Foxearth History Society – “Got any gum chum?”

On 14th October members and guests of the Foxearth and District Local History Society were taken back to the 1940s when Peter Thorogood, Chairman of the Sudbury society talked about the coming of American servicemen to England. In his talk entitled “Got any gum, chum?” Peter painted a picture of these “friendly invaders”, the effect their presence had on Suffolk residents and the impressions they gained of their new surroundings and neighbours (perhaps that should be neighbors!) The response to Churchill’s great rallying cry came after a US warship escorting a supply convoy to the UK was sunk by a German submarine in October 1941. The first American troops arrived in January 1942 and as each disembarked they were given a copy of a little book  about England and the English. The author is unknown but the advice it contained was clearly the work of a genius and the extracts read by Peter showed that it was a perceptive introduction to the English character. Also as Peter quoted extensively from the diaries some of the GIs kept, the story of their occupation emerged as one of suspicion, wonder, bravery and understanding.

In August 1942 Sergeant Robert Arbib landed in the UK. With a degree in botany and a background in advertising he was – in the strange way armies seem to have of allocating tasks – charged with building runways in East Anglia! He was a keen diarist and his thoughtful and moving accounts of wartime Britain were published as “Here we are together” in August 1945. Sadly it’s now out of print but Peter read many passages of Arbib’s observations of the countryside, habitations and seasons and how he expressed his sorrow at the levelling and despoliation essential for the creation of the 70 or so airfields built in the region. Arbib described in emotive words his conversations with farmers who had to leave the land they had cared for over many years, the GIs’ introduction to (and integration into) the English pub, the shock of seeing queues for food and the attractiveness of the local lasses! Movingly he writes of the splendid lunch he shared with a local family; only later did he discover that the heaped plates represented the household’s rations for a week! Peter punctuated his account with some amusing anecdotes – like the story of the GIs who fed a farmer’s chickens with alcohol-soaked toasties to make them easier to catch!  In the time until the Normandy landings of 1944 mutual respect, understanding and friendship (there were 60,000 GI brides from the UK!) grew between these two vastly different cultures resulting in the launching of the greatest liberation exercise the Western World has ever known.

This was a most fascinating and very informative talk for which Chairman Alan Fitch thanked Peter warmly on behalf of the twenty seven folk present.

Next meeting: Tuesday 11th November at 7.30pm in Foxearth Village Hall – Archive film evening.

It was agreed that the Annual Dinner would be at The George, Cavendish on a date to be arranged by the Chairman.

Ken Nice

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