THE WAR YEARS IN BRAZIL (Part II)
C 1008 JoJo
Even though I was very young when World War II broke out, I have vivid memories of it. Dad had just become an ordained Anglican Priest, and his first Parish was in Recife, in the State of Pernambuco, Brazil. The Church was located right in the heart of the city. It was surrounded by a huge wrought iron fence which was the first to go, to be donated to the war effort. I remember watching it being pulled down and hauled into the back of a large truck, which then drove away to parts unknown.
Since the Church was located on prime downtown land, the Church Council decided to sell it and move the Church onto the grounds of the English Country Club. This actually was a good move, because people went to the Country Club to play tennis, cricket, lawn bowling and snooker, so it was a short walk from the club house to the Church, so some of them killed two birds with one stone – went to Church then onto tennis, cricket or what have you.
The British Community in Recife were extremely worried about the war – not only because of loved ones fighting it in the British armed forces, but also because at that point, none of us knew to which side Brazil would ally itself.
The three southernmost States of Brazil (Parana, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul) at that point, were entirely German. For several generations, Germans had emigrated there, set up German schools where their children were taught German history, German geography and no Portuguese whatsoever. This meant that fifth generation Brazilians in those three States might just as well have been in Germany for all that they knew about the country in which they’d been born and lived! I can say this quickly came to an end with the advent of the war.
Under the flag of neutrality, Brazilians were shipping war materials to England – rubber, steel, petroleum, etc. Naturally, the Third Reich took a dim view of this, and sank three Brazilian cargo boats laden with war materials - in Brazilian waters.
Well, that decided matters instantly. Brazilians were in a rage and demanded Brazil declare war on Germany, and this is precisely what happened. The British Community in Recife breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Huge caches or guns and ammunition were found throughout the three southern German/Brazilian States and plans were found indicating that Hitler intended to invade from the north, the treasonous German/Brazilians from the south and they were going to meet in the middle.
Germans in Recife were stigmatized immediately. One German owned a fancy perfume store stocked with expensive French perfume. Well that got raided, and every single bottle was hurled out onto the street outside and smashed to bits. That street smelled wonderful for months afterwards.
There was one family we knew where the father was a German Jew and the mother an Englishwoman. They had a little girl my age, named Rosemary. Well, the British ladies swung into action and wouldn’t allow their kids to play with Rosemary because her father was German. My parents didn’t join in this preposterous boycott and Rosemary and I became best friends throughout the war years.
(I digress here a minute, to mention that when I boarded ship in England to return to Brazil after attending college, I ran into Rosemary on board, going back to her parent’s home in Sao Paulo. As soon as she recognized me, she ran up and threw her arms around my neck, saying how much my friendship had meant to her in the war years, because I was the only child allowed to play with her. That kind of stupid bigotry saddens me greatly.)
Recife became the central command headquarters, not only against invasion by German forces from the north, but also as a launching spot to the war raging in Africa and the south Atlantic. Thousands of allied servicemen flooded the area and the city buzzed with activity.
I have an Aunt who’s only 13 years older than I am – she was my Grandpa’s daughter by his second wife, Granny Fanny. Well, Jean lived with us and at that time she was around 17. She was a sexy and very attractive girl, and soon had servicemen buzzing around her. She’d date one of them, until he got sent overseas, at which point there would be much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth - until the following week when some other guy in uniform replaced him.
Mum was really concerned that Jean would get herself “in trouble” (as it was called back then) so I was often called in to be a chaperon when she went out on a date. On one date, she and some fine specimen of American manhood were going to a movie, and Mum told me to keep an eye on them, and I intended to carry out this task to the fullest and the best of my ability.
We arrived at the movie house, and boyfriend thrust some money into my hand and said “Get lost kid!” I drew myself up to my full 3 foot height and said indignantly, “Are you trying to BRIBE me?” He had the grace to look ashamed! However, I hung onto the money he gave me – stupid, I wasn’t!
So we took our seats in the movie theatre, in the following order: boyfriend/Jean/me. Boyfriend repeatedly tried to put his arm around Jean, and every time he did, I’d pinch it – hard - so he withdrew it sharply with muttered curses about what a so and so brat I was.
I couldn’t have told you what the movie was about five minutes after walking out of the theatre, because I didn’t see any of it. I sat forward in my seat for the entire time, eyes glued on Jean and her frustrated swain. I don’t think the poor guy was even able to sneak in a kiss! I took my chaperon duties very seriously.
A USO was set up in Recife, and both my parents were actively involved in it. They laid on a show there, and roped in several young local English girls to sing and perform at it, for the entertainment of the servicemen. Jean had an amazing singing voice – in her mind only - and she opted to sing at this show. Well at that time, she was “in love” with an American serviceman named “Danny”, and she opted to sing “Always,” as in “I’ll be loving you – always,” which she’d perform while gazing into the crowd at Danny. Well, “always” wasn’t appropriate in Jean’s case – “always” just meant - until Danny got shipped out. Dad who was organizing the show, muttered about what a stupid, damn fool song to choose to sing, but she insisted on singing it. She also insisted on singing last – as in “saving the best for last.”
There was a bit of a sadistic streak running in Dad, because he didn’t tell her that every other girl singing on the show, (obviously as love smitten as Jean) had opted to sing the same song!
Now the first time it was sung, the servicemen shouted enthusiastically, stamped their feet and gave out piercing whistles of approbation. The second time, too, but by the time the third, fourth and fifth girl had sung “Always,” they were getting sick to death of the song – and who can blame them?
Finally, it was Jean’s turn. When she declared she would be singing “Always,” a howl of anguish rang around the room, which she interpreted as enthusiasm for her and her choice of song. She smiled sweetly, and launched forth into “Always,” and the servicemen howled louder and louder, so that they drowned out her voice altogether! But it didn’t phase on her one little bit. She sang it and looked into Danny’s eyes in the third row, deeply and meaningfully! I hope Danny enjoyed it because nobody else did!