Please leave Patty a comment.