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American airmen with British civilians after VE Day

US official photograph showing American airmen having a drink with Brits outside the Waggon and Horses pub in Great Yeldham, near their base at Ridgewell, Essex, on 17 May 1945. They are gathered around a now defunct local pastime: ‘Bet! V.E. before July’ (FRE 13699)

The American airmen did not simply pack up their bags and board troop ships as the final notes of the VE Day big band faded away. Instead, the Roger Freeman Collection of photographs shows how they spent the time between the end of war and their return home, up in the air and on the ground.

One of the quirks of researching the impact of American airmen on Britain during the Second World War is that very often airfields across East Anglia remained in American hands until the winter of 1945. By November of that year, the bright days of May had faded somewhat and although the August news relieved airmen of possible duty in the Pacific it must have been a homesick bunch of GIs that kicked about East Anglia, as the trees lost their leaves, waiting for orders to go home.

The Roger Freeman Collection gives a good picture of life at war but I’ve taken the chance of the approaching VE Day Anniversary Air Show coming up at IWM Duxford to find out what it reveals about what life was like for Americans in England after the Nazi surrender.

One of the stories told by Bomb Group veterans is that they used the days after VE Day to give lifts to ground crew, who had spent their days making the bombers airworthy and armed, to show them the effect of Allied bombing raids on Nazi industrial sites.

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One of IWM’s recently-acquired garments, displayed for the first time in Fashion on the Ration. This mustard wool Utility coat made by Alexon is an example of wartime design at its best, featuring simple lines and minimal trimmings. © IWM UNI 14387.

IWM London’s headline exhibition for the spring and summer, Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style, explores how the war impacted upon an intensely personal aspect of life on the home front during the Second World War.  What did people wear and how did this shape their sense of identity? How was fashion constrained by war? How did men, women and children cope with the demands and deprivations of shortages and austerity?

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Kanyu Riverside Camp

Stanley Gimson, Kanyu Riverside Camp: Dysentery Ward (1943) © IWM (Art.IWM ART 16893)

Throughout Southeast Asia during the Second World War, tropical diseases ravaged the bodies of those held by Japanese occupying forces:

 As our pocket book gets cleaner

All our frames get leaner and leaner

And the grass grows greener in the graveyard area

Still with spirits unabating

We will wait while flies are mating

For the dysentery cholera and malaria

-        Geoffrey Monument, ‘Rhapsody in Rice’ (circa 1944)

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Anzac troops on transport ship

Men of the Australian and New Zealand Division on a transport ship to Gallipoli, 1915. © IWM Q 13798

In his memoir, Over There with the Australians (1918), R. Hugh Knyvett, an Australian officer, pondered on the preoccupation with the Anzac experience at Gallipoli:

Australia and New Zealand’s part does not, in actual accomplishment or in personal daring and endurance, outclass the doings of these others, the larger half of the army. But there is a romance and a glow about the Anzac exploits that (rail at the injustice of it as you may) makes a human interest story that will elbow out of the mind of the ‘man in the street’ what other troops did. In fact, every second man one meets has the idea that the Australians and New Zealanders were the only men there.

The Anzac troops weren’t the only men who fought during the Gallipoli campaign though the landing has become synonymous with the exploits of the dominion men. Alongside them were troops from India, Ireland, France, Britain and other empire and Allied forces, with whom they interacted both in the battlefield and at camp.

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The Official War Artist, John Keane, using a video camera to film British self-propelled artillery in training prior to the Ground Assault. © Ken Lennox/Mirrorpix (IWM GLF 1321).

A little known piece of the museum’s history is that the art collection was the principal reason cited in the House of Lords to acquire the Bethlem Hospital building in Lambeth, which is now the IWM London site.

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This white poppy (or ‘peace poppy’) was issued pre-1939 by the Peace Pledge Union and belonged to Ms A E Wood who was a conscientious objector. Her Conscientious Objector’s tribunal statement and registration card are held in the Department of Documents.© IWM (EPH 2284)

Sabine Grimshaw, a Collaborative Doctoral Award Student at IWM and the University of Leeds, discusses her research into female war resisters during the First World War.

Recently I had the opportunity to take part in a conference organised for International Women’s Day at Liverpool Hope University on the topic, ‘Women in Peace and Conflict.’ Embracing the theme ‘Make it Happen’, the conference offered a fascinating insight into the myriad ways women have participated in warfare, peace activism, conflict resolution and post-war state building in twentieth century conflicts.

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New Zealand troops in London

New Zealand troops, led by an army band, marching through a London street after the First World War.© Alexander Turnbull Library 

Anna Maguire reflects on the activities of New Zealand troops in the capital and the London and the First World War Conference, organised by IWM and the Centre for Metropolitan History (IHR).

London, the imperial metropolis and ‘mother country’, had great significance for the visiting colonial troops during the war. The capital had much to offer the visiting soldier and official guidebooks aimed to direct their tourist gaze and help them do proper justice to the opportunity, quite possibly the only visit to the capital they would ever make. 

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The Cold War launched a new series of threats on Britain – from invasion by communists to atomic warfare. The military and moral implications of this ideological battle meant that fear was ever-present in the public sphere.

My Collaborative Partnership PhD asks whether fear really was the most widely held emotion in 1950s Britain. At the British Social and Cultural History conference, held from 31 March to 2 April, I will be presenting my initial thoughts on this topic, using evidence gained through oral history interviews.

Interviewing ‘ordinary’ people who carried on with their lives beneath the increasing Cold War threat offers the opportunity to delve deeper into what society understood by ‘fear’, ‘threat’ and ‘survival’. In the interviews I have done so far, emotion is ever-present; it is the point at which personal experience and collective historical experience overlap.

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CRW Nevinson’s, Making Aircraft; Acetylene Welding, 1917. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 693).

Kathryn Butler, a CDP student at the IWM and Open University, discusses her reactions to the ‘Sensory War 1914-2014′ exhibition.

During a recent trip to the Manchester City Art Gallery, I was intrigued to see the results of several great individuals and institutions working together as part of this year’s First World War Centenary commemorations. Sensory War 1914-2014 was co-curated by Dr Ana Carden Coyne, a director at the Centre of the Cultural History of War at the University of Manchester, where I studied for my MA. The centre works closely with IWM North in Salford, and many works on display were from the IWM collections. 

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Operation Chastise which destroyed the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe Dams was launched on the night of the 16th May 1943.

IWM FILM 2342. No. 617 Squadron practice dropping the bomb at Reculver bombing range, Kent. The bomb rises from the water after its first ‘bounce’.

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