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British War Bride 55 Years Later

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - Joan Van Scoy will be 88 at Christmastime, but she still turns out on election days to drive voters to the polls and is active in the Historical Society, the North Salem Seniors, the Hudson Valley Teachers Credit Union and the Lions Club. She still bakes scones and shortbread for BOCES, for school children and for the crowd at St. James Episcopal. And until recently, she mowed her own lawn.

When you hear about her history, none of this comes as a surprise. When she was 16, a German land mine was dropped from the sky and exploded in the field beside her home outside of London. The house collapsed, burying Joan and her brother, Leslie, under a heavy oak door and a mountain of debris. It took 2½ hours to dig her out but, she said, “It felt like forever.” The family lost everything, except three eggs, a freshly baked cake and a mono recording of “There’ll Always Be an England.”

A couple of years later, young Joan was employed by the Allied Command, working for “a very nice man,” namely Dwight D. Eisenhower. “A lot of stuff was secret and it is until this day. But we always knew when they were going on a secret mission because they needed to exchange currency.” 

Meanwhile Joan’s father, William Napier, had literally bumped into a couple of young American G.I.s on a foggy London street and, with proper British hospitality, invited them to dinner. Pretty British girl Joan Napier meets charming American boy, Ben Van Scoy. A springtime wedding is planned, nearly aborted by sudden troop movements for D-Day, but carried out with the help of a friendly British Brigadier General.

Honeymoon? They were booked into a London hotel, but when they arrived, two hours late, the room had been taken. So they spent their wedding night in an air raid shelter.

With hundreds of other war brides, Joan Napier Van Scoy crossed the Atlantic in 1946 aboard the Italian liner, Vulcania, and eventually settled down in North Salem with her new husband, descended from one of the town’s oldest families.

Within 15 years, Mrs. Van Scoy was widowed. She had two sons, Peter and Randall, attending North Salem schools. So she got herself a job with the North Salem School District, became a U. S. Citizen, and involved herself in various civic activities.

“You meet nice people when you volunteer,” she explained. “It kept me busy and occupied. It made my life better.”

Of the few things she brought with her from England were a few family recipes. Her Scottish shortbread is famous around town, and in sections of Virginia, where her oldest son now lives. Care to give it a try?

Aunt Atholl MacCallum’s Shortbread

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2 cups unbleached flour

½ cup sugar

½ lb. Butter

Put the flour and sugar in a bowl and mix them together to get air in. Save pieces of the butter into the bow and mix it with the flour and sugar.

Divide the dough between two pie pans and pack it down with your hands. It will all come together. Flute the edges with your fingers.

Place the pie pans in the oven and lower the temperature to 325. (Use a lower temperature if your pie plates are Pyrex.)

Check the shortbread after a half hour. When it smells wonderful and is firm in the middle, it is ready. Cut immediately.

“When I make it for Norm Hathaway, he likes it dark and crunchy, so I let his cook longer. Millicent Martin likes her regular, like the rest of us.”

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