Mother’s Day 2021
For Mother’s Day we’re highlighting one of the many written accounts we’ve added to our collection about mothers. Maisie Irene Black’s wartime story was submitted by her daughter Marie Nickolette Tench.
Maisie fell in love with GI Ernest Nickolette when they met at a dance in March 1942. She became a GI Bride in March 1943 when they married at Dundonald Presbyterian Church. In 1946 Maisie sailed to the US with their baby boy Terry and began their lives in Lorain, Ohio. Maisie, who passed away at the age of 87, never lost her Irish accent.
My mom, Maisie Irene Black, was a GI Bride from Belfast, Northern Ireland. She lived at 17 Greenfield Terrace off the Beersbridge Road in East Belfast with her mom and dad, Agnes and Walter Black, and younger sister Mabel. On March 25th, 1942, Ernest Nickolette and Maisie Black met at a dance for US soldiers held at Purdysburn Hospital. It must have been love at first sight. They danced to music by Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra; music they enjoyed and danced to throughout their lives. Maisie was 23 years old, Ernest was 26. She worked in downtown Belfast selling hats in the Millinery Department of The Bank Buildings, a large department store. Over the next few months they saw each other as often as possible and soon knew they wanted to marry. Her family was very close and it must have been hard for them to accept this handsome American Catholic man as the love of Maisie’s life. But they did, and the following year on March 2nd, 1943, one year to the day after arriving in Belfast Harbour, Maisie and Ernest were married at Dundonald Presbyterian Church. Ration coupons were saved for many previous weeks so that enough eggs and flour could be on hand to bake the wedding cake. My grandmother, Agnes, made a wedding suit for my mom to wear.
Ernest, or “Nicky” as Maisie fondly called him, was already stationed in England and because of his rank she was soon able to join him. They lived in a cottage in St. Austell, Cornwall, near his camp. The following year, 1944, he was sent from England to France and she returned to Belfast with a baby on the way. The 467th Engineers arrived in Normandy on D-Day +1 , June 7, 1944, where their assignment was to clean, recondition and reassemble all of the engines of the vehicles on Normandy Beach and then move them to another location, another battle. In a Blackout situation they drove the tanks and trucks with no headlights on through the Black Forest of Germany and then on to Luxemburg. On Christmas Eve of 1944, Ernest was reading the Stars and Stripes, an American newspaper written for the soldiers, when he read about his son, Terence, who was born in Belfast on December 9, 1944. Ernest (Nicky) immediately requested a furlough to return to Belfast and be with his wife and son. He was granted a 7-day leave on March 14, 1945 to finally meet his new-born son, Terence.
When the war ended in 1945, our GI Dad was sent home and was later discharged from the US Army, having served his country for 5 years. He immediately started the process for Maisie and son Terry to join him to begin their life in Lorain, Ohio. Ernest returned to his job as a machinist at the Thew Shovel Company and because of his service to his country he was credited with an additional 5 years of seniority. Maisie and 14-month-old Terry joined him on February 26, 1946 after sailing on a ship filled with other GI Brides and many small children. I have often wondered how she had the courage to leave her family in Belfast and get on that ship with a small baby to cross the ocean to begin her life in America. Housing was hard to come by after the war ended so for several months they shared a house on Apple Avenue in Lorain, Ohio with patriarch Dominic Nickolette, Gilda (Ernest’s sister), her husband Tony and their young son Ronnie. Gilda taught Maisie to cook many delicious meals. In Belfast the food had been rationed so Maisie was not able to experiment with cooking during the war. Needless to say, this Irish lass learned to cook Italian foods.
On March 25, 1947 (the anniversary of the day they met at the dance at Purdysburn), daughter Marie was born. Maisie, Ernest and Terry brought their new baby home to a house of their own. They raised their two children in Lorain. In 1950, Ernest fulfilled a promise made to Maisie’s family that he would send her back for a visit as soon as he had the money saved. They sailed across the Atlantic on a Cunard/White Star Line ship, the “Britannic”. When the three of them returned to Lorain many weeks later, Terry, age 5, and Marie, age 3, had Irish accents! After Terry and Marie grew up and finished their education, the trips to Belfast were more frequent. Visits to America by Maisie’s sister Mabel and husband Bill became more frequent as well. Cousins Rhoda and Isobel each made visits to the USA and the family was able to be reunited nearly every two years, keeping their close ties. Today, the next generation, the cousins, are keeping the family ties close by visiting each other whenever possible.
Maisie lived to age 87 and had been a widow for 18 years when she passed in 2007. Ernest, her beloved “Nicky”, had passed in 1989. She missed him every single day and never really adjusted to being a widow. Maisie was happiest being around young people and always encouraged them to travel to Northern Ireland. Maisie and Ernest had a remarkable war time romance and enduring love story. They are greatly missed by friends and family on both sides of the ocean.
If your mother or grandmother has any wartime memories to share or if you would like to submit a written account on their behalf, please get in touch with our Oral History Project Coordinator, Michael, at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 07588634847.