Bomb blasts and a bag of oranges: war bride Irene Maio

IreneIrene Maio grew up in southeast London, near the Old Kent Road, and during WW2 she worked at a printing company making information leaflets for the troops.  She was evacuated from her home after a 1000lb bomb fell in the back yard – mercifully it didn’t explode, but the family were not allowed to return to the premises until after the war.

Irene and a friend of hers were in Hyde Park one day when they spotted a couple of GIs laughing at the people at Speaker’s Corner. The GIs had a bag of oranges and a bag of sweets with them – both rare treats during the days of rationing. One of the GIs, named Joseph, offered Irene the bag of oranges, while his companion gave her friend the sweets. They got chatting and before long Irene and Joseph were courting.

Her parents were initially a little suspicious as he came from an Italian-American family and Italy was an enemy country in the war, but once they met him they soon came around.  Nonetheless, Irene’s father tried to put Joseph off marrying her, telling him she was a ‘spoiled brat’ who didn’t know how to cook.  But it did nothing to dent his enthusiasm and before long they were married. Joseph proudly told all his friends that his wife was a spoilt brat!

On the journey to America Irene suffered appalling seasickness. She stayed in her cabin the whole time, eating nothing but crackers and apples. When the boat neared New York and the other brides rushed up on deck to see the Statue of Liberty, she felt so ill she could muster no enthusiasm and didn’t bother going to look at it.

But once back on dry land things worked out well for her. After a brief period in New York staying with some of Joseph’s friends, they set off for Duluth, Minnesota, where she lives to this day.

Irene was an only child, and when she first came over to America her mother suffered a nervous breakdown  – like many parents, she couldn’t bear losing her child to another country, at a time when transatlantic travel was simply out of reach for most families and even phone conversations were incredibly expensive. Later in life, however, after Irene’s father had died, her mother came over to America to live with Irene and Joseph.  She arrived at the age of 75 and spent the last five years of her life in the United States.

Irene and Joseph had two children together, a son and a daughter. She was widowed a few years ago, after 63 happy years with her GI husband.

Irene spoke to Minnesota Public Radio about her experiences as a GI Bride – you can listen to the interview here