Books, History Class, Uncategorized, World War 2

“Pull In Your Ears!” U.S. Troops in Great Britain, 1942

Off Duty picture Locals and United States troops meet at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, 1944.
“Off Duty: Locals and United States troops meet at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, 1944.” Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum:

December 7th, 1941 changed everything for the American people.

The Japanese surprise attacks on targets including Pearl Harbor ended the United States’ neutrality.

Isolationist voices stilled. Military enlistment skyrocketed. The people of the United States clamored for action.

The leaders of the US were ready to comply, but with the Second World War raging on many fronts, where should they begin?

President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met to discuss the order of the war. They concluded that winning the war against Germany would leave Japan overextended, while defeating Japan would not necessarily weaken Germany.

They also believed that holding off on full-scale war in the Pacific could work to the Allies’ advantage.

Churchill noted “The Japanese have naval superiority…The Allies will not have for some time the power to fight a general fleet engagement.” (Churchill 652)

Given time, the Allied fleets would grow stronger while Japan would “be compelled to nourish all his conquests and kept extended, and kept burning up his resources.” (Churchill 652)

Churchill had high hopes for North African gains under General Auchinleck while masses of Hitler’s armies were occupied, facing the Eastern winter and the stubborn Russian resistance.

The decision was made.

American, British and Free French troops would retake North Africa in 1942. A large-scale Allied invasion of Europe would take place in 1943. (Well, that was the initial plan. Reality intervened…but we’ll get to that another time.)

The first US troops came to Great Britain in January of 1942.

They came, armed for war, but also armed with information.ww2 guide bookWhile Britain and the US theoretically share the same language and some of the same roots, the military felt it expedient to produce a handy guidebook for its troops. (After all, there was no way for them to sneakily Google what a Briton meant when he said he was “chuffed” to see them. Not that I’ve ever had to do that. As far as you know.)

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942 is an interesting snapshot of the time. They’ve reprinted it, so you can get your own copy on Amazon. Brian from Hardscrabble Farm was kind enough to let me share a few quotes from the copy he has on his site.

The US troops were reminded, first and foremost, that they were Britain’s guests, and ought to behave as such.

“If somebody looks in your direction and says, “he’s chucking his weight about,” you can be pretty sure you’re off base.  That’s the time to pull in your ears.”

(Speaking of communication difficulties, how about that 1940s US slang? Consider my ears pulled in.)

” You can rub a Britisher the wrong way by telling him “we came over and won the last one.” “


“…remember that crossing the ocean doesn’t automatically make you a hero. There are housewives in aprons and youngsters in knee pants in Britain who have lived through more high explosives in air raids than many soldiers saw in first class barrages in the last war.”

The book also noted some important differences in culture and in attitudes.

“Be careful not to criticize the King… Today’s King and Queen stuck with the people through the blitzes and had their home bombed just like anyone else, and the people are proud of them.”

“If British civilians look dowdy and badly dressed, it is not because they do not like good clothes or know how to wear them. All clothing is rationed and the British know that they help war production by wearing an old suit or dress until it cannot be patched any longer.  Old clothes are “good form.” “

And of course, in any travel there is the question of food and drink- will it be like home?

“The British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don’t know how to make a good cup of tea. It’s an even swap.”

If you have about 40 minutes, Burgess Meredith (who I will always remember as “The Penguin” from the old Adam West Batman program- POW! WHACK!) was featured giving similar advice in How to Behave in Britain. (See the link below.)

How to Behave in Britain expands on the themes from the original booklet, using humor and some really good examples of really bad behavior. (If you end up watching it, all I can say is, I hope no one actually behaved like Meredith pretended to over dinner!)

The film also addresses the fact that, while the United States was still deep in the grip of racial segregation, Britain was not. How were troops of different races to regard each other? The film’s brief interview with a US general had some positive things to say, as far as it went. “We’re all here as soldiers. Everything we do, we do as American soldiers. It’s not a bad time to learn to respect each other.”  No, it’s never a bad time to learn that lesson, and it’s a lesson still worth remembering today.

The shared closing lines of book and film sum up nicely.

“It is always impolite to criticize your hosts;

It is militarily stupid to criticize your allies”

Many thanks to Mike at “A Bit about Britain” ( for suggesting this topic! His site is an excellent resource to learn about Great Britain through its landmarks and history, and his humor makes the lessons anything but dull!

Thanks for visiting!


Note: All Winston Churchill quotes and background information on his and FDR’s planning comes from The Grand Alliance, the third volume of Churchill’s memoirs of the Second World War, copyright 1950 by Houghton Mifflin Co.



17 thoughts on ““Pull In Your Ears!” U.S. Troops in Great Britain, 1942”

  1. Well, I have to say I’m chuffed at the wonderful mention, Anne. This was a lovely post – great fun. And, y’know, we STILL have a problem with coffee sometimes! You may (or may not) have heard that there was a little gentle jealousy on the part of some British servicemen, who claimed that American troops were “oversexed, overpaid and over here.” More seriously, there were also instances of Brits getting a little upset over US racial segregation policy, which was seen as racist before anyone used the term. I noticed the photo from Burton Bradstock – a lovely area, used for training by Rangers and Commandos – this might be of interest I know that British pilots trained in the US – I wonder what booklet they were issued with??! All the best, Mike. PS I may come back to watch the rest of that film! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Mike! And thanks for the additional information- I had thought about including the “overpaid” etc complaint somewhere in here, but couldn’t get it to fit right- I’m glad you mentioned it! And good for them for recognizing just how ridiculous segregation policies were- it’s not a proud thing to remember :(. The film is worth a watch- entertaining as well as informative. (Bob Hope makes a cameo appearance as well, as they try to figure out British currency :)) I confess, my tea-making abilities are awful. I’m flexible with my coffee, as long as it’s STRONG. (You can always add water. Not that I generally do. Why is the computer shaking…?) Hmmm, a guide to the US. I suppose that depends where you end up. In my hometown they’d probably just be warned to not get lost in a cornfield. Thanks for the link- I’ll check it out!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really liked the closing lines, Anne Clare. So true, and it applies to much more than military. Criticizing others often has a way of coming back to bite you. Thanks for a fun, interesting post. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so pleased that Arti from Ripple Effects sent me here — and I see you are a fan of Mike’s, too. I’m fascinated by the wtories of World War II (and I, for that matter) and I, for one, hope your book finds its home sooner rather than later, so I can enjoy it, too. I had heard that they trained soldiers in proper do-and-don’t scenarios when shipping out but didn’t know the specifics. So, thanks for sharing. You can count me as your newest follower! ~ jeanie from Marmelade Gypsy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Jeanie! I’m glad Arti sent you this way too. 🙂 It’s interesting to get little glimpses into history, isn’t it? I learn something new every time I work on one of these.


  4. Hi Anne – what a great post …and wonderful to see Mike had some extra input into this … I’ve kept it open to re-read when I’ve a little more time and to see the links you’ve given us – great … thanks – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anne,

    It’s my pleasure to forward your link to my blog friend Jeanie of Marmelade Gypsy. Your subject matter is right up her alley, and mine too as you might have known already. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a great post, and yes my Mom recalls that Brits were shocked and upset about racial segregation. She also recalls that when African American servicemen came to the dance halls, they were initially very surprised that the British girls happily got up to dance with them and no one thought anything of it. I’m going to order the ‘Instructions’ book from Amazon too!


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