Margaret grew up in the borough of Hastings, in the county of East Sussex, on the south coast of England. For many centuries, Hastings, was an important fishing port and still boasts the largest beach-based fishing fleet in England. Her grand-father and father owned a fish shop and their family was considered business class. Margaret, the second of five children, and her siblings grew up right over the shop.
World War II broke out there in 1939. Margaret was just 17. Margaret already had her nursing degree that she earned at Royal East Sussex Hospital in Hastings. She lived there and trained for 3 years. For fun, she and friends would go down by the sea and watch the soldiers marching and exercising. One day her little dog got away from her and a handsome young soldier named Vic caught him and returned him to her. A short time later, they were to meet again at a restaurant where Margaret and her girlfriends went after a movie. Just 6 weeks after their first date, they were married. “There didn't seem to be any reason to wait ~ there was a war going on!” Margaret says. They were married April 20, 1940 in Christ Church Blacklands in Hastings. Son, Michael, was born in 1941 and daughter, Pat, followed in 1942. Then, the unthinkable happened. Vic's plane disappeared over the English Channel. To this day he, nor his airplane, has ever been found. Margaret has always hoped they would find him. His name is included along with 20,456 other men and women who were lost without a trace in World War II at The Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, in England ~ the same place the Magna Carta was signed by King John in 1215. A broken-hearted Margaret moved back in with her parents. Their nights were spent sleeping on the floor in their clothes in a bomb shelter beneath the stairs. For 5 years total Margaret endured not sleeping in a warm bed and waking many mornings to the sight of other businesses and homes in shambles, having been bombed during the night. During the day, she helped out at the local health department daycare in Nottingham. Their food was rationed and they were hungry, however, they opened their home on Sundays to American soldiers for a home-cooked meal. One of those was a good-looking young soldier from Laurinburg named Erwin Smith.
Margaret's parents took a liking to him and he came back when invited. After a while, Margaret seemed a little less sad and was laughing a little more. She and Erwin had fallen in love. They were married April 8, 1945 in Emmanuel Church of England. He returned to American in the fall of 1945 and the GI Brides, as they were called, had to wait for the war ships to come in and bring them over.
Margaret left Hastings February 13, 1946 by train and arrived in Tidworth, where there was a special American camp for GI Brides and their children. There were German prisoners working the camp, helping them prepare for departure to the U.S.A. She, Michael and Pat left the camp on February 15 to to go to Southampton to board their ship “The S.S. Cristobal”, which was carrying only war brides and children. They arrived in New York February 26, 1946, after a rough crossing. They stayed on the ship a couple of days awaiting train reservations to Hamlet, North Carolina. Erwin picked her up in Hamlet and brought her to Laurinburg. She had bravely left her family and all that was familiar to her behind, including the war. I asked Margaret what her first impression of America was. She said simply, “Massive!” Language, itself, was no adjustment, but we called many things different names than in England and she had to learn that. Their word for eggplant was aubergine and rutabagas were called swedes.
At first, she and Erwin and the children lived with his parents in their home on Turnpike Road, presently occupied by Harold and Bo Smith. Margaret said it was on a dirt road then, had no indoor plumbing and the mules were kept across the street where Scotland Yard is today. After a while, they got their own apartment out at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airbase. Margaret worked as a nurse at the hospital at the Airbase in Labor and Delivery. At that time, there were nice apartments out there, a grocery store, a church, a movie theater. She says it was a very nice place to live and work. She also spent some time working for Morgan Mills. Margaret gave birth to her baby daughter, Marilyn, six years after arriving in the U.S.A. For the next 15 years, she would only return to England once. She said it was shocking to see her Daddy with white hair.
I met Margaret in 1997, when our family began attending Laurinburg Christian Church. We served in Ladies For Christ together. We have delivered fruit baskets and visited sick people and hosted Ladies meeting together and attended weddings, baby shower and funerals. When I visited her at her apartment, she was always cooking and sharing with the neighbors, especially if any of them were sick. She walked dogs, checked blood pressures, checked mail......whatever she could do to help anyone. She has set a great example of being the hands and feet of Jesus. She also loves to tell jokes and laugh and has traveled whenever she could. She is one of the bravest, most courageous women I know! At her party, she was asked to say a few words. They were few, but heartfelt, “If I had to be relocated to another country, I'm so glad it was the United States. God bless America!”