British war bride found a good life in York – in Pennsylvania, not in England
Dorothy Sharp grew up in Northhampton, a small town in the English Midlands known for its boot and shoe industry.
As World War II escalated and the United States entered the fray, the city became known for something else: a center for American air bases, the small town quickly becoming a huge military hub. .
Dorothy remembered coming of age as the war raged. She remembered wearing a gas mask to school every day and seeing German bombers flying overhead, hiding in shelters when air raid sirens howled – well safe, orderly and very British. She recalls, as she worked her first job in an office, taking turns as a fire warden, going to the roof of the building and surveying the sky for signs of the arrival of bombers. She remembers losing a cousin, an aviator, during the war.
She also remembers seeing American soldiers and airmen in town. They had a lot of money, it seemed, more than the British, and didn’t hesitate to spread it – mainly in pubs and fish and chips, locals often complained when they crowded into fish and chips or threatened to run out of beer supply at the pub. They lavished their money on the local girls who were dating them, making them very popular. They were loud, she recalls, loud and loud. It just seemed like that was how Americans were.
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One night her mother was in a pub with her sister and they met an American. They started talking, and Dorothy’s mother mentioned that she had a daughter at home around her age – she was 19 – and that they should meet. The next evening, the American came to their house.
Dorothy was a little upset. She thought Americans were crazy, too loud for her liking.
This American was different. He was nice. He was not like other Americans.
His name was Jay Sharp. He was a technical sergeant in the army, serving as a clerk at an air base outside of town. He was originally from Pennsylvania, a small town called York, much like his hometown.
It was nice to be with him, she said. He wasn’t all boastful and loud, like the other Americans she had met. He wasn’t like that at all.
They would go out together, go out to pubs, to the movies or dance on the base. The movies were mostly American movies, and she thought they were accurate portrayals of life across the pond, that Americans spent all of their time dressing to the end. and going to fancy clubs, singing and dancing – where they spent their days chasing Indians across the vast expanse of the American West.
Jay kept coming and he was more than welcome in Dorothy’s family home. He often brought basic food for the family. Now, back then, food was strictly rationed, and among the things that were mostly strictly rationed was sugar. He would bring them sugar for their tea, which won him a lot of favor.
He proposed, and on September 2, 1944, they were married in his church in Northhampton. They took a week’s honeymoon vacation in Wales.
Soon after, Jay was about to return to the United States and Dorothy was ready to accompany him. She had all her papers ready, but there was one complication: she was pregnant and the army would not allow her to travel in this state. Their eldest son, Terry, was born in England and soon mother and child made the trip to America.
She came by sea, on a ship that carried a lot of English war brides. There must have been 600 of them on the ship, many with babies in tow. It was quite common, she says, for British girls to marry American soldiers. In many cases, marriages did not work out, with the newlyweds, in Dorothy’s words, having been sold off by their American suitors, finding the reality of life in America to differ from the version they had heard in courting.
Dorothy was lucky. Jay was a good man. Her family welcomed her and welcomed her as one of their own, which comforted her as she had left her family behind.
Still, it took some tweaking. She thought Americans lived either in big cities or on the plains, something she gleaned from the movies. But she was used to loud Americans, and it wasn’t that bad. “I thought it would be like the movies,” she said, “but it wasn’t.”
Jay remained in the service for some time after the war, serving in upstate New York and then in Columbus, Ohio, where he trained other soldiers. She remembered being alone in Columbus. They had rented a farm outside of town, and although it was charming and peaceful, it was also secluded. She wasn’t driving and couldn’t go anywhere while Jay was working. It was boring, she said.
So they returned to Jay’s hometown. Jay worked for a time at the Bendix factory in East York, then took a job with the Postal Service, earning his federal pension. They had five children – four boys and a girl – and settled in York, buying a house on Hay Street, across from a park and their children’s school. It was a good place to raise children.
Dorothy found work running a local builder’s office, handling books, wages, invoices, and other office work. The office was nearby and she could walk to work.
Decades later, at 92, she still lives in the same house. She has 19 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Jay passed away about 12 years ago. She misses him, but his family is close and they often visit him.
She returned to England to visit her family. She loves the English countryside, cobbled streets and old houses. But she is not homesick. She considers herself more American than British, even though she has retained her English accent, which makes people wonder where she came from.
She hasn’t subjected her family to British cooking, but does make herself bangers and mash sometimes.
She kept a custom of her native country.
Every afternoon, at 3 p.m., she has afternoon tea.
âA lot of British war brides have had difficult times,â she said. “I was lucky. I was married to the same man for 60 years, I lived in the same house for 60 years. It’s a good life.”
Contact Mike Argento at 717-771-2046 or [email protected]
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