The D-Day invasion, which occurred 75 years ago last week (June 6) in 1944, would never have happened without U.S. involvement. Likewise, it never would have happened had Britain not successfully repelled an invasion by Nazi Germany, thereby remaining the only free European nation in which American troops and weapons could be stationed.
Thus, by May 1944, 1.7 million American troops were in England preparing for D-Day, but the British also had to deal with the invasion of so many “Yankees,” as the Brits called them.
That meant finding housing and office space for them, which meant commandeering hundreds of hotels and office buildings in British cities, and even large countryside estates.
It also meant paving over hundreds of acres of prime farmland to build air bases and runways for American planes — infuriating local farmers — and taking over seaside villages so U.S. troops could practice amphibious landings in preparation for D-Day — infuriating local fishermen.
A second challenge was that most American soldiers were young men looking for adventure, but also a good time, and they spent much of their free time in British pubs drinking themselves senseless while making passes at British girls.
Traffic accidents involving American troops were a regular occurrence, both because of their drinking and because Brits drive on the other side of the road.
Not helping matters were the cultural differences, with Americans thinking the British overly snooty, and the British thinking the Americans overly rowdy.
Another problem was the stark differences in lifestyles. British citizens spent the war years waiting in long lines (queues) for meager supplies of food, clothing, fuel and basic necessities. American G.I.s in England were well paid, and their basic needs provided for, causing resentment among their British hosts.
“The problem with Americans,” as one Brit put it, “is that they are overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here.”
Then again, as one American soldier put it to a pretty young woman in a volunteer military uniform who asked him how he liked England, “Lady, they should let this SOB place sink!” He later learned that the young woman, who angrily walked away, was Princess Elizabeth, later to become Queen Elizabeth II.
In short, other than party time, American soldiers resented being in England, and the Brits, for all their gratitude for America helping them win the war, resented them being there. “It’s difficult to go anywhere in London without having the feeling that Britain is an Occupied Territory,” wrote the English novelist, George Orwell.
A British ditty complaining of the American “occupation” went as follows: Dear old England’s not the same/ The dreaded invasion, well, it came./ But no, it’s not the beastly Hun./ The #@!&* Yankee army’s come!
Bruce G. Kauffmann’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org @BruceKauffmann.