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Americans in Britain

During World War Two, American soldiers flooded into Britain to prepare for departure to the continent, to maintain supply networks, to fly missions from airbases along the coast, and numerous other activities that occupied soldiers during wartime. If soldiers were stationed in Britain long enough, they would be able to take their leave, usually on weekends, to explore the countryside and experience the local culture in England, Wales, and Scotland.

For men who were accustomed to living in the United States, Britain was a mix of sights and activities that were simultaneously familiar and strange. The need for manpower in the war against Germany meant that American men were entering the country in large numbers for the first time in U.S. history.

Living through Letters

The only way to communicate with friends and family back home was to write and receive letters through the army mail service, which was frequently interrupted by the events of war. German U-boats hunted transport ships in the Atlantic Ocean and could destroy thousands of letters by sinking a ship carrying mail. The American G.I.s who waited patiently for news from home could lose morale quickly when mail was delayed or lost.

One of my chief complaints has been the mail. Since we moved, we haven't been able to get any up until the last couple of weeks. The trouble is that not only we moved but also the headquarters where our mail is sent. I hope now it's started it keeps coming. No mail is bad for morale.

- Johnny Waller, October 27, 1944

Letters mean morale over here. You should see the way the mailman is mobbed and the look on a Joe's face when he gets a bundle of letters after waiting six, eight or more weeks.

- Johnny Waller, November 8, 1944


One of the methods for soldiers to communicate with their friends and relatives was V-Mail, a process in which letters were photographed to microfilm, shipped overseas, printed from the negatives, and then mailed by regular post to the recipient. The process was extremely efficient, which was essential to reduce the strain on wartime shipping.

The 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack.

Smithsonian Postal Museum

Soldiers on Leave

When American G.I.s were stationed overseas, they often found themselves with extra free time in the evening or on weekends. With a pass to leave their post, soldiers were free to explore their locale, at least as far as their feet could carry them. In the nearest town, they might find a cinema showing the latest Abbott and Costello, or stop by the Red Cross for dinner. Some towns, such as Blackpool, were known for tourism before the war, and so they had beaches, piers, and other amusements in place to entertain the American troops. Soldiers close enough to London might be able to visit the city to see the historic buildings that still stood despite bombing raids.


Sometimes the men had access to cameras, which meant they could take a photograph to send home to their friends or family. Because letters and photographs were heavily censored by officers, any mention of locations would be blacked out. As a result, soldiers such as Johnny Waller might take photos and not mention where they were taken, leaving the recipient to figure out where the G.I. had been.

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