Nearly two months after D-Day, Allied troops entered Rouen, France on August 30th, 1944 to little German resistance and, apparently, to the jubilant embraces of the grateful crowds.
At least it was apparent to Ralph Morse who, in the Spring of 1946, photographed the "illegitimate war babies" of Rouen, who were being cared for, along with their mothers, in the "Cradle of Rouen," a Red Cross-established nursery, as well as in the living rooms of kindly grandmeres and farmers' wives.
When I stumbled across Morse's photos over the weekend, I figured this would be just one more slightly amusing addition to the The Greatest Generation's Nurseries series. Until I looked into the war baby story at all.
Historians say Canadian soldiers left behind more than 30,000 babies in the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. And that's just the Canadians. Estimates for American GI kids in Europe range from 50,000 to 100,000, which is vague enough to tell you that no one really knows, even 60 years later. And then there's Japan.
As recently as 2005, war babies were being officially ignored [except in Holland, where the 6,000+ "Children of Liberation" born in 1945-6 were soon jokingly referred to as a Canadian expeditionary force-in-waiting], and attempts to identify or contact their fathers were met by stonewalling by the US and Canadian governments.
Growing up without fathers--or without parents, having been left in an orphanage by their ashamed mothers--these war babies would stand along the parade routes celebrating WWII veterans, holding signs that said, "Where Are You Daddy?" Beginning in the 1980's, they started organizing into groups. If the Manchester-based ODAC [Our Dads Are Canadian] doesn't already have the best war baby t-shirt designs ever, I hope someone will step up and help them out.
In 2006, a Dutch-Canadian couple Olga and Lloyd Rains published Voice of the Left Behind, which tells 50 stories of the more than 1,100 war babies who traced--and in some cases, reunited with--their Canadian soldier fathers thans to Project Roots, an organization the Rainses founded.
Search LIFE for Ralph Morse's photos of "Illegitimate war babies" [life archive]
Canada's forgotten war babies: part one: and part two [Esprit de Corps, Apr. & May 2005]
Preview Voices of the Left Behind: Project Roots and the Canadian War Children of World War II or buy it at Amazon [google books, amazon]