Commentary: During the second world war, Britain was invaded. But the invasion was a friendly one, mounted by Britain’s American Allies. And from the first, it was plain that these invaders were in some respects, superior to their British cousins.
Dr Juliet Gardiner: Once the Americans came over here it was felt obviously that they were so much better equipped; their huge great planes, their greater capacity. They looked managerial and they looked sort of efficient. They looked like the future, they didn’t look like our poor old Tommys in their heavy khaki and their hobnailed boots. GI’s were very attractive on the whole, the idea is that they’re all handsome. Statistically that cannot be the case, but there were a million and a half of them by May 1944.
Commentary: And many of these Americans formed relationships with British women as one American newsreel ironically acknowledged.
Newsreel Commentary: Back to more cultured of the group like Kenny and Phil, went into the nearby villages to visit the quaint old cathedrals, churches and shops in the English countryside surrounding us. Or, on days when they were confined near the base, the old cathedrals and shops would come out to see them. Hmm, this little shop wants to go home.
Dr Juliet Gardiner: And, again, Americans were supposed to be much better at talking to girls. A British boy would take her out, sit her on the bar stool with a drink and then go and talk about football and cars to his mates. Americans had a chat-up line, they’d talk about films, they’d know how to talk to a girl.
Words of Doris Kite: They were quite different because they were very outgoing and friendly, not reserved at all, you know. Sometimes they were not as reserved as I would have liked them to have been, like the British boys.
Words of Tess Stevens: They were very friendly naturally and ready to mix and have a good time, I’d never gone out with someone that knew his way around like this guy did; it didn’t take him long to seduce me.
Commentary: Not surprisingly, many British men didn’t exactly welcome the competition provided by these Americans.
Dr Juliet Gardiner: The phrase: a girl that wants a yank, and of course that’s what most men were afraid of when they were away. They were afraid that their girlfriend, their wife, their fiancé would take up with a yank.
Words of Eric Westman, British Soldier WW2: Never in history has there been such a conquest of women by men as was won by the Americans in Britain in World War Two. They had everything: money in particular, glamour, boldness, cigarettes, chocolates, nylons, jeeps and genitalia. The yanks were sex mad and countless British women who had virtually no experience in this line were completely bowled off their feet.1
Dr Juliet Gardiner: On the whole the American commanding officers did not want their boys to marry British women, because then there would be the idea that the Americans at home would say, well, hang on, we’ve sent our flower of youth and of manhood over to Britain, okay, they don’t get killed, they don’t get injured, they get married.
Newsreel Commentary: Waterloo station, and at last the great trek is on. The first of 50,000 British wives of American servicemen, to say nothing of their 14,000 youngsters, are on their way to the New World.
Commentary: Despite the difficulties, between 50 and 60,000 British women married Americans. And at the end of the war, their trip to their new homeland was funded by the American Tax payer. First stop was a processing camp in Wiltshire.
Contemporary News Archive: We’re all very pleased to be on our way, the organisation has been wonderful so far. We’re all looking very much forward to getting to America and seeing daddy again.
Contemporary News Archive: Well I’m very happy now to be going to the United States, and I’m sure my friends here are. So far I’m very happy and excited, but it’s very cold and I hope it’s a bit warmer over there.
Commentary: But away from the glare of the newsreel, there were some British women who weren’t impressed with their initial treatment at the hands of the American authorities.
Words of Tess Stevens, GI Bride: I mean we had four days of processing and it wasn’t very good. It was the middle of March, it was very cold. They stripped you and made you stand in a draughty hallway with nothing more round you than a towel, and the soldiers could all walk by where you were and you just got physically examined for venereal disease and everything. It was very humiliating.
Commentary: There then followed a journey by ship, to the East Coast of America. And on arrival in the United States, there were a number of women who experienced something of a shock, and others whose dreams were fully realised.
Words of Doris Kite, GI Bride: He was a southern gentleman, we had so much in common. All of his friends, his family and friends, would try to make me feel good, and they would complement me on my hat or something like my English skin and things like complexion.
Words of Tess Stevens, GI Bride: He told me a whole lot of stuff that wasn’t true, I mean he made it, you know, sound really wonderful and of course it wasn’t. Well I was pretty stuck wasn’t I? I mean my mother told me: you made your bed you gotta lie in it, so there was no way I was going to let my mum know things weren’t good.
Commentary: Tens of thousands of British women now tried to make a new life for themselves in America, and their presence in the United States became one of the enduring social legacies of the war.
1. Quoted p138 Eighth Air Force, by Donald L Miller (Aurum Press 2007)