Academic journal article Hecate

The Woman Who Loved Those Yanks: The Facts and Fictions of Maureen C. Meadows and Her 'Narration of That Desire'

Academic journal article Hecate

The Woman Who Loved Those Yanks: The Facts and Fictions of Maureen C. Meadows and Her 'Narration of That Desire'

Article excerpt

Introduction

An estimated one million troops passed through Brisbane during the Second World War ("We've Said 'Hello, Goodbye' To A Million Doughboys Since Japan Struck"). It was "friendly invasion" (Connors et al. 141) that, socially and culturally, impacted "young Queensland women of the era quite possibly more than any other group" (Hennesey 61). Now part of its cultural mythology and commemorative parlance, Brisbane's status as a garrison town during this time has been well documented by historians in several popular and scholarly histories.

A number of these texts (1) cite or reference Maureen C. Meadows's 1948 semi-fictionalised memoir I Loved Those Yanks! as primary evidence of the way many young women perceived and "desired" American servicemen who passed through Australia during the Second World War. Meadows worked as a stenographer for the US Army at their Base Section Three Headquarters (Somerville House) and I Loved Those Yanks! is based on her diarised experiences of her time there. Brisbane's "Yank invasion" was for many women "a time of unprecedented freedom" (Connors et al. 162), and for Meadows it also became an opportunity to seize narrative agency and write herself into the moment.

Primarily, historians have selected observations from Meadows's memoir that articulate a generalised "desire for," or fascination with, "the Yanks." While such citations may have saved Meadows's memoir from sliding into obscurity, none has considered how Meadows negotiated the problem of "truth" versus "fiction," or the restraints that gender, class, and social conditioning imposed on the construction of her memoir. Specifically, none has investigated the inconsistencies between how Meadows presents herself in the text and the biographical facts of her life. In particular, Meadows's presentation of herself ("Irene") as a young woman with a fiance about whom she felt "lukewarm," differs from her real-life status as a married woman with a young son. Given a social climate during the war, in which married women who associated with American servicemen were severely criticised or even "humiliated and ostracised" (Evans 196), Meadows's documentation of Irene's love affair with an American officer deserves more serious investigation.

This paper will first examine how Meadows articulated and defended her "desire for" a married American officer and the ambiguities that necessarily arise when this is contextualised against her post-war persona as a happy wife and mother. Second, the inherent contradictions these ambiguities present will lead to a broader analysis of how Meadows's memoir operates as a piece of historical women's life writing from a feminist perspective, that takes into account her gendered social conditioning and the subsequent limitations this imposed on writing a memoir as a woman of her time. Finally, despite Meadows's inability to go beyond the narrative and language of romance to tell her story, I argue that I Loved Those Yanks! is still an important literary contribution to the historiography of Brisbane, given that is it is a rare first-person narration of illicit feminised desire that arose out of a decisive moment in Brisbane's history.

Citing that desire

Rosemary Campbell states, "The intense excitement generated by the arrival of the first Americans in Brisbane acted like a powerful aphrodisiac" (57). That so many young women were enamoured with American servicemen is a phenomenon that several historians, including Campbell, have attempted to explain, and it is in this capacity that I Loved Those Yanks! has largely been used. John Hammond Moore's Over-Sexed, Over-Paid and Over Here (1981) was the first popular history to use Meadows's reminiscences to articulate, and extrapolate as a wider phenomenon, the "desire for a Yank" (Lake 626). Moore refers to Meadows as "a young typist working at the Brisbane base headquarters" who "managed to retain her hero worship throughout the war" and "found 'fly boys' especially attractive" (92). …

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