Through television and films and easy travel, today most
of us have a good idea of what America and Americans are like. We have
learned to accept the differences between us and to value the things we
share in common.
In January 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbour in the previous
December, we had no such understanding. When we heard that Yanks were
coming to Devon, most people probably expected clones of Al Capone or
Spencer Tracey. What came were hundreds of young men
suddenly torn away by the Draft from their families, farms, small-town
communities and rural way of life to take part, far from home, in a war
which they barely understood - young men who were nothing like gangsters or movie stars.
The people of Devon immediately recognised that these frightened and
vulnerable strangers were just like their own sons; what the young Americans
discovered was that a rural community is pretty much the same whether
it's in America's mid west or in the middle of Devon. There were few places
locally for them to live in groups so many were billeted in twos and
threes with families throughout the County. They were a
cheerful, friendly bunch who laughed a lot, shared their Spam and nylons
with us and left at least one endearing legacy - today, it is
almost impossible to go anywhere in Devon without hearing the
greeting "Hiya" - not pronounced as Americans would say it but gently
sung over two descending pitches to be interpreted as the warmest of welcomes.