They came from the big cities of America… and they came from the prairies, never had a suit, never had no money and of course when they got here they went wild….
Before the first men or aircraft of the Eighth Air Force even arrived in England, plans were already underway to provide them with RAF bases and airfields. This was only the beginning of what the Yanks would need to create the largest air force in the world. The first men sailed from Boston to Liverpool in the spring of 1942. They began setting up their headquarters and planning the construction of new airfields to support the growing number of aircraft that would soon be flying from East Anglia to attack the heart of Germany.
For many of the thousands of enlisted American airmen and ground personnel, the journey to England meant a long sea voyage in a packed steamer with thousands of other men. For those who were able to fly their planes, the journey involved long and dangerous ferry routes. Pilots would either fly south towards Brazil and then east towards Africa with a final dangerous trip around Spain and Portugal to England, or they’d fly north though Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Northern Ireland to England where they’d face the hazardous, freezing weather of the Arctic.
Eventually, the 8th would occupy more than 70 bases across the UK with the vast majority scattered throughout the East Anglian countryside. For many of the thousands of Americans who arrived in England, this would be their first time away from their homes in the cities, small towns and rural farms of the USA. “Little Old England” was to become their home for the next 3 years.
For the local farmers of East Anglia, the arrival of the Americans meant dramatic changes for the way they lived their day to day lives. They were amazed at how quickly the landscape changed with the massive influx of men and machines. Bill Eady recalls what happened around his farm in late 1942:
“We knew they were coming the year before they come. They came in here in September 1942 and they planned to make an airstrip and we knew that was going to be for the Americans. They took over most of our farm and one or two adjoining farms. They recruited labour from everywhere, there was no beating about the bush, and if they wanted labour they just got to have it. There were a lot of Irishmen, Irishmen and Londoners. The first thing they done was made a canteen and living quarters, and once they got that done they slept in there…. Americans sent in tractors, diggers, and ground levellers… it was surprising how quick they slipped them runways out. It was a very big programme when they done it. Our real opinion of them was that they was a weird nation, I don’t think they realised what they were coming into. They came from the cities, the big cities of America, and they came from the prairies as hobos, never had a suit, never had no money and of course when they go there they went wild.”