From the Battlefront to the Bridal Suite: Media Coverage of British War Brides, 1942-1946

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From the Battlefront to the Bridal Suite: Media Coverage of British War Brides, 1942-1946. Barbara G. Friedman. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2007.154 pp. $29.95 pbk.

This thoroughly enjoyable history is about much more than the romances and marriages of British women and U.S. soldiers during World War II. Rather, as the author notes in her concluding chapter, it calls for "a broader interpretation of what constitutes war and wartime experience."

Friedman argues that war is not just a male enterprise, though it has long been interpreted that way. The ways women are represented and perceived during war become culturally important. She writes: "Irrespective of whether women take up arms, they are integral to war, always required to support the nation-state in ways prescribed by gender." The British "War Bride" provides a striking contrast to the U.S. "Rosie the Riveter" so ubiquitous in U.S. magazines and newspapers of the era. The War Bride served as a different and more complicated symbol. She both represented and threatened the ideal "good wife and mother" for whom the troops were supposedly fighting.

Through qualitative narrative analysis, Friedman shows how the mass media co-opted the war brides, reporting their marriages not so much as fairy-tale romances but as morality tales grounded in traditional notions about gender. She found that "men and women were framed in a way that did not encourage them to cross proscribed gendered boundaries. A man was a soldier who belonged at the battlefront, a woman the custodian of the home front." As she notes: "Public anxiety over moral order is rarely more exaggerated than in the upheaval of war."

The ways these women were portrayed in mainstream media changed along with the needs of the military and the U.S. and British governments. In the U.S. press, single British women first were labeled as predators and carriers of venereal disease, a dangerous distraction for the U.S. soldier. But in later coverage the same women were transformed into brave pioneer wives seeking to leave family and home for new lives in the United States. The British press mostly kept mum about these relationships, fearing news of them would lower morale of British troops who might come home from war to find their sweethearts had set sail.

As a contrast to her analysis of media coverage, Friedman also examined brides' letters, diaries, and memoirs, which offer alternative ways of understanding their wartime experiences. …