First Lieutenant Irwin Davenport bought this nightgown for his young bride, Beatrice, in Paris at the end of World War II. Beatrice and Irwin were college sweethearts who had married on June 15, 1943. The wedding was a double ceremony with Beatrice’s sister, Helen Louise, who married Louis Briggs. During the ceremony, the minister mixed up the names and almost married Beatrice to Louis and Irwin to Helen Louise.
Beatrice was at Irwin’s side for the next three months as he returned to Camp Stewart, Georgia, then accompanied him when he was transferred to Long Island and then to Boston. On April 9, 1944, the newlyweds were forced to part when Irwin sailed for Europe. He served in the famed Red Ball Express, the convoy of trucks that supplied the front lines of American combat. His wife always on his mind, he named his Jeep Beatrice. Meanwhile, Beatrice returned to Illinois, where she worked as a teacher. She likely wrote Irwin daily letters, as she had when they were engaged, knowing that Irwin lived for messages from her.
Irwin returned from the war in the fall of 1945, and he and Beatrice lived happily together until his death from a heart attack at age 42 in 1961. In 1986, three years after her sister died, and forty years after she had almost married him accidentally, she married Louis Briggs for real, bringing together two families who had been close for decades.
After Irwin’s death, Beatrice resolutely moved forward in life, concentrating on raising her four daughters. She rarely talked about the war and only saved a few of Irwin’s letters to her. But she kept the nightgown Irwin gave her in her dresser drawer until the day she died, a private, cherished reminder of her beloved first husband and their wartime romance.