I was sitting in the train that was taking me to London. I was on my way to the American embassy in Grosvenor Square. I thought about the events that had led to this.
When I was growing up the girl next door, Renee was my best friend and we did everything together. We claimed to be cousins but that was untrue. Renee was the same age as my brother, three years older than me. This didn’t matter when we were younger but once I got to secondary school age it did, because just as I was starting at grammar school in 1941, Renee started working. Renee was growing up fast - but I remained a school girl.
The Americans arrived and were stationed at Kew near where we lived. Renee met this Polish American soldier and was married to Eddie at aged seventeen. He was sent back to America directly from Europe and I accompanied Renee’s mum and dad to Waterloo station to see Renee off on one of the many GI bride trains. The station was awash with the tears of all the families! In 1946 travelling to America was like the end of the world to most of them.
The years went by and we kept in touch, then in 1951 I decided I would go and visit Renee. That was why I was on the train to the Embassy; I had booked my passage on the Queen Mary and was thrilled at the thought of travelling on that great ship. In those days one had to have an interview for a visa to travel to the states and at mine the official asked why a visitor’s visa and not an immigration one? I explained that I had TB in my teens and wouldn’t pass the medical. At that time there was control of currency and you could only take £20 out of the country. The man said that would barely cover the cost of the taxi fare from the docks to the town.
He assured me that the medical was only a formality and he said, “If you are warm, you are in!” However, in spite of a letter from the head of the chest clinic to say I was completely cured- I was refused entry…
I had booked my passage on the Queen Mary with Thomas Cook, when I saw them I was so gutted I could hardly speak. They suggested instead of a refund I transferred to a holiday. I thought of Spain and they gave me a lot of brochures… I chose a place and the next day went to the travel agent and booked it.
Now here I was one Saturday afternoon in May walking across the grass at London Airport towards the plane. I was travelling on my own to Sitges, a small, sleepy fishing village in the Costa Brava. Package tours had not yet started and my mother’s warnings were ringing in my ears to never let go of my passport. I proceeded to mount the steps into the plane.
At least I was on a journey to somewhere! I wondered, what would the next fortnight bring?