The only thing I remember about the Yanks in Alresford was that they were ‘over paid, over sexed and over here’
Len Strong’s comment on Shirley the American Doll reminded me that the Alresford men who had been fighting for four years by the time the GIs arrived probably had a very different point of view from the women and children.
John Keegan described the arrival of the GIs in the West Country in 1943 like this – ‘How different they looked from our own jumble-sale champions, beautifully clothed in smooth khaki as fine in cut and quality as a British officer’s – an American private, we confided to each other at school, was paid as much as a British captain, major, colonel – and armed with glistening, modern, automatic weapons.’
Keegan’s book also brings to mind the 47th Infantry Regiment’s vehicles ‘buzzing nimbly about the lanes on independent errands like the beach buggies of an era still thirty years ahead, tiny and entrancing jeeps, caparisoned with whiplash aerials and sketchy canvas hoods’ and decked with optional extras like deep-treaded spare tyres, winches, towing cables and fire extinguishers. (Pike took the photograph above of this jeep, bristling with accessories, at Alresford Station during War on the Line in June.)
There was clearly plenty of scope for friction between the Americans and British. As they crossed the Atlantic, American servicemen were issued a pamphlet which warned them that ‘the first and major duty Hitler has given his propaganda chiefs is to separate Britain and America and spread distrust between them.’ They were told the British dislike bragging and showing off. ‘They won’t think any better of you for throwing your money around and the British “Tommy” is apt to be specially touchy about the difference between his wages and yours.’ The pamphlet told them that ‘Britain may look a little shop-worn and grimy to you… the houses haven’t been painted because factories are not making paint – they’re making planes … The British people are anxious for you to know that in normal times Britain looks much prettier, cleaner, neater.’ The GIs were explicitly told not to rub a Britisher up the wrong way by telling him “we came over and won the last one.”
But many people who were slow to welcome the GIs missed them when they left. In 1944 A. P. Herbert wrote this poem:
Goodbye GI. Bud, now you know the way,
Come back and see us on a brighter day.
When England’s free and ‘Scotch’ is cheap but strong
And you can bring your pretty wives along.
Goodbye GI. Don’t leave us quite alone.
Somewhere in England we must write in stone
How Britain was invaded by the Yanks,
And under that, a big and hearty ‘Thanks.’
Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris June 6th-August 25th 1944, John Keegan
Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942, War Department, Washington
‘Over Here’ The GIs in wartime Britain, Juliet Gardiner