My Auntie Pearl Davis Zarkin, who is long decreased sad to say, could tell this story better than anyone, but the 1957 MGM movie “Until They Sail” with Paul Newman and Jean Simmons is a good place to start. It is based on a James Michenor novel which may be worth a look. Despair and disruption caused by war are common themes and the Rank film, “The Way to the Stars”, is a compelling look from the British perspective.
“Loneliness everywhere and hunger” is the haunting refrain voiced by the Newman character as New Zealand women cope with World War Two, the Yank sailors and marines presence in their ports and the loss of their men in the Pacific and North Africa to the war. This would be known by my Auntie Pearl who at that time lived in Auckland, NZ, although I could never hear loneliness and hunger in her whimsical discourse. She brought joy and merriment to our family when she arrived in Spokane in the late 1940s with her husband, Uncle Morrie. I can picture her now with her Dame Edna glasses and spike heels. Uncle Morrie called her “Mary”.
“Until They Sail” is a yarn that tears me apart. The character played by Joan Fontaine asks the character played by Charles Drake: “Why did you Americans come here?” and he replies, “Because of the war.” Heartbreaking loneliness and desire drive New Zealand women to affairs with the Yank sailors and marines against the backdrop of perceived guilt in cheating on their brave New Zealand fighting men. At one point they pinpoint on a map where the American and New Zealand forces are fighting and as casualties mount they destroy the map.
Four sisters are central in the plot. Some want to remain in Christchurch, NZ, while one is eager to get to America. One has a child by a Yank marine who dies in the Pacific. U.S. Navy bureaucracy delays their marriage until it is too late. The American presence in this beautiful land is incredibly disruptive on many levels. In the HBO TV series Pacific, an Australian woman refuses marriage to a Yank marine because she foretells his fate.
My Uncle Morrie was a sailor on a US Navy supply ship in the Pacific when he met Auntie Pearl in Auckland where they were married. Lack of job opportunities and possibly annoying in laws in Auckland prompted my aunt and uncle to move permanently to Spokane, WA, where my uncle was in the scrap metal business and then managed a downtown bar. Auntie Pearl’s people skills and warm personality made her quite successful at Leed’s Shoe Store in downtown Spokane for many years. They had a cozy home on the South Hill with a bar and slot machine in the basement and a dog named Boozer.
What remains from Auntie Pearl is a silver cup inscribed “David” which belonged to her father David Davis. She was quite fond of her stepsister Gladys and made several trips to Auckland as I recall. Auntie Pearl may have seen “Until They Sail” and certainly she would approve of Paul Newman in his Navy uniform.
UPDATE from Sam Gurewitz: The Battle of Tinian was a battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II, fought on the island of Tinian in the Mariana Islands from 24 July 1944 to 1 August 1944. Three cousins, Sam Gurewitz (Seabees), Morrie Zarkin (Navy) and Louis Agranoff (Marine Corps) were reunited on the island of Trinian in 1943 for less than a day. All three survived the war. Sam and the Seabee sailors constructed the airfield in Tinian where the plane Enola Gay took off to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The three cousins were about 20 when they saw active duty.