A truck had pulled up on the road where we were, and these guys got out and what do you think they had with them? A Chimpanzee! Only the Americans could do that.
By 1944 Britain played host to half a million US Servicemen engaged in air operations. Temporary homes for the Americans were established on bases across rural East Anglia, where numbers of occupants at some locations totalled around 3000 men and women.
During this period Britain became known as ‘Little America’. Sites set up by the ‘Friendly Invaders’ were often on a scale rivalling nearby villages – boasting cinemas, shops, canteens, and clubs. Amenities such as these provided both entertainment and distraction for servicemen when they were not preparing for missions.
Entertainment on the air bases wasn’t restricted to servicemen. Locals would often receive invitations to attend dances and parties held at the Aero Clubs and American Red Cross Clubs. Zeta Holes, a Land Army girl based near Thurleigh, recalls attending dances hosted by the Americans:”They used to invite us to their dances… Lovely music, went on ’til late, and they supplied transport for us – pick us up and take us back. We jived the night away.”
Mascots also provided a welcome distraction for US servicemen and were a common sight on the airbases. Cats and dogs were often kept, however a number of cases saw monkeys, donkeys, and even a bear being picked up on missions via North Africa and brought back to bases in Britain. Raymond Hubbard, as a young boy, remembers a donkey kept on the base at Thorpe Abbotts:
“Just as they were all ready to come back to Thorpe, just before he got in the plane, he grabbed a little donkey and put that in the plane and brought that back. And that was about there for quite a time and they used to feed it and it would walk about, it was only a little donkey.”
Unfortunately not all the animals survived the cold winters endured in Britain, however some made it back to the US following the end of the war. Walter J Konantz, based at Nuthampstead, managed to smuggle 338th Fighter Squadron mascot – a Scottie dog named Lassie – back home with him where she remained at the Konantz family home.