Americans invade the British: Thoughts?Discuss your thoughts on the build up of American troops in the United Kingdom during 1942–1944, focusing on the cultural encounter with the British.
Well, John Henel (my grandfather) was a Master Sergeant in the Fifteenth Army during WWII and certainly had something to say about this particular cultural issue. He was only in England a short time first in Cheshire and then Southampton. The second location was aptly nicknamed "Camp Beastly" because the soldiers had horrid conditions, including a spoiled turkey Christmas dinner in 1944 that left every man violently ill (out of both ends, if you know what I mean). What a mess! With these kinds of complications, the men had very little positive to say about England. Tensions were high.
The worst incident, though, was what happened when the Fifteenth Army attempted to cross the English Channel. Right as my grandfather was taking a drag from his cigarette, a German submarine, watching malevolently below the water, torpedoed the S. S. Empire Javelin. My grandfather was thrown from his feet with unspeakable force, not even knowing what hit him. One moment he was having a smoke and the next he was lying there on the deck, bruised. All of his buddies, those he fought so hard to remain with, were killed.
My grandfather couldn't get away from England fast enough!
The irony is that my grandfather has far superior memories of the kindness and compassion from the people of Belgium than he does the people of England.
Actually, the Brits weren't in any danger of being invaded by the time we showed up. They took care of themselves during the Battle of Britain. Our guys were there gearing up to invade France.
My thoughts about this are that it must have been a difficult thing for all involved. The British knew that there was a war on, obviously, and that the American soldiers were needed. But that couldn't have made it much easier to see the American soldiers hanging out (as Bullgator's dad did) with all the local women.
It must have also been somewhat tough for the young men who were over there, full of energy, excited to be somewhere other than (again using Bullgator's dad) Mississippi, and wanting to live it up yet having to be sensitive to not making waves and getting setting back relations with the British. (From what I've read, this was a major point of emphasis among commanding officers.)
So, it must have been hard for all concerned to deal with this in the middle of a particularly stressful time in world history.
As several folks have already suggested, relations seem to have been complex, just as they would be complex if massive numbers of Brits (or citizens of any other country) had come to the U. S. then (or at any time). From what I have read, there was indeed some resentment of Americans, but surely most people must have felt gratitude for our help (although maybe also some frustration with us for having taken our time become getting involved). Relations between the U. S. and the U. K. have rarely been without some tensions, but in general (and especially during WW II) both have been lucky to have each other as allies.
By the way, here's an interesting article that supports some of the claims made in this discussion thread: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,951088,00.html
I recall a discussion with an older English friend who couldn't thank the soldiers enough. As a girl, her house was destroyed during the Blitz, and she and her family were relocated out of London. Everything was in short supply, and she and her family were literally out of everything, relying upon the generosity of those who were already impoverished. They moved from host family to host family as that particular town had been flooded with Londoners. When the Americans showed up prior to D-Day, they showered this girl and her family with whatever they had, or procure. One soldier actually convinced his quartermaster that he needed 5 replacement wool blankets because he had lost his!! She choked up relating this story. "What a gift it was," she said, "for us to finally be warm at night."
I agree with #3 that "invade" might by overstating the situation, but certainly the event had a profound effect on all involved. Clashes were to be expected given the differences in style and finances between the English who were very much into war rationing and restricting mode by 1942 and the American soldiers who brought with them a very different attitude toward what was happening and how they would live in response.
What parallels could be drawn between the Americans "invading" England in 1942 and the British musicians called the Beatles and others "invading" the United States in the 1960's? I think there are some interesting similarities in the reactions of parents observing their children react to the music and appearance of those groups!
As the token Brit on this discussion posting, I feel that we need to remember the vastly different war time experience that Brits had during this period. Britain's close proximity to mainland Europe and the way that it was frequently blitzed certainly made for massive tensions. Although I wasn't around at the time, putting Americans and Brits together at the best of moments does not always make for an easy encounter. Let us remember that we are culturally very different and even though we speak the same language all of us have a national pride in terms of our identity. Vast numbers of Americans would have perhaps threatened this in the Brits at a time when national pride was incredibly important.
My dad certainly enjoyed his time in England prior to the D-Day Invasion in 1944. Although most of the troops' time was spent with drilling, he did have a few stories to tell about the British ladies (he was based in Devon, I believe) he met there as well as some of the English pubs he frequented. Of course, there were several hundred thousand American troops along with him, so the British civilian population must have been tired of their presence. For 20 year old from a tiny town in Mississippi, it was the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime.
There was bound to be some sort of cultural incidents, as would happen anytime a foreign army shows up on home soil, whether they were invited or not. But in general I have only read accounts of the British being very gracious and friendly hosts to American troops. There was the half-joking complaint made by some British soldiers about the three things wrong with Americans: They're oversexed, overpaid and over here. But as Allied efforts went, the Anglo-American alliance was particularly strong in my opinion.
It was one of the high points in the "special relationship." Culture clashes, from what I've read, were frequent, but generally good-natured. More importantly, it began a massive influx of American goods, made even greater by massive US business investment after the war, that altered British culture forever, for better or for worse.
I am not sure "invade" is the right word. However I have always assumed that the British were grateful for the American soldiers in World War II. We were protecting our allies, and they desperately needed our help at the time. We were not the ones in danger.
'Over-paid, over-sexed and over here.'
That was the standard half-joke/half-truth that British people said about the US forces stationed in Britian. How can we put this politely... an awful lot of young girls were dazzled by the American soldiers in their smart uniforms with their army pay and fancy food rations (chocolate and chewing gum!). And a lot of those girls ended up with a lovely little bouncing Uncle Sam. Or at least, that's what my granny said it was like, anyway ;-)