Continued from ENSA and the blitz
I am afraid I have transgressed more than somewhat, but I just go on writing whatever comes into my head.
The 'blitz' experience recorded above was just an isolated experience in my war story. I was still taking part in Shows for the British forces, and in addition had become attached to the American Red Cross, and now had the job of trying to amuse and entertain our allies from across the Atlantic, as well as our own chaps.
The arrival of the U.S. Forces in this country was really something. They sprawled over Exeter like an invasion of uniformed ants, and the City became literally transformed, with G.I.s, Jeeps, and so on, all over the place. They took over the pubs, the whisky, and quite a large portion of British womanhood. In turn they were soaked right, left, and centre, by grasping landlords, taxi-drivers, and many other people who considered them fair game for exploitation.
This was the beginning of the 'Spiv' era, when Black Marketing flourished, and when, if they knew the right people and had the necessary 'lolly', there was no need to go short of anything, rationing or no rationing.
We were nearly all 'Spivs' in varying degrees in those days! (By a curious coincidence I have just seen Arthur English, who won fame as the "Prince of Wide Boys", emerge from the Stage Door of the Theatre Royal, opposite my office window).
The Yanks wanted whisky, and were usually charge fantastic prices for it. I remember one young G.I. who had taken aboard far too much of the stuff, (possibly because he was lonely and homesick), going berserk in a Pub up the road. He took off his leather belt, and swung the buckled end around his head, crashing it into everything within reach.
The M.P.s arrived, slugged him over the head with a truncheon, (I think they called it a stick), and bundled him off while the customers continued their drinking. That was the end of another minor incident of war.
I made frequent visits to a nearby American Red Cross Club, and drew sketch portraits of some of the boys, to send home to their folks in Kansas, Idaho, Chicago, Pittsburg, and other parts all over the States. Some of them were very young, and loved to send home pictures of themselves in uniform to "Mom" and "Pop".
On one occasion I met Joe Louis, who was on a tour of U.S. bases, and did a sketch of him which he autographed. He shook hands with me, and I fancy my hand still aches after all these years.
Generally speaking, I got on pretty well with the Yanks, and to use their own expression found that most of them were regular guys.
There were the tough eggs of course, just as there are in every other Army, Navy, Airforce, or civilian life, but you expect that. Often I joined them in hot-dogs, pea-nut butter, and 'Coke', all of which I pretended to relish for the sake of Anglo-American relationships.
The Yanks had a reputation for being "Wolves", and in many cases it was fully deserved. They certainly chased the females in the town, and didn't have to run very fast to catch up with some of them.
Looking back over the years I suppose you couldn't a blame the women too much. The Yanks offered them a swell time with lashings of drink, cartons of cigarettes, and all the rest of it, and it must have been a big temptation, especially as they were probably felling pretty damn lonely and fed up with everything.
I remember being invited to a pre-Invasion party at a nearby U.S. Air-base. An American pilot friend drove me there in a Jeep. On the way we passed two American open trucks, filled with women, swaying and laughing as the trucks bounced along the road. I could hardly believe my eyes. My friend informed me that the trucks had been sent into town to collect women for the party. "After all, what's a party without dames", he asked?
We found a queue of some, young and not so young, waiting outside the air-field. Each one was checked at the entrance. The party was held in a hangar, and was a wow, with everything laid on.
Brass-hats and pilots were whirling the women around the floor, and during intervals, trying to persuade them to take a shot of "Torpedo Juice", a sort of "Mickey Finn", which was guaranteed to lower a lady's resistance.
It opened my eyes to see certain women whom I had known for years, and had always regarded as being very prim, proper and sedate, letting their hair down with a vengeance, and getting rid of all their inhibitions at one go. they really went to town, getting almost plastered, in in between drinks allowing themselves to be led giggling foolishly, onto the floor by their escorts, where they jitterbugged with wild abandon.
Still, what the Hell? It was war wasn't it, and nobody knew what tomorrow would bring. Eat, drink, and be merry, all all that sort of guff …
The young pilots were soon to fly away into the unknown, and were enjoying life while they could.
In between lashings of food and drinks, my American friend put it like this:-
"You see, pal, we're a hell of a way from home – in a strange country away from our wives and sweethearts. We get lonely and homesick. The 'dolls' and the 'scotch' help us to forget all that, and who knows when we'll get back home again – if we ever do? O guess your British guys are doing the same overseas, and when its all over they'll come back to their wives and sweethearts, and carry on where they left off before this goddamn war started.
We'll go back to ours, and before long most of us will have to think hard to remember the names of the dames we played around with. `You can't blame the women, either. They get lonely, too, and it takes a pretty tough dame to say "No" when a guy comes along with an invitation to go places and do things. It's a sort of war-time interlude, if you see what I mean, pal, and pretty soon the whole goddamn business will be forgotten."
A few days later I watched the American planes fly overhead en route for the final "Grand Slam", and I thought somewhere up there is my friend.
I wondered if he would get back to his wife in the Stated. I never heard from him again, so perhaps he didn't.
I produced a series of cartoon books during the war, making fun of the American invasion of these Islands, under the title of "Any Gum Chum?", "More Gum, Chum!" etc and the "Sunday Pictorial" came out with a front-page attack against them.
I am sure the "Pic" is a fair newspaper, however, and will not hold this against me if it is honestly considered that my story is worthy of publication.
There are no Yanks about now in Exeter, and sometimes I think I must have dreamt it all. As my American pal said, it was just an interlude.
The City streets have been rebuilt, and it is hard to imagine that 18 years ago many of them were in ruins.
Sometimes we talk about the war, the Yanks, and all the rest of it, in the 'Local', but it does\t seem real any more.
I wonder if the two old ladies in the air-raid shelter are still alive, and whether they ever talk about the time they had a boozy session at 2 o'clock in the morning in an Exeter pub in 1942?
© 2011 Georgia Shorrock
George Stillings, or STIL, as he was known, was a talented cartoonist who worked for the Western Times, Express and Echo and News of the World. He is best known in Exeter for his 'Any Gum Chum' and other cartoon books, and his work in the Echo. This memory was written in 1960, but his archive does not record if it was ever published.
Note - STIL received letters from servicemen supporting his cartoon books, and who felt the Sunday Pictorial had no sense of humour.
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