VE-Day: Peace meant saying goodbye to East Anglia for GIs and evacuees
PUBLISHED: 15:03 07 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:34 07 May 2020
The end of war meant the end of their time in Norfolk for American GIs, their brides and evacuees - how VE Day meant goodbye for many who had made the county their home for years.
While families waited for their soldiers to come home, there were many leaving Norfolk and Suffolk after VE-Day including evacuees, American soldiers and GI brides.
Thousands of children had been evacuated to East Anglia from London and on May 2, Operation London Return began, although only children with homes to return to were allowed home.
It took a month to arrange all the buses and trains that were needed to take the evacuees back home, during which there were leaving parties across the region.
The Mayor of Beccles, Rear Admiral CS Johnson, gave a big farewell party to the youngsters who had attended the schools in the town and it was attended by the Mayor or Romford, who came to say thank you and to take the children home.
There was barely a dry eye as the children said goodbye to the families that many had come to regard as their own during the war – of course some children had not been so lucky and had been treated badly by their foster families and were glad to return.
Another ‘family’ that left East Anglia in the months and weeks that followed VE-Day was that of the American servicemen and women who had been based in the region.
Within days of the German surrender, the first USAAF bomb groups were leaving and within months, 40,000 had flown home in their bombers, 20 at a time.
Grounds crew went home by boat: 370 ships were chartered to take them home.
The only USAAF squadron groups left by September 1945 were at Bodney, East Wretham, Fowlmere and Honington, and they had gone by November.
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The EDP published a letter from ‘A Yank in Norfolk’, who wrote: “In the years to come, wherever the men of the Division meet, there will be the fondest of memories and reminiscences of happy hours spent in Norwich and its environs.
“We sincerely hope that the overall impression we leave with you is, at least, kindred to the one we take with us. It has been a privilege to dwell among you.”
Of course some USAAF crewmen either left more or took away more than memories - GIs in Britain fathered around 70,000 of the 300,000 illegitimate babies born in the war years and 70,000 British women became GI brides after the ‘friendly invasion’ of the dashing American airmen.
In North Creake in Norfolk, one mother – Mrs Howard saw all five of her daughters marry American servicemen from RAF Sculthorpe and leave for a new life across th ocean.
A GI Brides’ Club was formed in Norfolk: each woman received a copy of The Brides’ Guide to the US, issued by the US Office of War Information, which suggested that the women learn the words to The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America.
At a meeting chaired by Mrs Quincy Wright, a leading figure in the National League of Women Voters in the United States, the new brides were told what would be expected of them once they joined their husbands.
“The great idea of an American wife is to ‘get through’ the housework and do something else. If she takes all day to do her work she is not considered so efficient as she should be,” she said.
“When she has finished, she does what she wants to do – shopping for clothes, visiting or studying for instance – always coming home in time to cook the dinner for her husband for about 6pm.
“The dinner is very important and when her husband arrives a woman is expected to look very beautiful and very fresh as thought she had done nothing all day.”
The Americans, in turn, had been given a book of their own from the United States War Department – A Short Guide to Great Britain – about how to behave before they arrived in Britain.
“Don’t be a show-off. The British dislike bragging,” it read, “to say ‘I look like a bum’ is offensive to their ears. For the British it means you look like your own backside.”