Professor Neil Wynn was recently interviewed about the impact on the South West of the build-up for D-Day in June 1944. He focused particularly on the presence of large numbers of American servicemen, over 250,000 of whom were based in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Somerset alone. The population of Wiltshire, for example, was outnumbered two-to-one as bases sprang up from Swindon to Devises, often swamping the small rural village communities in the surrounding countryside and causing damage to roads and hedges with their large vehicles.. While the GIs brought luxuries such as ice cream and Coca Cola, they also brought their racial practices and the segregation of US troops was a cause of some resentment among the British population – and the African Americans themselves. Several racial clashes occurred including those in Chipping Norton, Launceston, and Bristol.
Once the invasion of Normandy had begun military hospitals also appeared in the South West, including one just outside Cheltenham (also segregated). However, almost immediately the war was over, the Americans vanished (and so did thousands of British women who later emigrated to the USA as war brides!). Remembering D-Day has brought back many memories of this period and Professor Wynn is involved in a number of projects recording the consequences of this wartime invasion.
The clip of the interview shown on Point West on Friday 6th June was so short you might have missed it if you blinked! It did, however, include a very good picture of Neil’s desk and showed him hard at work!