Maureen Mathes

Maureen Mathes left Northern Ireland in 1944. The Derry girl became the first Irish GI bride to land in America when she arrived with husband Bob Mathes.


Maureen Mathes

Maureen Mathes (née Archibald) from Derry/Londonderry married a young US Naval man Bob Mathes in June 1944 and became the first GI Bride to set foot on American soil a couple of months later.

Maureen lived in Derry/Londonderry during World War Two. She worked in the shipyard during the construction of naval bases before the Americans officially entered the war.

Maureen was one of those who knew of the imminent arrival of the GIs. She saw warehouses filled with American military uniforms on Great James Street. At the time, her employers were Harland and Wolff. She worked as a shorthand typist.

Her boss at the shipyards introduced her to a young American, Bob Mathes, who was 19 years old. Maureen herself was only 15 years old but couldn’t reveal her true age as she had lied to get a job at the docks. They dated for a while before Maureen’s mother insisted on meeting the American. Bob was Robert Lawrence Mathes, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Mathes of Kirkville, Missouri, USA.

The couple dated for 2 years until it seemed certain that the base was to close and Bob would have to return to America. He realised it would be easier to bring Maureen with him if they were already married. So, he got the all-clear from his commanding officers and filed the necessary paperwork. All he required was permission from Maureen’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Archibald of 15 Albert Place, Derry/Londonderry.

American base at Lisahally, Co. Londonderry

Imperial War Museum Photo: (A 9561) (Part of the Admiralty Official Collection). An American-built base at Lisahally, Co. Londonderry showing the construction piles used on the western wharf. Photo taken on 28th January 1942. Copyright Lieutenant HW Tomlin.

Maureen arrived home one day to find the police had been making enquiries and her parents knew of the plans to get wed. The police carried out checks on both Maureen and Bob. They had to ensure above all that Bob didn’t already have a wife back home.

They received permission from Maureen’s parents and married on 22nd June 1944. For a wartime wedding, it was a large affair. Her mother’s aunt somehow found ninon material to buy for a white wedding dress. Maureen’s sister Jessie Archibald was a bridesmaid and Mrs. May Hamilton of Fountain Place in the city was matron of honour. On the groom’s side, Petty Officer James Edison from Johnston, Pennsylvania was best man.

The service took place in St. Columb’s Cathedral, London Street, Derry/Londonderry. Reverend SA Cave officiated. Afterward, family and friends attended a reception in Foster’s Café, which still operates on Waterloo Place in the city.

In August 1944, Maureen received one day’s advance notice that she was shipping back to the United States of America with her new husband. Luckily for Maureen and Bob, the ship was one that carried men, women, and children, and so they made the journey as a couple. They did, however, stay in segregated cabins.

They crossed the Atlantic Ocean amidst threats of U-Boats and incredible bouts of seasickness on the rough waters. In 14 days, they docked in New York and Maureen and Bob were asked to be the first to step ashore. Reporters and photographers besieged the young couple as they stepped off the gangplank onto American soil.

From New York, their journey went on to Southbend, Indiana, where the press interest followed. Before that though, they enjoyed a short honeymoon in New York City. Their planned honeymoon in Bangor, Co. Down never happened as the base cancelled Bob’s leave following the D-Day landings.

After a brief stay in Indiana, Bob received a posting to a naval base in Brooklyn and Maureen joined him. By this stage, the couple was expecting their first child. They continued to live in New York long after the war, setting up home in Long Island, New York.

Eventually, Maureen and Bob would return across the Atlantic Ocean spending their retirement years in Portstewart, Co. Londonderry. Robert died on 16th October 2015.