Britain’s love/hate relationship with ‘foreigners’ during the Second World War

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by v2, Jun 13, 2015.

  1. v2

    v2 Well-Known Member

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    The Second World War is not usually remembered as a time when Britain's population was diverse. Yet, as Professor Wendy Webster from the University of Huddersfield reveals in her new book, it was more diverse than ever before. But while Britons largely welcomed foreign servicemen, their attitude often turned frosty – even hostile – when the war was over…

    full article I found:
    Britain?s love/hate relationship with ?foreigners? during the Second World War | History Extra

    What do you think about that?
     
  2. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    You trying to say something?

    From what I know most Brit anger was towards the Yankee Doodles and not Johnny Foreigners as most Brits would probably not class Americans as foreign.
     
  3. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    I'm trying to figure out what's changed in the intervening 70 years???

    I'll get me coat..!
     
  4. yulzari

    yulzari Active Member

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    #4 yulzari, Jun 13, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2015
    No disrespect to those who live between Mexico and Canada, but I beg to differ. Pedantically I should widen this as anyone hailing from Baffin Island to Tierra del Fuego is American. People from the USA? Fine chaps no doubt but still Johnny Foreigners. Now France is only a 20 minute train ride away and there are enough French people in London to have their own French MP and the rural West of France is becoming more British every day (the supermarkets have British food sections and my local DIY shop is bilingually signed). The USA is thousands of miles away, even the street furniture is weirdly different. Not Yank knocking but merely saying that Americans are firmly (but politely) in the Johnny Foreigner class. Doubtless Americans see the British also as just another foreigner, in the Yurrupean class.
     
  5. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    It would be interesting to see if other UK residents see Yanks as foreign.
    The Amis do speak English...sort of.
    Americans and Brits eat the same food watch the same TV shows and listen to same music.
    I wouldn't class Australia or NZ foreign either.
    I think V2 is trying to grind an axe for some agenda. Considering the number of Poles over in the UK he is trying to say or perform an idea.
     
  6. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    V2 an interesting question. Every generation considers itself more knowledgeable than those before. However Post WW2 UK was a strange nation. There had been over 4 million soldiers in WW1 who had served overseas not for a few weeks holiday as today but for years, these mainly male ex service people were a large part of British life, many of the senior ranks in the WW2 services were ex ww1 veterans but the rest were joe public. The Merchant navy had approximately 120,000 sailors who travelled the world. Many in the RAF trained abroad and served abroad, soldiers and sailors in the Army and Navy spent years abroad. There were up to 2 million US servicemen spent some time in UK and 70,000 GI brides left to join them after the war ended. That is on top of the approx 250,000 Poles and 10s of thousands of other nationalities that served. In the Churchill was half American (US) Park the man trusted to defend Britain in a fight for survival was from New Zealand, the man charged with increasing aircraft production was half Canadian.

    The actual article itself makes me fume. It is easy to do a sort of retrospective "Vox pop" to suit a modern agenda. In my life I have travelled to world. Working in 1986 close to Glasgow it was routine to be asked "what are you doing here stealing our boys jobs" the last time I was told to go home and stop stealing a locals job was 4 years ago in France. The article links a poll of people with execution of Poles as if the people asked KNEW anyone deported would be shot. Complete bollocks. Even in my lifetime (born 1959) the goings on in Russia/Soviet Union were not known. There were approximately 400,000 German prisoners of War in UK in 1946 there were 250,000 of these 25,000 stayed in the UK. Towards the end of the war and after the end of hostilities even German ex POWs were citizens allowed to work and live.

    I worked in the Steel industry in North England (Hartlepool) in the 1970s there were a good few first generation Poles in the factory although it took a while to notice because they spoke with the local accent and everyone used first names. My sunday ice cream came on a van from an Italian called Rea (Chris Rea's father) and for a while my local fish and chip shop was run by an Italian (it must have broken his heart).

    The article focuses on differences. American and British soldiers had a brawl! British soldiers brawl with themselves American soldiers brawl with themselves but a massive surprise and newsworthy when they brawl with each other.

    What happened to Poland was a tragedy not only during the War but after it too. What could the UK do? even if we had worldwide support fighting Russia would have been years more of war with Poland on the front line. There are many things the British should regret about what happened and we do but I must say it a matter of great satisfaction to give Lech Walesa a state banquet, the highest state honour that can be given by a visiting head of state and an honour never extended to any Russian (principally because they killed Prince Philips relatives).
     
  7. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    I think the Author of the article he quotes is doing that. The principle area of friction that I read about with USA servicemen was GI brides and trying to impose a colour bar in various Pubs. Harry Patch covered it quite a bit in his autobiography. I would say from what I read that the Americans were a bit incredulous that we didnt have a colour bar and saw no reason to impose one.
     
  8. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    Americans cannot see the Brits as foreigners. where would they get their blockbuster movie criminals from? US citizens may be loud brash a right up themselves when abroad, their young men earned them that right. Personally I have found Americans to be slightly nervous and unsure of themselves when abroad and a different animal when at home.
     
  9. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    #9 GrauGeist, Jun 13, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2015
    I find it interesting that lately, there has been a "push" to quit referring to People from the United States as "Americans".

    When I was in Europe a few years ago, I was corrected by a lady in Greece when she asked where I was from. I replied simply "America" and she smiled and said "Oh, which part? North America or South America? My reply was that I meant I was an American and again, she smiled and said "you know there really isn't such a thing".

    I thought for a moment (trying to be diplomatic) and told her that out of all the nations in the Americas, the United States of America is the only nation with the name of the continent in it, therefore we were Americans by virtue of the name.

    This was only one of several instances, and the general consensus is that Americans are arrogant and claim the entire continent as their own, hence the name. However, Americans have been referred to as such, even while the French, Spain and to a lesser degree, Britain, possesed large portions of North America.

    And I have never heard a Canadian say they were American, because, like, they're Canadians, eh? :lol:
     
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  10. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    You guys are generalizing Americans way too much. I don't care who you are or what you think, if you look in the mirror you will see an American looking back at you because as a nation of immigrants whoever you are, someone just like you once pulled up stakes from your neck of the woods and for good or ill came over here and tried their luck.
     
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  11. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    What some professor from some nondescript university writes 70 years later is about the worth of a bucket of spit.
    I would wager most Poles happily stayed in the UK rather than go home and find themselves at Stalins mercy.
    If you want to blame a country for the fate of Poland then blame Germany or the Russians don't blame or criticise the UK.
     
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  12. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    I think its a badly written (or possibly badly edited) article that makes little sense beyond the headline.
     
  13. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    With the population of England and the vast number of foreign troops in the UK I believe that were in the UK the overwhelming majority got on really well. Of course there were exceptions and I am sure that if you want to prove a point with an exception you will find one.
    During the war my mother worked in a Norwegian shipping line and for that reason she was in a reserved occupation and wasn't allowed to join up and had nothing but praise for the people from overseas of all nationalities. It only became a problem if they tried to impose their beliefs on the public.
    The French could be like that but again only a minority and racist behaviour was definitely frowned on. In Liverpool my mother told me about a local pub that was better than the average and some of the first US personnel they saw were coloured unit that was used to build the first airbases. Their music and behaviour went down really well and a small quartet would often play in the bar. Then some white troops arrived and tried to impose their attitude on other is the pub the public threw them out. The next they knew it was designated an officers only pub for US troops and the publican then banned all US troops. In the end everyone did the obvious thing and let anyone in. I should emphasise again that we are only talking about a small minority.
    Liverpool might have been a little different from most because it was a centre for the merchant navy, a high proportion of the merchant navy crews came from countries around the world and it was a very integrated area, mixed marriages were not unusual . As a result any racist behaviour was stamped on by old Jo Public, the police didn't have to do that much.
     
  14. redcoat

    redcoat Active Member

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    The foreigners during the war were helping free the world from Nazism and putting their lives on the line doing it, so of course the vast majority of British were welcoming and friendly to them.
    After the war, the foreigners who stayed were seen to be by some as nicking jobs off our local lads and taking advantage of our benefit system, so of course there wasn't the same level of respect.
     
  15. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    NZers and Aussies are referred to even to this day as Colonials and Antipodeans in a slightly derogatory fashion - trust me; I saw this every day I lived in the UK for ten years. Not that I cared - I'm proud of who I am and where I'm from - when I lived in Australia I was reminded, often rudely that I was a Kiwi every day - again, I didn't care; I love Australia, great place.

    The class system in the UK is still quite some institution. Its not a dislike of foreigners as such, but more of a hierarchical thing. Hereditary Peers and all that. The members of the upper crust - the Landed Gentry mind, not "New Money" - it's not about how much money you have. These guys believe that by birth right they are superior - no irony, no overt racism, just an overwhelming trust and belief in the order of things. These guys had/have considerable influence on how foreigners are regarded in the UK.
     
  16. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Sorry, mate, but have to strongly disagree with you on this one. The vast majority of Brits don't know or interact with anyone who's "Landed Gentry", and even if they do they're not likely to be influenced. Mass opinion is shaped more by the tabloid media, the still-prevalent unions (talk about a counterbalance to the class system!) and summer holidays to the fleshpots of Majorca (other continental fleshpots are available).

    I've seen all ends of the class system having grown up in a (very) working class background but served as a military officer alongside "old money" Army officers, many of whom were considered not very capable. In 20 years' service, I never saw an instance of someone being promoted just because they had the right name or family ties, nor did I see any obsequiousness from "normal" lads like me to those of the Landed Gentry class. Yes, the old-money types could name-drop 'til the cows came home but they had to prove their professional merits just like the rest of us. Getting the right person for the job was the driving factor, not having the right family connections.
     
  17. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    Maybe not so much now, but back during the war (the time frame of the thread), highly likely. The further back in time you go the greater their influence until the Landed Gentry make up the government. I also don't disagree with you about the armed forces, but the superiority thing - its there, still today - I experienced it while I was there.
     
  18. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    #18 buffnut453, Jun 24, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
    I can agree with those sentiments...and with the self-perceived superiority. Interestingly, the same is true of many among the working class who seek to prevent their kids "getting ideas above their station". There's nothing inherent in British society that pushes talented, but poor, people down other than their own peers not wanting others to succeed. As we used to say back home, "There's nowt so queer as folk!" (rough translation: people are strange).

    As for those superiority notions, most of us just laughed at them. Interestingly, now I live on the other side of The Pond, I see a whole new implementation of the concept - the "gated community". Now there's a sight to behold! :)
     
  19. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    Anyone commenting on the British class system obviously hasnt met a French person educated at a top Lycee. Every criticism is about "education" when they really mean wealth they are the only ones who can afford the education they had much like old Etonians. I will now indulge in a fantasy centered around the young Bush Clinton and Kennedy children dropping into a bar for a drink with their friends from the car factory. The very very rich in every country have children who are spoiled and entitled.

    I would point out that in WW1 the landed gentries numbers were decimated as they joined up as officers and led their men to the slaughter, frequently copping it first.
     
  20. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    I'm always taken aback when I here audio of Australian officers during WW2 to discover they have hardly a trace of the accent so familiar today. This was certainly not so for the Americans who were certainly considered far more 'foreign' than men from the Dominions.

    In the mid war years British civilians were most likely to meet airmen from far flung countries. There were never enough Kiwis, Aussies, Saffies etc to man their own squadrons and so they were always integrated with their British comrades. The Canadians did 'huddle on their own' as Harris put it, and were consequently often taken for Americans by people less familiar with the nuances of North American accents than we might be today.

    By December 1943 there were 283,000 Americans in the UK as part of the 8th AF alone. They certainly did cause problems. One woman keeping a diary for Mass Observation described them, predictably, as "loud, bombastic, bragging and self-righteous". Dislike of Americans was widespread, usually based on the servicemen's perceived "boastfulness", "immaturity" and "materialism"

    Some of these were established prejudices, but the behaviour of very young men, a long way from home certainly didn't help. As early as December 1942 the British warned US commanders that "unbridled speech" was causing embarrassment to Anglo-American relations and threatened to cut off all supplies of alcohol to the Command. General Marshall wrote to all senior US commanders warning that US officers had encouraged a "marked hostility and contempt for the British".
    The Americans tried hard to educate their young men into treating their British hosts with greater respect, but the Provost Marshall of the 8th AF complained in a lengthy report of the "Limey complex" which made them indifferent to their hosts unless there was "the prospect of sex".
    A Special Service study showed that only 2% of US servicemen had visited a British home.

    It was a serious problem that despite continued and intensive efforts by the various US Commands was never overcome. Eaker once joked that out of three possible crimes his men might commit, murder, rape and "interference with Anglo-American relations", the first two might, under certain circumstances, be pardoned, "but the third one, never"

    Cheers

    Steve
     
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