Quickly following the United States’ entrance into the Second World War in December 1941, hundreds of thousands of American troops crossed the Atlantic to the UK to assist with the war effort in Europe. They remained in large numbers throughout the rest of the war from 1942 to 1945. This event became known as the ‘Friendly Invasion’.
The hundreds of thousands of American servicemen stationed in various villages and cities throughout the UK had a profound impact on British culture. They introduced to Great Britain popular American music and dances such as the jitterbug. In addition, iconic American food appeared in Britain for the first time such as peanut butter, chewing gum, donuts, and Coca Cola.
British families often opened their homes to the American servicemen for tea and meals. The Americans brought gifts such as chocolate, candy, cigarettes, and nylon stockings – items in short supply due to rations. Many American camps held dances open to the public with many British girls as the special guests. American servicemen would often spend their free time in many of the cinemas, cafes, restaurants, and pubs, cultivating friendly relationships that often blossomed into romantic ones. This resulted in a great number of wartime marriages, whose British girlfriends emigrated to the US at the end of the war – becoming known as G.I. brides.
The Americans also brought with them their oppressive system of racial segregation. White and black American servicemen served in separate units, who also spent their free time apart. Certain British towns were designated by the U.S. military as only for black or white servicemen, while others alternated certain days for each race. Many interracial relationships between black American servicemen and their white British girlfriends ended in tears as families were often separated as interracial marriage remained illegal in many American states in the years following the war.
By the end of the war, the American – British special relationship was strengthened culturally thanks in large part to the ‘friendly invasion’. The images below capture the friendship that grew between the Americans servicemen and average British citizens during these three years.