He was lovely, he was great fun… he was called Soupy because he was always first in the chow line. He was such a lovely person to be with. We just hit it off so completely.
While the 8th USAAF were based in Britain during the Second World War, strong relationships were forged between the Americans and their hosts. A testament to this can be found in the stories of the GI Brides. Around 70,000 women left Britain between 1945 and 1946 to begin a new life in America with the US servicemen they had met during the war.
After the war ended The War Brides Act allowed spouses and children of US servicemen to enter the United States as non-quota immigrants. Many left Britain to embark on a new life. This often meant leaving families behind. As a young boy living with his family in Norwich during the war, Brian Staff’s two sisters married US servicemen. He tells of visiting one years later: “I got in touch with my sister and she travelled about 80 to 100 miles away to meet us in Florida and that’s about the last time I ever seen my sister”. His story is a common one – highlighting the reality that when these young women left to begin a new life, often they did not return or see family members again.
Many marriages survived, however some women found that once settled in their new surroundings, they were faced with men they hardly knew. It was often the case that women, having moved to America, would find themselves incredibly isolated. Some even made the journey back across the Atlantic after their marriages failed.
Amongst the relationships and friendships which abounded between 1942 and 1945, many ended when the Americans left following the end of the war. For people living in rural East Anglia, for whom the Americans had brought adventure and excitement, a huge void was left. Elizabeth Haynes, a Land Army girl based near Thurleigh, found out only years later what had happened to a young US serviceman she had once been close to:
“We lost touch and it wasn’t until after the war when a friend of his used to come and stay with us and he was the one who told me Bob’s plane had been shot down, he was so young, it’s such a shame. That was my first reaction, god he’s so young.”
While there were many happy stories of war brides, the reality was that many women would never hear again from the young men they had, for a brief period in time, been so close to. This outcome was particularly pronounced in cases where women had developed relationships with African-American Servicemen who, due to segregation laws in the USA, were unable to return with their British girlfriends and fiancées. This left a generation of young, single mothers who were often ostracised from their local, tight-knit communities. One story from Suffolk recalls the arrival of the first such baby in rural village:
“I suppose there was only one drama, or vague drama, and that was the day when a black baby arrived. It was inevitable I suppose, they had girlfriends, why shouldn’t they have girlfriends, and I think there was a bit of jealousy with some of the younger males, if there were any around, that the Americans seemed to be able to pick up girlfriends more easily than they could. So the black baby came from the lady who delivered our papers… Then the baby disappeared, I suspect it was put into care of some sort or adoption.”