Posted By GI Brides ~ 14th November 2013
In this guest post, Louise Brass tells the story of Pauline Fraser, a GI Bride who she worked with on the memoir Presenting Pauline.
Pauline Fraser was on the first ship that left British shores for America carrying war brides who had fallen in love with American GIs during World War II. She was leaving behind a career on the London stage for a future that was uncertain, except for the promise of the life-long love of her new husband, Ray, a radar officer with the 392nd Bomber Group.
Pauline’s theatre group entertained the troops in 1944, as they prepared for the D-Day invasion to liberate Europe. Ray attended one of those performances and he tracked Pauline down a year later at the Ambassadors Theater in London. After the show he waited for her at the stage door.
Their romance blossomed and marriage soon followed. But it meant that leaving England was inevitable for the young war bride.
It was a chilly February day in 1946 when Pauline waved goodbye to the crowds gathered on the docks of Southampton to see the young war brides off on their journey to the other side of the world. Despite smiling and waving, Pauline’s heart was breaking over what she was leaving behind: a devoted mother who was totally dedicated to seeing Pauline become a success as a young review artist and tap dancer; a name Pauline had made for herself on theatre bills with the likes of comedienne Hermione Gingold; and her friends in London town.
She didn’t know then, as the ship made its way toward America, that she would never see her mother again.
But her heart was also beating with expectation and love for her new husband, whom she had not seen for more than six months. He had been assigned to Washington, only two days after their wedding in a little country church in Lincolnshire.
As the ship, the SS Argentina, tossed and rolled across the freezing Atlantic Ocean, Pauline huddled under blankets seeking relief from seasickness, and trying to focus on good thoughts about the future, while her memories of being on the stage during the Blitz were hard to shake off. It wasn’t easy performing in London during those terrifying days and nights.
As long as there were people in the audience when the air raid sirens were screaming outside, the show had to go on. Talk about discipline! Once everyone had gone to a shelter, only then could the performers also leave the theatre.
Pauline had been born in England during the roaring ‘20s. She was an extra in some early Alfred Hitchcock movies, photographed for a number of national advertising projects, and appeared on the radio with Hughie Green and His Gang. As a young woman, she had entertained at London’s Windmill Theatre, in 1939. During the Blitz and as the war raged on, she also performed at the Ambassadors Theatre and the Cabaret Club.
It took a lot of courage—and a sense of humour—to keep her chin up and keep on dancing, while the Luftwaffe bombarded London mercilessly.
It was during the darkest days of the war that Pauline was asked by British Intelligence to do some spy-tracking. She didn’t hesitate, not thinking about the danger— she just thought it would be fun!
Giving up everything for marriage had not really been in her plans, but as the SS Argentina approached New York, and the seasickness subsided, she gained her strength and courage. When the ship docked, she discovered Ray had disobeyed orders. He couldn’t wait in the hotel with the other GIs, anxious for theirs brides to arrive. He went to the quayside and was standing at the foot of the gang plank when Pauline disembarked. Their photograph made the New York newspapers the next day.
The couple set up home in Chicago, Illinois, where Pauline started a dance school, then moved to the suburbs to raise their son. He eventually presented them with a grandson.
Pauline didn’t give up the theater altogether, she directed and produced some community plays and musicals for charity events. And, she kept in touch with the people who had been on stage with her, keeping alive the light of hope for a better future during England’s darkest hours.