Do You Speak American?

Do You Speak American?

… there was that famous saying of over paid, over-sexed, and over here….

David Hastings

Fold3_Page_1_Black_and_White_and_Color_Photographs_of_US_Air_Force_and_Predecessor_Agencies_Activities_Facilities_and_Personnel_World_War_II (2)“You will quickly discover differences that seem confusing and even wrong. Like driving on the left side of the road, and having money based on an impossible; accounting system, and drinking warm beer. But once you get used to things like that, you will realize that they belong to England just as baseball and jazz and Coca-Cola belong to us.”

– Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942.


FRE 696 Bassingbourn pancakesEvery American serviceman bound for the UK was issued a copy of this manual in order that he could be prepared for what he would encounter on his arrival. Most of the men serving in the 8th Army Air Force had never travelled abroad before. Even though the two nations shared a common heritage, by the 1940s they had developed two distinct cultures separated by on ocean and a common language.

Even with this attempt to educate the new arrivals, there was a certain amount of friction between the Yanks and the locals, especially when the Americans would show up at a local pub and drink it dry. The Americans were paid more than their British counterparts and were quite generous with their money, frequently overpaying for drinks and meals to avoid having to figure out the local currency. They held lots of dances and parties on their bases and invited as many local women as possible to partake in the entertainment, ignoring whether or not she may be dating a British soldier or not.

Eventually, all these differences were overcome and the locals welcomed the Americans into their homes with open arms. And the Yanks tried to repay the locals for their hospitality by providing them with extra rations, nylons, sweets, and proposals of marriage.

Fold3_Page_1_Black_and_White_and_Color_Photographs_of_US_Air_Force_and_Predecessor_Agencies_Activities_Facilities_and_Personnel_World_War_II (15) (1)Initially the locals of East Anglia were not impressed by the Yankee conscripts. Mike Bailey recalled his Grandfather’s opinion of the new American arrivals: “I remember him being almost apologetic at the sight of these characters; he called them slovenly louts, ‘call themselves soldiers’. He couldn’t bear the thought of these people walking around with their tunics undone, hands in their pockets, chewing, smoking, eating fish and chips out of newspapers, sitting around on the steps of public buildings.”

Bill Eady remembers how at first the locals and the Yanks saw each other differently, but soon came to grow close: “The thing I can remember the best, the English people, it didn’t matter whether she was 6, 16, or 60, the average person opened their hearts and their doors to let the Americans in because we’d got nothing. We’d been at war a long while, but they come in with everything. The food they’d got, the candy, as they called it, I mean they lived a life of luxury. We had a job to understand their way of life for a time, “We’re big, we do big things,” we hadn’t been used to anything like that.

FRE 314 Residents at FowlmereThere was big friction. The Eighth Army what had been fighting in the desert, and of course things had got better, and they’d moved the Eighth Army home, and there was two or three Scottish regiments, the Black Watch was one they were stationed in Long Melford, of course the Yanks went down there showing their authority and you can just imagine what happened… they didn’t’ like them Yanks telling them what to do. After you’ve got the sing out of you and perhaps you say well you have a glass of beer on me…. When they first met they was like two tom cats.”


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