I had very little experience of the American Forces in England.  One knew their reputation: oversexed, overpaid and over here.  But whilst that view was widely held, there were factors that redeemed them.  They were a great build-up, in this country, of an invasion force that one knew would, in the end, attack Western Europe to try to overcome a well-armed, entrenched and competently led German army.  Additionally, the US Army Air Force reinforced the British capacity to bomb Germany (and enemy installations in the occupied Western European countries). At a more social level, the GIs’ wolf-whistles were not unwelcome to English girls, especially when the GIs were dispensing unobtainable goods such as nylon stockings and bars of chocolate.  Overall, though not universally welcomed, they were English-speaking allies, not an occupying army and not banned from fraternising with the native population.  This did have implications for wives and girlfriends left behind in the United States:

Don’t sit under the apple tree
With anyone else but me,
Anyone else but me,
Till I come marching home.
Don’t go walking down lovers’ lane
With anyone else but me,
Anyone else but me,
Till I come marching home.
I just got word from a guy who heard
From the guy next door to me
That a girl he met just loves to pet,
And it fits you to a ‘T’
So don’t sit under the apple tree
With anyone else but me,
Till I come marching home

In times of war and long absences, there were couples sitting under apple trees in England, the USA, Germany and many other places.  It was not an entirely one-sided matter of the GIs finding solace with English lasses.  And then, I think we might have two more wartime songs, one appropriate to the British army and one to the American army, which perhaps serve to distinguish the two. For the British army:

Kiss me goodnight, sergeant major,
Tuck me in my little wooden bed,
We all love you, sergeant major,
When we hear you bawling “Show a leg!”
Don’t forget to wake me in the morning,
And bring me up a nice hot cup of tea.
Kiss me goodnight, sergeant major
Sergeant major, be a mother to me.
For the Americans, Irving Berlin’s
This is the army Mr Jones,
No private rooms or telephones,
You had your breakfast in bed before,
But you won’t get it there any more.
This is the army Mr Green,
We like our barracks nice and clean
You had a housemaid to clean your floor,
But she won’t help you out any more.

My own experience of the US Army had nothing to do with sex; and it was wholly unexpected and unpleasant.  I am not even able to date it with precision – not mid-winter, not mid-summer, but pretty certainly 1944.  I have mentioned earlier my friend, Mike Drazin.  One Sunday he told me that he wanted to visit someone he knew who was at King Alfred School.  I had heard of that school and, if St Christopher was regarded as odd – a co-educational vegetarian boarding school, – King Alfred was a long way further down the road to being as nutty as a fruitcake.  Mike told me that, for the duration of the war, King Alfred was evacuated from London to Royston.  I did not feel wildly enthusiastic, but we duly cycled about 13 miles, Letchworth–Baldock–Royston, with virtually no traffic at all on the road on a Sunday.  King Alfred School was every bit as ‘advanced in its attitudes’ as I had expected, and I was glad to get out of the place.  When, in the late afternoon, we were about half way back from Royston, in uninhabited, rolling hill country, Mike detected a distant sound.  He said immediately that we must hide ourselves and our bikes in the ditch.  Luckily, there was a big ditch about three yards back from the road on a bend.  Mike said “Get in the ditch and keep down; I’ll explain”.  A minute or two later, a convoy of about 20 US Army trucks came along the road from Royston.  I felt glad that they had not seen us; I hardly needed Mike’s explanation.

He had been warned at King Alfred, when they knew we would be cycling back on that main, but utterly deserted, road.  “There are American camps near here.  Hide if you hear one of their convoys coming, or they’ll kill you – ride over you deliberately.  When your bodies are found it will just be a regrettable road accident; there will be no meaningful follow-up.”  I have not the slightest idea whether that really would have been our fate; it may have been an outrageous slur on the Yanks.  There was, indeed, a US Army Air Force base at Steeple Morden and it betrays how at least some of the locals in Royston viewed them.  I am thankful that Mike had been warned and that we hid.  Even more ominous was his message “Keep down, don’t let them see us”.