‘The Priest Refused to Marry Us’: Mixed-Race Couple Share Their 73-Year Story of Love and Prejudice
Trudy Menard and Barclay Patoir met during World War II and fell in love. However, none of their friends or family members supported their marriage because Barclay was Black and Trudy was white. “When I told them at work they thought I was daft marrying a black man. They all said, ‘It won’t last you know,’ because it was a mixed-race marriage,” said Trudy. “I think some people thought I was marrying beneath myself.” But their love survived the odds and they tell their story over 70 years later.
“We got some dirty looks then…”
Trudy herself wasn’t sure about their relationship at first. At the time, she was working at a match factory that got bombed during the Blitz. “I needed a new job and was told they wanted girls at the Rootes aircraft factory in Speke. We were paired up with engineers and they told me to go with Barclay. I said, ‘I’m not going with a colored man. I’ve never seen one before.’ But they told me if I didn’t I’d be sacked so I just got on with it.”
Barclay was an apprentice engineer who had come to the UK from Guyana, a country in South America. “There was a shortage of engineer skills in Britain in World War II so young men from the Caribbean volunteered to help the mother country,” he said.
In fact, 345 civilians moved from the Caribbean region to Liverpool to increase war production. Barclay worked in the factory on Halifax bombers and Trudy became his assistant. Trudy said she was frightened of him at first. “We didn’t speak for a while and then he started to bring me a cup of tea, and then he started bringing me sandwiches.”
Soon, the two became good friends. They eventually went on their first date when the factory production slowed and the staff took some time off.
“I took him to Southport on the train. We got some dirty looks then. I could tell some people were talking about us on the train but we took no notice, did we dear?” Trudy said. After getting a bite to eat, she went to the hostel where he was staying for a cup of tea. “And all the lads were so happy to meet me,” she said.
Catholic Priests Refuses to Marry Them
Although Liverpool had an established Black community, racism ran rampant in the 1940s. And Trudy and Barclay felt this barrier very strongly. This is why Trudy didn’t tell her mother who she was seeing.
“She thought I was going into town to meet the girls. She had noticed I was very happy but she didn’t know why. When she did find out she threatened to throw me out the house.”
After one year of dating, Trudy told Barclay she loved him and wanted to marry him. “He said to me: ‘It’s going to be very hard, you know that don’t you?’ And I said: ‘Yes, I know.’”
They faced troubles immediately. Trudy wanted a church wedding but the priest at the Catholic church refused to marry them. He claimed there are “so many colored men coming over here and going back home leaving the women with children. So I’m not marrying you.”
The couple was devastated over this refusal. But they remained determined to stay together and got married at the Liverpool Register Office. This short ceremony was attended by one of Trudy’s sisters and one of Barclay’s friends. They went out for a celebratory meal after.
Soon after, Trudy and Barclay decided to move from Liverpool to Manchester. Barclay’s friend convinced them saying, “it’s more hospitable and there aren’t as many racial problems.” Still, they struggled to find accommodations because they were an interracial couple. Eventually, they got a room at the same boarding house where Barclay’s friend lived.
Their Love Through the Decades
After the war, Barclay took the option that allowed volunteers to stay in the UK. But the transition was not easy. “You’ve got to have a good mentality to survive. I missed my family for about 10 years; I used to dream about them. And I found the freezing cold hard. I was used to a tropical climate,” he said. Fortunately, he got a job after some difficulty at the Manchester Ship Canal dry dock.
They got settled in their new life, joined a sports club, and got married again, this time by a willing Catholic priest. They had two daughters Jean and Betty. Eventually, they bought their own house in a newly built neighborhood in Wythenshawe. “We were the only mixed-race couple there but we didn’t have any trouble in the community,” Trudy said. “When this place filled up everyone loved our girls.” This included Trudy’s mother, who had changed her opinion of Barclay after her granddaughters’ births.
Today, Trudy and Barclay believe that attitudes toward mixed-race relationships have improved dramatically over the years. “Before people would stop and watch you, or whisper and laugh as you passed and now they’re not bothered,” Barclay said. And Trudy added, “People don’t walk on the other side of the street like they used to.”
The couple now have two children, three grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. On their 70th wedding anniversary in 2014, the Pope and the Queen offered their congratulations. When asked what she loves most about her husband, Trudy said she “can’t put her finger on” it. Meanwhile, Barclay has a ready response. “Trudy is genuine, she’s a partner,” he said. “Every morning I wake up I thank the Lord for having such a good wife.”