‘The war was over and Mum was looking forward to palm trees’: sailing for Bermuda on the Queen Mary

Candice Pires
Alan Mogridge, being held by his mother, front row, fourth from left, on the Queen Mary. Photograph: Getty

When I was two, the roof of our rented house in Chelmsford was destroyed by a German bomb; the house a few doors down was totally demolished. Luckily, my father was at work, and my mother and I were out. My parents lived through six horrible years of bombing. Throughout the war, Dad worked at Bletchley Park outposts, looking after receiving stations that picked up German broadcasts. In 1945, he was posted to Bermuda to monitor signals there; my mother and I went to join him in 1946.

We sailed from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary. Mum was very excited: the war was over and she was looking forward to palm trees and beaches. She told me about these wonderful things called bananas, which I’d never seen. Early on in the six-day crossing, she met another woman whose husband had also been posted to Bermuda, and who also had a little boy. Paul and I became great friends, always playing on deck together. One day I got lost; I remember a chap in uniform helping me find my mother.

There were a number of British women sailing to America to be with their GI husbands. There was also a mature lady from New York, Mrs Appleton, who was put on the ship to talk to all these young brides and tell them what to expect in America. She befriended Mum, and apparently Paul and I used to call her Auntie Apple and play jokes with her.

We spent 10 days in New York, staying in a small hotel in downtown Manhattan. It was much colder than England. We couldn’t go up the Statue of Liberty because it was snowing. I had no summer clothes for Bermuda, so mum asked Auntie Apple where we could get some. She sent us to Bloomingdale’s and we got a whole new wardrobe.

We then took another ship to Bermuda. Dad had found a bungalow for us with a small orchard of 50 banana trees in the garden. Mum went mad. Paul’s family didn’t live far away and every weekend our mums would get together and we’d ride our bikes to the beach – there were hardly any cars on the roads. For us kids, it was all quite normal; we didn’t know much else. But for our parents, it was absolute bliss. Most people they knew were still living among bombed-out buildings. Soon after we arrived, I was swimming in the sea when everyone on the beach started waving – there was a shark 20m away from me. My dad ran into the sea and grabbed me.

Paul and I started school in Bermuda, but our fathers were posted to Malta when we were seven. We lived there for 10 years. Much later, in 1971, and back in England, he was best man at my wedding. We’re still in touch, and exchange news about our children and grandchildren.

A few years ago, my wife and I were running a charity bookstall when a book called Life On The Home Front caught my eye. I was looking through the pictures and all of a sudden said, “That’s Mum!” I recognised her straight away. She’s holding me, and next to us are Paul and his mum, and we’re looking at each other.

I’m 74 now. This picture reminds me of how my parents got through those hard times during the war, and of how proud I am of my old dad’s part in winning it.

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