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Differences in our wartime memories

An English rose in Georgia

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POSTED: December 15, 2012 12:00 p.m.

I recently was speaking to a wonderful gentleman, a much-decorated Vietnam veteran, who briefly confused me when he said that he had been born in 1940, “before the second world war.”

Now, of course, I know that America joined World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. However, as a schoolgirl in England, it was drilled into me that, for the British, the war began Sept. 3, 1939, when Germany refused to withdraw its troops from Poland. I always joke with my husband that the Americans were “two years late for the second world war,” and he reminds me that “you would be speaking German if the Americans had not come to Europe when they did.”

However, the serious truth behind all this is that the U.K. and U.S. have long enjoyed a special relationship and shown a united front against dictators and enemies of freedom.

My two grandfathers used to tell me stories of World War II. My Granddad on my mother’s side served in North Africa, and my Grandpa on my father’s side was in a reserved occupation making aircraft parts but served in the “Home Guard” to defend the U.K. if there was a ground invasion. They used to tell me about how the American “G.I. Joes” (so called because “G.I.” for “government issue,” was stamped on their equipment) were viewed by some British people during the war as “overpaid, oversexed and over here.”

The U.S. military command was very aware of potential issues arising from cultural clashes between their soldiers and the British who had already been at war for two years, so a U.S. War Department pamphlet provided to American servicemen in 1942 who were going to Britain gives a fascinating insight into these differences.

Some highlights in that pamphlet included:

• The British dislike bragging and showing off —“swank” as the British say — so just quietly remember American wages and soldier’s pay are the highest in the world.

• Two actions on your part will slow up any friendship with British soldiers, the “Tommy:” swiping his girl and not appreciating what his army has been up against since 1939.

• The British are not given to backslapping, and they are shy about showing their affections.

• Don’t make fun of British speech or accents. You will sound just as funny to them, but they will be too polite to show it.

• At first, you will probably not like the almost continual rains and mists and the absence of snow and crisp cold — most people get used to the English climate eventually.

• The British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don’t know how to make a good cup of tea. It’s an even swap.

• You will get your drugs at a chemist, your tobacco at a tobacconist, hardware at an ironmongers and gas is petrol — if there is any.

• Finally, it is always impolite to criticize your hosts; it is militarily stupid to criticize your allies.

As an English rose transplanted to Georgia, some of these make me smile. But when it comes down to it, I believe that when it comes to the important issues, the British and Americans were and still are largely united. Winston Churchill, the British prime minister during most of World War II who worked closely with President Franklin Roosevelt to defeat the Nazis, said, “All of the great things are simple and can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”

God bless America!

Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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