A GI's Trip To London, 1944
Germany's and Italy's declaration of war after the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the conflict in
Europe and began an invasion of the British isles by American GIs. The first
on British soil were the airmen of the Eighth Air Force conducting the bomber
on Europe. The buildup for the D-day invasion brought millions more to the tiny
island. The majority of these were young citizen-soldiers experiencing a foreign
country for the first time. With them they brought a gregarious American perspective
and lifestyle previously unknown to the typical British citizen. Overall this
was an amicable clash of cultures, although many an Englishman ruefully
referred to the GIs as "overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here!"
|Walter Davis, 1944
At age 31, Walter Davis was older than the average GI but otherwise typical. He left a draft-exempt job to volunteer for military service. Shortly after his arrival in England in early 1944, he learned his young wife had borne him a son. In February, he wrote her describing a trip he and three buddies had made to London:
"We arrived in London around noon Wednesday and immediately took the underground up to the Red Cross Club at which we were to stay. We arrived at the Club and found a line of fellows already trying to get in. We finally got to the desk and engaged our rooms and found them to be on about the seventh floor of an adjoining building, we had to walk up and down here and it was quite a lot of steps to take every time we wanted to get down to the street or back up.
The first thing we wanted to do was look the town over so we walked down to Oxford Circus then to Piccadilly Circus which was about like Times Square only smaller. Of course, we then went down to Pall Mall and looked for Downing Street, Scotland Yards and House of Parliament which we found."
The crew continues their tour seeking out Big Ben, No. 10 Downing Street and Westminster Abbey. After a couple of hours of sightseeing, they take a bus back to the Red Cross Club:
"We got back around six and went out to dinner, this time to a restaurant because they were supposed to have venison, but of course didn't. I had liver (chicken) and some of the boys ordered rabbit. They had fish, a kind of hamburger loaf, a vegetable plate and the two we ordered on the menu. You can't imagine what food conditions are like and I guess I shouldn't go into it. Just remind me sometime to tell you all about it.
After eating we went outside and tried to locate a Pub. It was pitch black and the only way we could tell where to go was to walk until we found a Bobbie then ask him where the nearest one was. We found a policeman and he told us where to go in the next block but we couldn't tell where the door of the place was until we heard people coming out of the place. Some fun - we had a glass of bitters, or I did.
There was a dance up to the Columbia RC [Red Cross] Club so we went up there and found the place full of GIs with only a few girls so we listened to the orchestra for quite some time then went back to our RC and bed. And did we sleep. I didn't wake up until ten Thursday morning."
After breakfast, Davis and a buddy decide to take a taxi tour of the city while their two friends (saying the tour was a waste of time) go shopping. The taxi tour costs ten schillings ($2.00) and takes them all over central London:
"We started our trip in a taxi and went down to Oxford Circus, the department
stores were pointed out to us on the way as well as Bond Street noted for its
fashions, Park Lane the London equivalent to Riverside Drive with the money
and Apartment Houses. The first thing we saw was the
Old Antique Shop that
Dickens lived in and where he wrote his novels, etc. The place was damaged
some from the bombs but stood fairly much the same as it did when Dickens
London fire fighters in action
after a German raid, 1941
It was near here that we saw the German Bomb that had been dug up and put on display, having a slot in the side in which to drop coins. The thing didn't go off so the charge was removed and was an excellent place in which to collect the coins.
We rode on through a lot of bombed areas, some blocks completely gone, at times a building now and then was completely leveled. Not a pretty sight and it left one with no love for the Jerries or any sympathy for what he is getting now. We were driven through the Buckingham Palace grounds. One entire wing of the Palace was leveled by bombs.
We got back to the RC about five thirty, had a shower and meet the guys for supper at a restaurant down the Avenue. The meal cost two and six (50 cents) but we only got beans on toast with coffee."
The four buddies head to Oxford Circus and a pub for a few beers and then on to Piccadilly Circus:
I think all of the GIs in England were down there, there were a lot of uniforms of all kinds wandering about. Remind me to tell you about the Piccadilly Commandos sometime. Gordon wanted to meet some English girls so he and Leonard started to find them, I of course went along. Two girls came along on their way to Charing Cross (railroad station) and I talked with them and as we caught up with those two other fellows, all of us went along to the Station. The girls lived in Kent and were on their way home and as the train wasn't in for a couple of hours they took us around to see Big Ben again and we got all the information we could about schools, etc.
English civilians serve coffee to
American GIs as they prepare to
embark for France, 1944
One girl was going for a Masters in chemistry and attended Cambridge. The other one was majoring in English. I think Gordon asked too many questions because the girls tired of us and decided they should get their train. We took the Underground back to the RC, picked up our gas masks and headed for our railroad station. We got back here to town early in the morning and had to walk into camp, getting there just in time for breakfast."
Stokesbury, James L., A Short History of World War II (1981); The private letters of Marion Davis
How To Cite This Article:
"A GI's Trip To London, 1944," EyeWitness - history through the eyes of those who lived it, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (1998).