Display explores USAAF ‘Little America’ legacy in East Anglia

The 8th in the East exhibition at The Maids Head hotel. Exhibition contributor Michael Bailey, left,

The 8th in the East exhibition at The Maids Head hotel. Exhibition contributor Michael Bailey, left, and Andrew Farrell from The 8th in the East.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Since the Second World War, the east of England has been changed by the 'friendly invasion' of American servicemen from the 8th USAAF.

Now a three-year Heritage Lottery Fund project, called the Eighth in the East, is bringing the military and social history between the two world powers to life.

The travelling exhibition arrived at the Maids Head Hotel in Norwich yesterday. The event was launched by speeches from the Lord Mayor and Michael Bailey, a Norwich resident who vividly remembers wartime interactions with Americans.

'It was a culture shock for them and a bit of a culture shock for the British. My father thought they'd be no good in this war at all – how wrong he was.

'We couldn't believe how friendly and welcoming they were. We'd go down to the airfield every chance we got,' Mr Bailey said.

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Andrew Farrell, the learning officer for the Eighth in the East exhibition, stressed that everyone will enjoy learning more about the time period through this exhibition, not just historians.

'It's not necessarily about airplanes, it's not about bombs. It's about people's lives. This is a social history that extends beyond military history and just the interest of Second World War buffs.

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'For people that were kids during the time, like Michael Bailey, this has left a huge impression on their lives. We wanted to preserve this and get all these oral histories down,' he said.

The exhibition, Mr Farrell said, is about exploring how both nations influenced each other culturally.

'The American servicemen brought America here, they didn't just assimilate. They were themselves, bringing new things like jazz and different kinds of art to the area. This was a big shock to the culture, having thousands of Americans showing up.

'Heritage is here in East Anglia, the locals have been preserving oral histories like these for decades. You don't really find this anywhere else,' he said.

All are welcome to view the exhibition at the Maids Head until October 6, when it leaves for Norwich Airport and then Stansted Airport.

Do you have a heritage story? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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