Based on new interviews with surviving GI's and their brides, and more than 150 archive interviews from both the Imperial War Museum and the National Library of Congress, Martha Kearney presents the second of two programmes exploring the wartime GI years and their social and cultural impact.
Marking the 70th anniversary, Martha tells the story of how the number of American servicemen based in the UK grew to more than 1.5 million from the start of 1942 through to 1944. The programme evaluates the military importance of the GI's, the integration of British and American troops and the sometimes difficult relationship between their commanders.
The arrival of large numbers of ebullient young men from an alien culture inevitably made a huge impression on British society. For many Britons the GI's were 'over sexed, over paid and over here' and misunderstandings on both sides frequently led to tension and hostility.
Racial tensions sometimes spilled over into violence, notably at the so-called Battle of Bamber Bridge in 1943 when Black and White GI's fought in the streets of the village near Preston.
The programme evokes Rainbow Corner, the American Red Cross Club near London's Piccadilly Circus where servicemen went for food, entertainment or even just a hot shower. Luxuries were available there of which most Britons could only dream.
In the aftermath of VE day, it is believed that around 70,000 British girls married American GI's with many girls emigrating immediately. Unofficial estimates also suggest that around 9,000 illegitimate children were born after the war as a result of relationships with serving GI's.
Producer: David Prest
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.