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The Ship of Brides

Cover of The Ship of Brides

The Ship of Brides

A Novel

From the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You and One Plus One, in an earlier work available in the U.S. for the first time, a post-WWII story of the war brides who crossed the seas by the thousands to face their unknown futures

1946. World War II has ended and all over the world, young women are beginning to fulfill the promises made to the men they wed in wartime.

In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other war brides on an extraordinary voyage to England—aboard HMS Victoria, which still carries not just arms and aircraft but a thousand naval officers. Rules are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier's captain down to the lowliest young deckhand. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined despite the Navy's ironclad sanctions. And for Frances Mackenzie, the complicated young woman whose past comes back to haunt her far from home, the journey will change her life in ways she never could have predicted—forever.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You and One Plus One, in an earlier work available in the U.S. for the first time, a post-WWII story of the war brides who crossed the seas by the thousands to face their unknown futures

1946. World War II has ended and all over the world, young women are beginning to fulfill the promises made to the men they wed in wartime.

In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other war brides on an extraordinary voyage to England—aboard HMS Victoria, which still carries not just arms and aircraft but a thousand naval officers. Rules are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier's captain down to the lowliest young deckhand. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined despite the Navy's ironclad sanctions. And for Frances Mackenzie, the complicated young woman whose past comes back to haunt her far from home, the journey will change her life in ways she never could have predicted—forever.

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    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

    Thanks more widely to the Royal Navy, particularly Lt. Commander Ian McQueen, Lt. Andrew G. Linsley, and all those on board HMS Invincible for allowing me to spend time on board.

    I'm very grateful to Neil McCart of Fan Publications for allowing me to reproduce extracts from his excellent and informative book HMS Victorious. And to Liam Halligan of Channel 4 News, for alerting me to Lindsay Taylor's magnificent piece of film: Death at Gadani: The Wrecking of Canberra.

    Access to unpublished journals kept during this time has been fascinating and helped add color to a period I was born too late to experience. Thanks in this case to Margaret Stamper, for allowing me to read her husband's wonderful journal of life at sea, and reproduce a little of it, and to Peter R. Lowery for allowing me to do the same with that of his father, naval architect Richard Lowery. Thanks also to Christopher Hunt and the other staff of the Reading Room at the Imperial War Museum, and those at the British Newspaper Library in Colindale.

    Miscellaneous thanks, in no particular order, to Mum and Dad, to Sandy (Brian Sanders) for his marine knowledge and huge library of naval warfare books, Ann Miller at Arts Decoratifs, Cathy Runciman, Ruth Runciman, Julia Carmichael and the staff at Harts in Saffron Walden. Thanks to Carolyn Mays, Alex Bonham, Emma Longhurst, Hazel Orme and everyone else at Hodder and Stoughton for their continuing hard work and support. Thanks also to Sheila Crowley and Linda Shaughnessy at AP Watt.

    And thanks to Charles, as ever, for love, editorial guidance, technical support, babysitting and for managing to look interested every time I told him some fascinating new fact about aircraft carriers.

    But greatest love and thanks to my grandmother, Betty McKee, who, nearly sixty years ago, made this very journey with unimaginable faith and courage, and still remembered enough about it to give me the basis of this story. I hope Grandpa would have been proud.

    In 1946 the Royal Navy entered the last stage of its post-war transport of war brides, those women and girls who had married British servicemen serving abroad. Most were transported on troopships, or specially commissioned liners. But on 2 July 1946 some 655 Australian war brides embarked on a unique voyage: they were sailing to meet their British husbands on HMS Victorious—an aircraft carrier.

    More than 1100 men—and nineteen aircraft—accompanied them, on a trip that lasted almost six weeks. The youngest bride was fifteen. At least one was widowed before she reached her destination. My grandmother, Betty McKee, was one of those lucky enough to have her faith rewarded.

    This fictional account, inspired by that journey, is dedicated to her, and to all those brides brave enough to trust in an unknown future on the other side of the world.

    Jojo Moyes
    July 2004

    NB All extracts are non-fictional and refer to the experiences of war brides, or those who served on the Victorious.

    Prologue

    The first time I saw her again, I felt as if I'd been hit.

    I have heard that said a thousand times, but I had never until then understood its true meaning: there was a delay, in which my memory took time to connect with what my eyes were seeing, and then a physical shock that went straight through me, as if I had taken some great blow. I am not a fanciful person. I don't dress up my words. But I can say truthfully that it left me winded.

    I hadn't expected ever to see her again. Not in a place like that. I had long since buried her in some mental bottom drawer. Not just her...

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A Novel
Jojo Moyes
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