In RICH RELATIONS, David Reynolds analyzes the experiences of the American soldiers stationed in Great Britain during World War II and the reactions of their British hosts. To prepare for this book, Reynolds researched extensively in archives in Britain and the United States and conducted numerous interviews with surviving veterans and civilians.
Reynolds’ organizational scheme is chronological. He begins by describing what life was like before the war in both countries and compares their social structures. The American soldiers, he observes, were children of a society battered by the Great Depression and divided along racial and regional lines. The British, in contrast, had not seen quite as much of a shock after 1929 and were divided primarily by class.
These differences often resulted in tensions between American soldiers and the British after the massive American buildup started in 1942. To satisfy an army of people who grew up in the Depression, the U.S. government paid them far better than their British military counterparts and gave them access to food and other niceties that were in very short supply in wartime Britain. This largesse aroused jealousy among British civilians and service personnel. The British were also concerned about relationships between American GI’s and British women and the attempts by the U.S. Army to maintain racial segregation within its ranks.
Reynolds’ book is well written and researched and will be enjoyed by historians and general readers alike. Nevertheless, RICH RELATIONS could have benefited from tighter organization, for Reynolds often touches on a topic, leaves it for a time, and then returns to it; this tendency makes an otherwise fine book seem a bit repetitive.