Baltimore's first war bride

Jeannine Scally of Algiers stepped off a liberty ship in Dundalk in 1945 to begin a new life

October 10, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to the Sun

Staff Sgt. John Scally met Jeannine Ferudja in Algiers in 1943 and soon began courting the brown-eyed brunette, stumbling along with his high school-level French and translation dictionary.

An interpreter guided Scally through their wedding ceremony Oct. 10, 1944, or 63 years ago today. After honeymooning in North Africa, Scally was shipped to Italy for the remainder of World War II, and the two didn't see each other for another year.

The marriage did not truly begin until Jeannine Scally stepped off the Liberty ship Irvin S. Cobb on Oct. 4, 1945, becoming Baltimore's first official war bride, one of 709 who traveled from Britain, France, Italy, Poland and North Africa from 1945 to 1947 to rejoin their wartime American husbands.

"The few who couldn't or wouldn't adjust to the new life drifted home within a year or two. The rest stayed ... and liked it," according to a Sun article dated Dec. 8, 1957.

Jeannine Scally, now 84, said she was among the latter. Widowed in 1993, she still lives in the Pasadena house that she and her husband built as their summer home in 1951. Four of their five children live within five miles. Scally has nine grandchildren.

"I love my life," Scally said. "I'm happy."

Her 17-day voyage to the United States was part of a longer odyssey as she struggled to master English, stomach American fried food and save enough money to see her family again. Then there were the lonely nights when her husband, a Baltimore firefighter, was on duty at the firehouse.

"Before you marry someone, you better think hard," she said.

Algiers was under Allied control after U.S., British and Free French troops invaded French North Africa in November 1942.

She met the sergeant while she was working at the U.S. post office in Algiers. Scally had been assigned to take care of firetrucks in the firehouse next door. The two dated for 16 months before getting married.

Jeannine Scally had to wait until a ship could take her to the United States. She had little to pack besides a few changes of clothes. She had no stockings and no coat.

Her family, except for her brother, George, waved goodbye to her on the dock, He was fighting in Europe after taking part in the invasion of Normandy several months earlier on D-Day.

Although Scally took the trip with seven other Algerian brides, she was the only one who stayed in Baltimore. The others were bound for New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia and as far away as the Dakotas.

On that cold, cloudy day when she arrived in Baltimore, she was welcomed by her brother-in-law, the Rev. William Scally.

Her husband remained in Italy for another month, so she lived with his parents until he arrived. Because she did not speak English, she used hand gestures to communicate. Her mother-in-law took her shopping for clothes, being careful to hold her hand as they crossed city streets.

Algiers was still a small enough city at the time that it did not have traffic lights.

"She was a very, very kind lady," Scally said of her mother-in-law. "I was lucky to get into a good family."

John and Jeannine Scally lived at his parents' home for a couple of months before they rented their first apartment on Edmondson Avenue in Baltimore for $33 a month.

Life in the United States was trying at first. It took her two years to learn English, with the help of her husband's tutoring. But it got lonely when her husband worked night shifts at the firehouse, and she was alone except for occasional visits from her sisters-in-law.

"Many times I cried," she said.

In 1949, the couple got their first house, at 108 Edgewood St., and soon started a family. She became an American citizen 12 years after her arrival, the reason for the 1957 article in The Sun. At the time, the couple had three children.

In the article, the reporter noted that the chief adjustment for Baltimore's first war bride, beyond learning English, was accepting American cooking.

"'The French believe in seasoning. ... American dishes are more plain,'" the article quoted Jeannine Scally as saying. "`Me, I like chicken cooked in wine, but my husband he won't eat it that way, so it's fry, fry, all the time.'"

John Scally had never had eggplant, zucchinni or green peppers, she said. So she got used to relying on staples and made quick and easy meals.

At the time of the article in 1957, Scally had not seen her family, who had moved to France after the war. She was working at the Hecht Co. to save up the $700 sea fare to visit them. Since then, she and her family have made several trips.

John Scally died of cancer on Dec. 8, 1993.

Their youngest son, Bill Scally, 45, said he grew up being proud of his father's service in the Army during World War II. The two delved into military history together, but little was said about his mother's struggles to adapt to a new language, family and country after the war. Reading the 1957 Sun article and recent chats with her have brought new respect.

"She's the best mother in the world," he said.

Bill Scally's wife, Terri, describes the family as close-knit. They celebrate holidays and birthdays together. Once a month, her widowed father takes Jeannine Scally to a casino to play the slot machines.

Terri Scally, also 45, said it is important for her children to know their grandparents' love story, especially the fact that their grandmother was the first of a wave of war brides to come to Baltimore.

"She made history when she came over," Scally said. "I think it's fascinating."

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