Tragic love story of GI and his St Ann's bride
Wednesday, December 03, 2008, 15:27

Thousands of young women left Britain in 1946 to join their GI husbands in the USA. ANDY SMART tells the sad story of one local girl who did not live the American dream

THE photograph was picked at random from the Post archives – but for one family it told a tragic tale. We needed the photograph, taken 65 years ago, to illustrate an article about GI brides, but we had no clue to the identity of the girl pictured chatting to American soldier Tom Purcella in Wollaton Park during World War Two.

But one Notts man recognised the photograph -- back then he was the baby being held by the handsome young soldier, and the girl was his sister May, one of 11 children from Moffat Street, St Ann's.

"Apparently, everywhere May went, she would take me with her," said Ray Howarth, now 64 and living in Gunthorpe.

The Bygones article brought back heartbreaking memories, particularly for his elder sister Kath Norman, 72, and with the help of poignant family photographs, they revealed the sad tale.

When the American 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment arrived in Nottingham to prepare for the D-Day landings in 1944, May Howarth was one of many local teenage girls who were attracted to the good-looking Yanks with their ready smiles and pockets full of cash.

Perhaps the girls were looking for an escape from hard times in the back streets of Nottingham, perhaps they were just seeking a little excitement during those dark days of war.

Whatever the reason, May met and fell in love with a GI named Joseph Cananzey, a handsome, dark-haired soldier with F Company, who came from the small town of Taunton, Massachusetts.

Joe was welcomed into the Howarth home, befriended by most people in Moffat Street, and charmed by his young English rose.

"He used to walk up the street and the kids would shout 'hey Joe, what do you know? Got any gum, chum?' " said Mrs Norman, who now lives in Chilwell.

"Although her name was Winifred May and we all knew her as May, for some reason he called her Pam – it was his pet name for her. I cannot remember why."

In the spring of 1944, Joe left Wollaton Park to take part in the Normandy invasion.
Four days after parachuting into France, he was wounded and shipped back to Nottingham.

It was sudden, unexpected ... so he and May decided it was the right time to get married – before he had to return to the uncertainty of battle.

Mrs Norman couldn't remember where the wedding was held but recalled the reception was in a church hall on Bluebell Hill.

"I know everyone was dancing to Glenn Miller music.

"They were a lovely couple and she was so happy."

GI Joe, a highly decorated war hero, survived the fighting and in 1945, he returned to his home town to be demobbed ... and to wait for his bride to join him.

May, a former Pierrepont School pupil, was so excited about going to America, she was convinced it would lead to a better way of life.

"She told us she would send us money for bikes and all sorts of things," remembers Mrs Norman.

Joe was just as keen to see his bride but just before Christmas 1945 May fell ill, struck down by TB.

"She had her bed placed beside the front room window so she could wave to people going by," remembered Mrs Norman.

As the weeks passed, her condition got worse. She was asking for Joe.

The family sent him a telegram: "May sinking fast, calling for you".

But crossing the Atlantic just after the war was no easy matter.

Flights were expensive and Joe didn't have the kind of money needed to make the trip.
But the Taunton Gazette newspaper in Massachusetts picked up the love story and as soon as the local people read about his bride's plight, a fund was launched to raise $2,000 for Joe's air fare, and a local congressman rushed through his passport application.

Within days he was able to fly to England – via Boston, Newfoundland, Shannon and Croydon – racing to her bedside in St Ann's.

He brought with him medicine to aid her recovery and told her: "I am going to remain until you are well enough to come back to America.

"And I haven't forgotten the Nottingham language," Joe told her, "so I say right now, you must not worry about nowt!"

But she didn't recover. Her condition worsened until, just two weeks later, on May 1 1946, she died peacefully in the arms of her husband.

Just before she passed away, May whispered to him: "Goodbye Joe, I will see you again where there are no partings."

On May 4 1946 Winifred May Howarth was buried in Wilford Cemetery. She lies there, alongside three of her siblings who also died early in life.

It was her 20th birthday.

Joseph Cananzey returned to America after the funeral and later remarried.

He died in 1987, at the age of 63, but before his death he committed his memoirs to a tape recording now held by May's family.

He talked about meeting "a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful girl," and remembered how he would sneak out of camp, without a pass, to meet her, running the risk of arrest and possible court-martial.

Joe spoke about the way his neighbours rallied round to raise the cash for his flight to her bedside. "Donations were being pushed through my door. It was such a marvellous thing to see this city do this for me."

He described the long flight over and then, his voice cracking with emotion, added: "I stayed with her until she passed away. I buried Pamela and then I came home."