Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reevaluating the `Invasion' of Yanks in Wartime Britain

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reevaluating the `Invasion' of Yanks in Wartime Britain

Article excerpt

THE conventional wisdom regarding the great migration of 3 million American troops (and a few civilian auxiliaries) into wartime Britain derives from the British sneer that the Yanks were "overpaid, overfed, oversexed - and over here."

That class-ridden cliche, so patronizing about the young Americans, some of whom did misbehave in pubs and dance halls, has been brilliantly exploded in David Reynolds' beautifully written book, "Rich Relations: The American Occupation of Britain, 1942-1945." An experienced, imaginative British historian with a deep knowledge of all the relevant archives, Reynolds rightly presents a fascinating yet neglected sidebar of World War II. His is not military history in the traditional battles-and-leaders sense, though it brilliantly assesses issues such as how the lack of training space in crowded Britain hampered the large-scale operations needed after D-Day.

Reynolds is far less concerned with combat as such than with the military sociology that scholars have developed in recent decades, as they investigate questions of morale, attitudes, cohesion, leadership, groups, and sub-groups, each with its own culture and life.

There was, for example, an enormous difference between the 29th Division, waiting interminably for an invasion of France that seemed never to come, and the 8th Air Force bomber units who made of East Anglia "a mosaic of aerodromes five miles apart," sallying forth day after day to suffer fearsome losses in the German skies. These flyers and the villages over which their planes roared forged the closest of contacts. An Englishwoman recalled how "when we used to call in at the pub, and enquire `Where's Tex?' or `Where's Pennsylvania?' they would just say that they hadn't made it back."

In contrast, the American ground forces were simply waiting for the great catharsis of D-Day, to gain victory and return to their normal lives. …

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