Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, 1942: Reproduced from the Original Typescript, War Department, Washington, DC (Instructions for Servicemen) Hardcover – 1 Sep 2004
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"an intriguing little pamplet"--Ed Perkins, Bournemouth Daily Echo
"an intriguing little pamplet"--Ed Perkins, "Bournemouth Daily Echo"
"A book warning US soldiers about British pecularities has become a surprise bestseller -- 60 years after it was first published."--Sunday Express
"Its tips may be based on the stereotypical -- and probably mythical -- Englishman, but they seem to ring true and are delivered with surprising wit. . . . a real gem."--Armchair General
"as much a guide to the American psyche, as to the British... The guide's apparant simplicity belies its complexity. It deserves to be a set text in schools and universities, and should be compulsory reading for all philologists." --;i>The Daily Telegraph
--Eluned Price"The Daily Telegraph" (03/29/2005)
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This book reproduces the guidance and instructions published by the US War Department and given to American servicemen on their way over to live in Britain during the second world war. Split into short sections like "Age before size", "British women at war", "The British like sports", "Indoor amusements", "Don't be a show off", "Waste means lives" and similar, this book provides a candid snapshot of American views of Britain and the British people. It also provides a guide to the differences between American and British language.
I found this book funny, fascinating and touching; a beautiful insight into the Britain of those war years, and into the concern of the American authorities that their servicemen should make the best impression on their hosts.
"It is always impolite to criticize your hosts; it is militarily stupid to criticize your allies."
At his request, I have now ordered other books in the series: the American Guide to Australia and the British Serviceman in France, along with the Home Guard Manual.
Its original purpose was to prepare US servicemen for life in Britain in a way that possibly wouldn't be necessary today, given the way we travel more (and see each others' films and TV). In doing that it also:
- provides an outsider's view of wartime Britain that we tend not to get from other sources
- points up some differences in attitude beyond the trite and obvious
- brings out how much has changed here in 70 years.
Some favourite quotations:
"When you see a girl in khaki or air-force blue with a bit of ribbon on her tunic - remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich"
"When you destroy or waste food you have wasted the life of another sailor"
"The English language didn't spread across the oceans and of the mountains and jungles and swamps of the world because these people were panty-waists"
The original document on which this is based was seven pages of ratty typescript, handed out to American servicemen on the boat over in 1942. This reprint has, for reasons of style rather than authenticity, been printed on fuzzy brown woodchip paper and covered with the sort of brown paper one wraps parcels in.
Other Yanks had already come over, and judging by what this batch are all told repeatedly NOT to do, one can tell what problems had been encountered by them, and by their hosts. The "Instructions" were written by a very Anglophile American - we have a feeling here of a real love of Britain, not simply a politician trying to be diplomatic. What is rather shocking is his assumption (based, we must presume, on experience) that American servicemen will be arrogant, insensitive, rude, greedy and wasteful; that they will chuck their weight around, sneer at the state of war-torn Britain, criticise almost everything they encounter, and hold forth at length about how they won the "last" war and will now proceed to win this one for us.
All this is, of course, delightful reading to those who find modern Americans arrogant, insensitive, rude etc etc, who despise American culture and distrust American politics - a group which I have to confess I belong to. This is the Britain of "Foyles War"; a land of dirty trains, ghastly food, darned socks and quiet everyday heroism. It's good for "the youth of today" to realise how much their grandparents did without, but the freeview channels already bombard us with The War for hours every day. Why are we still so obsessed, so seduced? I am as guilty as anyone; I watch it all, while still wondering why.
I am not sure, however enjoyable it may be, that this book is a Good Thing. It gives me a wonderful warm feeling inside, but then so does gin. It panders to all that is worst in us; not, I hasten to add, honest patriotism, but a sort of self-indulgent nostalgia which is essentially fake, like the England of TV's Miss Marple. Life during the Second World War was grim and desperate; yes, there was great camaraderie and the human spirit triumphed, but we shouldn't hanker after something which we wouldn't actually want to go through.
On a more picky note, why this brown paper? Why not a cover which actually LOOKS like it's from the 1940s? And why not, when the book is so small anyway, use a decent size type and proper black ink so daft old farts like me can read it more easily?
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