Jack and Rose: a love story forged in wartime

Jack and Rose Caldwell pictured in the 1940s.
Jack and Rose Caldwell pictured in the 1940s.

Derry 1942. The world is at war. Jack Caldwell, a young US sailor based at the city’s naval base, meets and falls in love with local girl, Rose Molloy, Two years later, they marry and, at the end of the war, relocate to the United States where they go on to raise a family of seven. On October 5 next, the couple celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. Today the ‘Journal’ recalls their remarkable story.

The story started in 1942. A rainy December evening at the Allied naval base near Derry. A young American sailor named Jack Caldwell got word that a restaurant on Waterloo Street in the city centre was selling fresh steak and eggs.

Jack and Rose Caldwell pictured in 2014.

Jack and Rose Caldwell pictured in 2014.

After months of powdered eggs from the mess, Jack and his four navy buddies jumped at the opportunity for some real chow.

Their destination was Burtonport House, a charming Irish restaurant and pub owned by the Molloy family.

Conn Molloy hailed from Burtonport in west Donegal and his wife, Mary (nee McClellen), was from Iskaheen in Inishowen.

Their daughter, Rose, was working in the restaurant when Jack came in with his buddies.

Derry was home to hundreds of members of the US Navy during World War II.

Derry was home to hundreds of members of the US Navy during World War II.

Their first meeting, according to Rose, was memorable. Jack had been drinking so she ignored him.

Jack, however, was determined to change her mind and he spent the next eight months wooing Rose - and eating a lot of steak and eggs.

Jack was eventually deployed to the south coast of England in preparation for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in June 1944.

However, a few months later he returned to Derry and he and Rose were married at St. Eugene’s Cathedral on October 5, 1944.

They enjoyed a two-day honeymoon in Dublin before Jack had to return to active duty - this time in London.

They left the tranquility of Ireland for a small apartment near Sloane Square, surrounded by villas where royalty from occupied Europe had taken up residence.

When the bombs were falling, titles didn’t matter so much, and Rose recalls sharing many nights in bomb shelters with exiled aristocrats from across the continent.

Victory finally came in 1945 and it was time for the soldiers to return to civilian life across the Atlantic.

In July of 1946, Rose was pregnant with their first child and the couple left the old world to begin their life together in the United States. Little did Rose know that she would not see her parents again until 1963.

With hundreds of other “war brides,” Rose boarded the SS Goethals in Southampton and arrived in New

York six days later. She then boarded a train for the long journey across the country to Port Townsend, Washington, where Jack’s Italian relatives had settled generations before.

Jack followed soon after, landing in Brooklyn in August 1946 with a duffel bag and a crate full of Belleek china - wedding gifts from Ireland.

In October of that same year, Jack inaugurated a 40 year career at the Crown Zellerbach Paper Company in Port Townsend.

Over the course of his career, the family was transferred five times to three different states. Their seven children - John, Phillip, Patsy, Kathy, Tom, Molly and Kevin - were born in Washington, Louisiana, and California.

They moved to Louisiana in 1960, amid race riots, violent demonstrations by the Ku Klux Klan, and the fraught process of desegregation of Southern schools and communities. This experience provided the Caldwell children with an unparalleled education in ethics and morality, as they witnessed first hand the terrible potential of prejudice and injustice; but also the quiet contributions of goodwill from so many good people.

The grandchildren born to five of the seven Caldwell kids are as follows: Amy & Sean (John & Diane); Bridget (and Nick Brown), Steve (Buddy), Meghan & Mandy (Kathy & Steve); Brendan & Ethan (Phil & Barb); Brian, Daniel & Kevin (Molly & the late Gary Gordon); April & Jonathan (Kevin & the former Barb Ross Caldwell).

And so it continues...the great grandchildren, Taylor, Caroline, Al (Manny) (Amy & Al Branch), John Thomas & Connor (Sean & Nicole Caldwell), Elsa Rose and the newest addition Lena Grace (Meghan & Michael Scimeca).

Jack and Rose’s story came full circle in 1994 when, after retirement, they moved back to Port Townsend. They both remain active in their church, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and the Port Townsend Golf Course (Jack plays, Rose generously allows 

They also enjoy many visits with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, most of whom will be present at their 70th wedding anniversary celebrations in a few weeks time.

n Thanks to Mary Caldwell Gordon for the story and photographs of her parents.