The perils of war concentrate the mind when it comes to romance. If your sweetheart is about to go off to fight and you couldn’t be sure when or if you would see them again, then it would make sense to confirm your love for each other by ‘tying the knot’.
In the early months and years of the Second World War thousands of young women decided to marry. The wedding was often planned in haste, with no white dress or finery, no posh reception and certainly no honeymoon. Some couples might have managed a ‘knees up’ with friends and family at the local pub or village hall, but many others would merely attend the register office with the barest minimum of guests to act as witnesses before the solder had to return to the front.
Statistics bear this out, with the increase in marriages for young men under the age of twenty increased by an enormous 77 percent, and even among those aged twenty to twenty-four the increase was almost 50 percent.
During the middle years of the war perhaps life was too unpredictable for couples to make any kind of lifelong commitment to each other, as between 1938 and 1940 the number of marriages fell. But then in the later war years – some as a result of the many British women falling for the American soldiers who arrived in Britain bringing wealth and charm – marriage rates were on the up again. The Americans brought with them delights that had never been seen – such as Coca Cola and nylon stockings, but also everyday foods that they had in plenty while British families were still struggling with rationing. Their average salaries were more than five times that paid to British soldiers, making them quite a catch. Around 70,000 British women became GI brides, and after the war the GI wives were offered a free passage by the US Army to start their new lives in America.
And then there were the British soldiers, sailors and airmen who were stationed in other parts of Europe, North Africa and Burma, who fell in love with a local girl, and married.,
Sadly, though, not all war-time marriages resulted in ‘happily ever after’. Some couples who had rushed into tying the knot clearly discovered that they were not as compatible as they hoped. And then there the wives who found it difficult to be alone for the six long years of war, turning to another for comfort, their adultery only to be discovered when their husband returned from the front. And so, while many war-time marriages were a wonderful success, others resulted in disappointment reflected in a significant rise in the divorce rate during the late 1940s.