Five months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in May 1942, the first aircraft of the newly formed Eighth U.S. Army Air Force (8th USAAF) arrived in the Eastern Counties. Its four-year occupation of East Anglia to lead the strategic bombing programme of continental Europe and beyond had a unique effect on a region, which, incredibly, had avoided almost all military conflict for over a thousand years.
In three short years, the arrival of a fighting force which occupied nearly 70 airfields in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and brought around 4,000 men and women to each of these places, was something so new that no one could have imagined it. Added to this the young airmen and their support staff who were, as the saying goes, “overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here…” caused a cultural challenge to almost anyone under 30. Moreover, this airforce was officially segregated, resulting in small market towns not only seeing and playing host to black people for the first time, but witnessing the often brutal consequences of this.
However, the wider effect of the arrival of the 8th USAAF, and its unique moment in history, had an enormous impact on the region and is in danger of being forgotten. This exhibition explores and celebrates the Yanks and their lasting effect on East Anglia.
The story of when the Yanks came ‘over here’ in the 1940s is one of the most fascinating in modern history. The accounts of the locals who lived in the villages and towns of East Anglia were indispensable in the creation of this exhibition, and the memories of their relationships with the American servicemen form the very heart of this story. This exhibition would not be possible if not for the following people, and others, who were willing to record their stories: