World War II love story has a happy ending in Grand Forks
It was an old Scottish fishing trawler that took the Belgian refugees across the English Channel to Dover during World War 11. "We went through minefields. We could see ships being sunk. There was one machine gun on board our boat, and my dad hel...
It was an old Scottish
fishing trawler that took the Belgian refugees across the English Channel to Dover during World War 11.
"We went through minefields. We could see ships being sunk. There was one machine gun on board our boat, and my dad helped them to run it," Maria Mullally said in her story of life during World War 11.
Red double-decker buses were waiting when the refugees from Belgium landed in England. The Salvation Army was there to help. There were people taking in refugees and getting paid by the government. Maria and her family were split up but able to visit one another. This was at the beginning of the London Blitz.
"We were being bombed every night. We heard the sirens going off. We had an air raid shelter in the backyard. Everybody had their own shelters, small corrugated huts in the ground, covered with sandbags. We slept on the floor. That's when I started doing a lot of handwork, doing a lot of embroidery to calm down my nerves."
As time went on, her family was reunited with relatives. Her father was employed as an engineer for Vickers Armstrong Aircraft. She was then 15 and got a job in the center of London doing embroidery and making patches for military uniforms. She was working during the Blitz, and at one time, London was on fire. Some people took shelter in the undergrounds, but they were drowned when water came rushing in.
Later, Maria got a job at a bakery called Ticky Snacks in London. She was close to her family. She was making friends. Later, she worked as a job inspector for Johnson & Johnson, a Swedish company that, like many others, did war work. She went on to work as a welder.
After a movie one day, she was walking with girlfriends on Park Lane where they met two American servicemen and got into a conversation with them. One of them asked about skating.
That was Bill Mullally, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence, originally from Aberdeen, S.D. The two of them went skating together a couple of times. Then, they didn't see each other for a while. Later, they met again at the skating rink. He eventually came to her home for tea and to meet her parents.
The bombings of London continued. But as time went on, they knew D-Day was coming eventually. And the Allied invasion of Europe began June 6, 1944. Bill had asked Maria to marry him. She was adventurous and said she would like living in the U.S. But because they could not go there to get married, they went ahead with plans for their wedding in London in August 1944. Her parents had to sign for her because she wasn't 21.
"In those days, you married without a Mass. They didn't want people to gather in one place because they could get bombed. Mom saved up ration coupons. We got a ham, and she got up early in the morning to cook it. She made Jell-O for dessert. A friend who was a baker made me a little wedding cake, a tiny little wedding cake."
Five weeks later, Bill got his orders to leave for France the next day. He arrived there a couple of weeks after Paris was liberated. While the war continued, he managed to get back to London for a visit. He received his first furlough before the war ended -- in fact, he was on the English Channel on V-E Day when Germany surrendered.
After that, Maria was able to get back to Antwerp, Belgium, to see her grandmother and other relatives. Getting to Paris to see Bill was more difficult. Her parents remained in London. She learned after the war ended of the atrocities that took place in Antwerp. Her uncle, Albert, had been sent to Germany for forced labor.
"This," Maria wrote in her book, "is what the Germans did during the war. They used to take all the good men out of France, Holland, Belgium. They had to clean things up after bombings. And they had to wear uniforms, so they couldn't come home for vacations. There was a lot of sadness and a lot of tragedies."
Through a series of underground maneuvers, Maria was able to get to Paris in fall 1945 to spend some time with Bill. He was billeted in a beautiful building that was occupied by German naval officers during the war.
"When I think of the way I went to France," Maria wrote, "is pretty much how the underground worked. You know, somebody smuggled you over the border. There was a whole network of people working together. I experienced a little bit of that. It's surprising what people will do when they have been in a war."
Eventually, Maria was able to get all of the necessary papers, in triplicate, in order to sail for the U.S. to reunite with Bill in New York. Because of continuing wartime shortages, she had only a black dress made by a friend and a swag coat made out of a blanket. She was traveling with a few other war brides.
"We went through the Hook of Holland, and then we went into the North Sea, into the Channel into the Atlantic Ocean. The last piece of land I saw was called Land's End. It's a strip of England that sticks out in the Atlantic Ocean, and it had a big lighthouse. I looked at that, and I wondered if I'd ever make it back to England. In those days, you had no passenger planes; you didn't fly. You had to take ocean liners, and it was costly."