Got any gum, chum? It was undoubtedly the children who were first bowled over by the GIs when they arrived in Hampshire in 1944. A child who plucked up the courage to ask ‘Got any gum, chum?’ would often be rewarded with gum or candy and the riposte, ‘Got a sister, mister?’
Ann Hone’s grandpa was the landlord of ‘The Dean Arms’, only a few doors down the road from the 47th Infantry Regiment campsite in Alresford. She explained to me that because they had a piano in the bar ‘with things like Home on the Range’ it was inevitable that the GIs acquired a taste for warm English beer and spent much of their free time there. The garden behind the pub backed onto the campsite and so four-year-old Ann, her Mum and Grandma could visit the cookhouse without setting foot on the road. ‘It was so exciting,’ she said, ‘Going off and eating food you’d never tasted before. They filled me up with chocolate until I was sick.’ Ann also recalls eating ring donuts and having ‘a thing’ about their butterscotch pudding.
Ann remembers riding the short distance into Alresford with the soldiers in their jeep – ‘The Americans never walked if they could drive somewhere!’ – and they took her and her Mum on a trip into Winchester on one occasion. That was a wonderful treat, because few civilians owned cars in those days, and no-one could get the fuel to drive them during the war.
Ann’s Mum kept up correspondence with GI Wally Weilenbeck after he departed for France. When Wally returned home safely after the war, he remembered his time in Hampshire and sent Ann a generous present. ‘Shirley was unlike any British doll,’ Ann remembers, ‘They were all baby dolls. But Shirley had long, slim legs, a beautiful dress and long, red hair. She was like a forebear of Barbie dolls.’
Harold Young’s family befriended the American servicemen who were billeted at Tichbourne House, near their farm. Danny Forte, the military cook, would visit the family bringing steaks for dinner and upside down cake for afters. The boy spent whole days in the camp watching the soldiers training and had breakfast, dinner and evening meal in the mess room with them. He also discovered he rather liked Chesterfield cigarettes.
Jim Smith was equally smitten by the soldiers. He recalls meeting one by the river in Abbotstone, back in 1943.
‘Do you want a trout for your supper, lad?’ the soldier asked.
‘Well, I wasn’t bothered,’ Jim told me. ‘Father worked on the water anyway. But the soldier still threw in a hand-grenade and up the fish came!’
Growing up in Bishop’s Sutton during the war, Jim made the most of the freedom afforded by a lack of grown-ups to tell him off. He sneaked into Northington Grange (headquarters of the US Ninth Division) to look at the oak-panelling and gold-fittings. He explored the brick ammunition dumps in the woods around Abbotstone and survived to tell the tale. And when he crawled through the hedge to get into the army camp at Bishops Sutton, they invited him to dinner.
‘They lived like kings and they shared it. They would put a plate out for me, whenever they ate.’
Little Jim was also an entrepreneur: he started with two chickens (Henny-Penny who laid one egg a day and Henny-Tuppence who laid two) and sold their eggs to the cook-house at 6/- a dozen. When he expanded his flock, he was given wooden boxes from the camp to recycle into a new henhouse. As in Alresford, the soldiers’ generosity extended after the war: a Canadian unit with happy memories of their stay sent each family in Bishop’s Sutton a big tin of cocoa.