View Full Version : American GIs in Great Britain (WWII)

05-20-2012, 05:39 AM
I'm looking for an information about what life was like for the GIs that were sent to build-up the American presence before invading the Axis in 1943 (I know that there were air strikes on Germany before that, but this MC is part of the ground forces).

What kind of work did the GIs do while in GB? Did they have free time? Were they allowed to roam the area that they were stationed in?

Thank you!

05-20-2012, 07:59 AM
I interviewed a couple of our few remaining WWII vets in 2010. This is all one of them told me about being in England. He was in the D-Day landings. Puma

We were shipped to Plymouth, England. The trip took eleven to twelve days and we arrived on Easter Sunday, 1944 (April 9). We trained some more, but I did get to visit a little bit of England. The fish and chips were "out of this world". There were all kinds of fish being cooked on the street for sale. It was nice weather in England.

05-20-2012, 12:56 PM
I was going to suggest contacting Vets Organisations, then I remembered that the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum, which is just up the road from me, has a really good web site: http://www.100bgmus.org.uk/default.aspx

This may also be of help, a link from the 100th's site:

There is also Flixton, http://www.aviationmuseum.net/

And this: http://ww2il.com/?cat=4

If you email the above hopefully they will be able to help you.

05-20-2012, 01:20 PM
If you can, read Major Richard Winter's autobiography (http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Band-Brothers-Memoirs-Winters/dp/0425208133), he was in the 101st Airborne (Band of Brothers). In fact, thinking about it, most of the men from his platoon, who wrote autobiographies, wrote at least a chapter or two about their time in England.

Many of the men of the 101st were based in my village before D-Day. They were billeted all over the place - in stables, barns, tents, peoples' houses. They spent a lot of time doing cross-country marches but they had free time too. The Blue Boar (http://www.thepubonthegreen.co.uk/pages/history/the-screaming-eagles.php) served as the Officer's Mess. The enlisted men managed to have some fun too. They certainly weren't kept separate from the villagers. Major Winters was billeted at the Village Post Office and became very close friends with the owners. He used to attend services at the village Church.

I just found this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dEAhe7jTW0) on You Tube. It's quite sweet, it's some of the men of Easy Company visiting Aldbourne back in 1991.

You may also find some personal accounts here (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/categories/c1180/index.shtml) in the BBC People's War archives.

But, there's plenty of information out there. Good luck!

05-20-2012, 02:02 PM
I don't know about the GIs' experience, but they have left a legacy on the impact on the local population.

One phrase the comes to mind was that the GIs were "Oversexed, overpaid and over here." These were young men from an affluent country suddenly arriving in a country that had been at war for several years. That made a massive impact on locals who had been suffering with rationing. When you have to save rationing coupons to get bread and milk, imagine seeing an army of healthy well-fed men with lots of supplies? British kids had never seen candy. British women had never seen nylons.

Many women had no husbands at home - either lost to the war or away fighting. And that's where the expression "American knickers" came from. One yank and they're off.

If your MC comes to Europe, I think you've got five basic elements - enlistment and training in America prior to leaving, a hazardous sea journey across the Atlantic at the mercy of U-boats, a brief interlude in England (probably mostly boring but with chances with the local girls), a harrowing landfall on D Day, then liberation becoming steadily easier as the Germans fall back to Berlin.

05-20-2012, 02:46 PM
Andrea Levy's novel Small Island has some very moving chapters on the impact of black American GIs dancing with white Englishwomen and the racial tensions that erupted. Fiction, but well researched.

05-20-2012, 04:27 PM
I can't tell you much about it myself. It might be valuable to pick up some WWII memoirs, maybe. There's loads (http://www.amazon.com/Best-World-War-II-Memoirs/lm/11THEKAPQ0PD5) about.

05-20-2012, 10:25 PM
Here in Hay-on-Wye, we had GIs while they were training for the Normandy landings. They had to put the white GIs at one end of the village and the black GIs at the other end - and there were still fist fights. The white GIs were annoyed that the local girls liked to date the black men.

05-22-2012, 04:27 AM
My father was in Normandy on D-Day where most of his platoon was wiped out, either from gunfire or they drowned trying to get ashore. He was promoted on the beach (well from private to sergeant) as so many of the officers were killed.

But in England? He loved the English and English girls. He said the English families (who put up many soldiers in barns, etc.) were friendly, appreciative and damned glad to have the Americans there.

One anecdote my father told me (and he actually spoke very little of WWII) is that he and his friends were tired of the ordinary rations they were eating, so being a country boy he figured he'd kill a swan. Yes, a swan. He said the old bird was tough as shoe leather AND he had no idea that all the swans were the property of HRH. He got in trouble for killing and eating that swan and had to write an apology and do some kind of kitchen duty for a few weeks because of it.

05-22-2012, 09:57 AM
Thank you guys! Now I have been able to narrow down my research. I'm surfing documentaries to try and find one about the (American) soldiers prep for D-Day. So far, I've found one that breify mentions it, but its at least a start.

05-22-2012, 10:17 AM
The preparation for D-Day had, for some American soldiers a tragic end - see here http://www.secondworldwar.org.uk/tiger1.html

or Google Slapton Sands where Operation Tiger took place and led to the deaths of over 900 American Servicemen.


05-22-2012, 11:37 AM
Plus the American GI's also treated the British black servicemen much differently and if I remember there was a lot of racial tension. From what I remember being told the British were told that that's the way the American's are, that their country was segregated and if they start fights with British blacks for being in public places, that you should not step in, as that's the way they think.

I got along fine with the white Commonwealth personnel because apparently they had been warned not to compare West Indians with their native population. A few did step out of line, but were dealt with accordingly. But I didn't get along with white American GIs. They were reluctant to accept the fact that the British black servicemen were a different race in social outlook. Many of the white American GIs were from the southern states of America and, although they were in Europe (a very different social scene), they couldn't face the changes that took place. So we had open wars, especially in dance halls and various places of entertainment, with the local whites as back-up on our side.


Mr Flibble
05-22-2012, 02:20 PM
Plus the American GI's also treated the British black servicemen much differently and if I remember there was a lot of racial tension.

I read an account (many many years ago, I'll try to see if it's on the net anywhere) of a black GI, who said almost all the tension came from the American GIs who weren't used to non-segregation. The black GIs were very appreciative of being allowed anywhere the whites were too - he remembered being very surprised by it. In fact, iirc (I may not, bu this is definitely the impression I recall), in the small village this particular chap was billeted in, the white COs told the landlord he should bar the black GIs (for segregation). The landlord did choose to segregate - he barred the white GIs because they were worse behaved. Did not go down too well...

It was quite a clash of cultures in many respects. (and while we called teh Americans oversexed, overpaid and over here, they called us undersexed, underpaid and under Eisenhower)

I'll see if I can dig it up.

05-23-2012, 11:03 AM
There are all sorts of memoirs and books about WWII that talk about the troops in England during the build up to D Day. Read a few and you'll get a better understanding and probably some color to use.

One thing to remember: WWII was a BIG war and not all experiences were universal. One American GI might have a different experience leading up to D Day than another American GI depending on where his unit was located, what type of unit it was, the personalities of the leadership, and his specific job duties. Don't take one experience or incident as universal until you see it pop up a few times.

In general though, much of the time was taken up with training. They trained as individuals on various weapons and to learn various skills. They trained as squads to work together. They trained in small units (Platoons, companies) and sometimes in larger units (battaltions, etc). The smaller unit training was more frequent due to the difficulties (logistical and space constraints) associated with putting larger units together for training.

They did have some time off, but how much they could leave the camp, where they could go, etc, was limited by where they were in England, their rank (officers had more freedom then enlisted), available transportation, etc.

Right before D-Day everyone was restricted to camp and no mail was sent out. Remember, D Day was originally scheduled for June 5 and was delayed one day due to weather. I believe they all stayed on the ships and the majority of the ships stayed at sea. (check that, I could be remembering wrong)

One interesting detail I've noticed at least once or twice is soldiers commenting on how they were issued new weapons right before D Day and had to clean the cosmoline (preservative grease) off them and sight them in

I believe every GI was issued (or was supposed to be issued) a GI book on England, it's history and people, and how they should behave, as a general guide. This was a small paperback. If you look you might be able to find one, or a reprint, on eBay or from some site catering to WWII re-enactors.

05-23-2012, 12:07 PM

I believe every GI was issued (or was supposed to be issued) a GI book on England, it's history and people, and how they should behave, as a general guide. This was a small paperback. If you look you might be able to find one, or a reprint, on eBay or from some site catering to WWII re-enactors.

Do you mean this http://www.amazon.co.uk/Instructions-American-Servicemen-Britain-1942/dp/1851240853/ref=pd_sim_b_1 ?

Mr Flibble
05-23-2012, 12:17 PM
They had some copies of that in Waterstone's not so long ago (also a companion one for GIs in Australia I think)

Worth taking a look - they were very interesting (and quite amusing for a Brit :D)

05-23-2012, 07:25 PM
I can tell you a few things about the landing. My father was over six foot, and a country boy. He could swim - even loaded down with all his heavy gear. When he got pushed off the boat to head for the beach he said men were drowning all around him. Some of the smaller men were in water over their heads and just went down and never came back up.

Years later on a talk show I heard one of the Arness brothers (I do not know if it was Peter or Jim) say the same thing. He got to the beach because he was tall and could swim.

My dad lost hearing in one ear, too, because he made it to where the Germans were firing some sort of big cannon. He hunkered down in the sand where he couldn't be seen until he and some other soldiers were able to go in and take it out - I guess with grenades. Though if the weapons were all wet? I don't know. He told me and my sister only brief anecdotes here and there. He hated that war and he came back a silent and almost sullen man. Luckily he met my gregarious mother who gave him a reason to go on and etc. etc.

He also did duty in a POW camp (German prisoners.) He ended his service as an MP. I wish - so so wish - he had lived long enough to tell me more. When he died I was still quite young, but I think he would have told an adult child (me) more. We watched the TV series the Holocaust and at one point I asked, Dad, were the camps that bad? He said worse. (He was also present at one of the camp's 'liberation' and said he and some of the soldiers actually started crying.) He was told by a commanding officer to look around and never forget because some day there will be those who doubt this happened.

Anyhow, that's about all I got.

05-24-2012, 02:20 AM
The Imperial War Museum in London has a whole bunch of pictures of Americans in Britain during WW2: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=AMERICANS+IN+BRITAIN%2C+1942+-+1945 -- definitely helps in getting a sense of what it was like!

You might also like this series of photos of American soldiers and their English girlfriends (or flings, or whatever :) ) in Hyde Park: http://annakrentz.blogspot.ca/2011/05/love-in-hyde-park-1944.html [that's my blog, but it's not shameless self-promotion, I promise! :) ]

05-24-2012, 08:58 AM
Do you mean this http://www.amazon.co.uk/Instructions-American-Servicemen-Britain-1942/dp/1851240853/ref=pd_sim_b_1 ?

That's the one. I bet there were probably a few different editions, but they probably all contain more or less the same info. If I was Bogna I'd grab one.

05-24-2012, 10:12 PM
Try this site. Shows photos of soldiers preparing for D-Day.