Us and the Yanks
Excerpted from the book
SIX WAR YEARS 1939-1945:
Memories of Canadians at Home and Abroad
By Barry Broadfoot
o American Volunteers in Toronto
o Negroes in Winnipeg
o We Didn't Like the Americans
o In Joint Flotilla
o In an English Pub
o The Biggest Aircraft
o They Bombed Everything That Moved
o The G.I. Was a Good Guy
o "Tough Guys, You Canadians"
o The Navy Against the Army
o A Group of Them
o The Yanks Couldn't Navigate
o The Dutch Victory Parade
Introduction by Barry Broadfoot. THE MATERIAL in this chapter surprised me greatly. I had my own opinions of our American neighbours in wartime, but I judged each individual as a person, and stayed away from generalizations. But I was not in any sort of close competition with Americans for girls, accommodations, meals, and so on, as so many of our servicemen were, so I did not notice the flaunting of their dollar as much as those who speak here.
I also suspect that many of the incidents related here stem from the fact that the Americans in Britain felt themselves to be in an alien environment, while our own servicemen felt more at home, which made the Americans feel defensive.
As for battle, on the ground, at sea and in the air, there seems to be a consensus that the American was a brave fighter, but would have been a better one if he had had more discipline - which goes back to training - and had been better led. In other words, Americans took casualties needlessly.
But I think this chapter should stand without further comment, and that every reader should judge it for himself.
American Volunteers in Toronto
WE HAD Americans joining up long before Pearl Harbor Day. Ninety per cent air force. None of this foot-slogging for them, I guess they'd heard too much of that from their fathers.
They were good chaps, mainly, and mainly officer class. I mean, university, either graduated or nearly finished, and they'd get it into their head to get into the thick of it over there. I don't think there was any of this Roosevelt b.s. about saving the world for democracy. They just wanted to get in on the fun.
When I was recruiting in Toronto, I guess I handled 300 or 400 and I was always amazed at how many of these fellows showed up drunk, half-drunk or with a hangover. An awful lot did.
Finally I asked one young fellow about it. Well, he said, he and his friends had been at this big party down South, Mississippi. and they got talking about the war and about how the United States should be in it, on and on, and somebody said, "Well, why don't you then? Canada's up that way. They're in it." Something like that.
One of the fellows had a plane, and they spent the night and part of next morning toodling along, stopping at this cornfield and that one for gas, and they had two or three quarts of bourbon with them, and that was about it. Here they were, looking like death warmed over, but ready to do or die. We put them through, of course, and that's the last we'd see of them.
But you often wonder what happened to those fellows. Some switched back to the American Air Force when Roosevelt declared war, some probably stayed with us. I guess some died too.
Negroes in Winnipeg
WE USED to go downtown and go to the big dance halls. We'd say we were eighteen when we'd be sixteen or maybe seventeen. Even fifteen. Some girls could get away with being fifteen and saying eighteen. That's where the fun was. I mean, the guys came in from Shilo and Macdonald and there were several camps around Winnipeg, quite a few, and there were some camps in North Dakota, in Minnesota, and the guys used to come up to Canada. I remember one fellow I was dancing with and he said, "Ma'am, this is a real nice little country you got up her," and I said, "Soldier, you looked at a real nice big map lately?" He was from North Carolina, South Carolina. A lot of them were, and they all had bottles. That's where I first learned to drink Southern Comfort right out of the neck of the bottle. My, oh my, but we had some good times. Those Americans were a lot of fun. You see, it was too far to go to Minneapolis or some other big town, so it was Winnipeg for them. They liked the place.
This Ray Durban, he said that in Grand Forks or Minot or wherever they were stationed in North Dakota, they couldn't even get a meal in a restaurant. This would be in '44. Or go in a bar, or, heaven forbid, go to a dance hall and dance with a white girl, and as there were no Negroes, civilian Negroes, in North Dakota, that put the military Negroes in a tough spot. That's why they loved Canada. We danced with them, went out with them. I didn't care. But then, they were just young guys, lots of fun and really terrific dancers. They could really dance.
Well, it wasn't the Canadians, the air force and so on, who objected to us going out with the Negroes. It was the Americans themselves. The young white ones, like the ones from the American South mostly, but the Northerners too. They hated it. Oh, how they hated it. They'd get in a corner and just give us, the girls with the Negro partners, they'd give us a real stare. I once asked Ray if he wasn't scared. I was, so shouldn't he be, and he said he was scared out of his boots. I remember what he said. He said that if he kept coming to these dances he was going to get killed. I said how, like meaning a gun or knife, and he said no, with boots. I said why, and he said, "So everybody will get a crack at me."
It never happened, but some girls walking down Portage Avenue after a dance, they'd had the colored fellow who was with them yanked into an alley and he'd get beat up something fierce. It happened a lot. It never got into the papers. Nothing ever got into the papers in those days, but there were a lot of beatings.
I remember asking this Ray friend I had why they didn't do something about it. You know, he and his friends fight back. He said that if they did that and there were ten white American soldiers in that dance place that night, then next week there would be a hundred. I remember him saying, "It's just something you live with. I'm used to it."
Anyway, these colored soldiers sure liked Canada. They talked about moving to Winnipeg after the war but I don't think they ever did. I know I never heard from any. They were just kids and at that age, they'd just say whatever came into their heads. They were so grateful that somebody treated them as human.
We Didn't Like the Americans
So this sometimes led to fights in London with the M.P.'s of both nations whaling in busting heads, Yank and Canadian, with equal vigour, but it all worked out. But it used to brass us off to see some Yank come in to a pub flashing 5-pound notes, and try to buy the one bottle of whiskey in the place plus a place in the dart game plus the barmaid plus everything. I'd say most of the fights occurred because the Yanks had too much money and didn't understand the climate of England in those days, and they often got their faces pounded in for it.
I remember once seeing a wounded British army captain. He had a cane, and he's standing outside Victoria Station' looking for a cab. Probably back from some war zone, all shot up, and this cab shoots by him and stops in front of some American P.F.C. who's waving a quid in the air. Now that is pretty much.
We didn't like him for his money. Every day was Christmas for the girls in London when the Yanks came. Prices shot up, for girls, for everything. And we didn't like him for his medals. We didn't have any, and he'd get one for keeping his rifle clean or showing up five days in a row for breakfast at the mess hall. Meaningless. But they were ribbons and pretty ones too, I must say.
But in action, they were like most soldiers. Not as good as us, not as good as the British or the New Zealanders, but they were okay and now that I look back on it, that war they fought in Southeast Asia must have been a real killer and they did very well in that. I wouldn't have wanted any part of it.
So now, I regard them as troops like any other. They were not too disciplined, and though their equipment was the best, they didn't use it too well, but their expertise at logistics and their sheer wealth of material was unbelievable. Their tactics were not as saving on men as the British and Canadians. They were too wasteful of men.
In Joint Flotilla
WE WORKED with both the English and the Americans on coastal patrol. Literally, we operated in joint flotilla even though the American admiral and the English admiral back at the base weren't even speaking to one another. We had great admiration for them, a liking for them, but I will still take the British sailor over the American any time. The idea in the American's mind as to what his duty was completely different from that of the British sailor.
And what was the Americans' attitude? Fire your torpedoes by radar from a mile away, then get out of there. Fast. That kind of thing. Or if we took out an American boat to guide us because they had radar and we didn't, when we were driving in to attack, the American boat would disengage. He wouldn't want to get involved in this close stuff, ship to ship at a few hundred yards, or even much less.
The reaction of the British seaman to this, needless to say, was strong and forthright.
In an English Pub
ONCE, I remember, in a little pub down in Surrey, these Americans come in. Typical. Young, mouthy, tunics not buttoned, caps every which way on their beans, cigars in their mouths and they sit down, about six of them. It takes only a few minutes to find out they'd just arrived, about two weeks before, and this was their first time out. They thought darts was a silly game and said so, out loud. They called the barmaid "Hey, you," and her name was Mildred. They wanted rum and Coke, which they couldn't get, but they didn't like the English beer and it happened to be a local brew and bloody good. They were boors, and I was getting some glances from my English friends, farmers, village people, the like. A village pub to me is heaven, but usually a bit small. So one of these soldiers looks over and sees my Canada flashes and he calls me over. He said something like, "Hey Canada, c'mon and translate Limey for us." There wasn't much I could do. A small place, you know. So I went.
Bitch, bitch, bitch. Saviors of the world. They didn't like the left-hand driving and said they had been told in the States the system would be changed. Just for them. I had a hard time believing what I was hearing. And they didn't like Spam. They didn't like evaporated potatoes, they didn't like dried eggs. Christ, England had been living on the stuff for two years or so. They said they had been told in the States that the Spam and dried eggs would be for the British and they'd get the ham and fresh eggs off the English farms.
But that wasn't the clincher. One kid, and these fellows were no more than twenty or twenty-one, he said they had been told they wouldn't be living in barracks but in seaside hotels. And it went on. They were going to be treated like conquering heroes, with the conquering still to be done. They believed it. Somebody had been peddling them a load of bull and they believed it. I didn't try to set them straight. That's what they had chaplains and psychologists for.
The American soldiers, of course, let it slide over them. They didn't understand, but Millie the barmaid, a real decent soul, called out, "Canada orders drinks for the house, gentlemen," and then she says to me, low-voiced, "And I say the drinks are on them. They don't know pounds, shillings and pence, darling, and I'll stir them around until they don't know what they've paid for." We both laughed at that.
They learned. Most of them learned. But it did take time, and I imagine more than a few training and orientation movies were shown, but they did make a lot of enemies. Maybe that's too strong a word, perhaps dislike would be better. It was too bad. Canadians and Americans, just a border there, and so different. It was the empire thing, King and Country, I swear it.
The Biggest Aircraft Factory in the World
I KNEW we were going to win the war when I saw the Willow Run aircraft factory outside Detroit. My God, but it was a big one. The biggest in the world, unless the Germans had a bigger one. But that's not what was fantastic about it. They had a sod turning, you know, the official start with Ford Company officials and big shots and Hollywood stars. What was amazing was that here they built the biggest aircraft factory in the world, to make Liberators, a big four-engine job, and one year after the official opening, the first Liberator was produced. I'm not joshing you, I'm telling you that that is one of the most fantastic production feats in the history of the world. Yes, the history of the world. One year. Twelve months. One year.
They wanted people to work as foremen, to train others while the plant was being built and 1 went down and I got a job. I was a trouble-shooter, going from one part of the plant to another, settling problems and just looking for ways to speed things up. The place was so big I even had a little electric cart like one of those golf carts to get me around. Zip here, zip there. A lot of people got to know me. They called me "Jolly Canuck."
I remember some things, like the plant took up 1,300 acres and there was parking for 15,000 cars. There were thousands of workers. Dames who'd never seen a screwdriver, there they were working on engines, radios and fuselages. One of those big babies had more than 600,000 rivets, and those women socked home every one of those rivets. It had four Pratt and Whitney engines and could do 300 miles an hour. I think the Lancaster could only do 200. It was a mighty fighting machine.
You'd see those Libs come out the end and they'd be gassed up, no fooling around, and given their tests right there and then. Right from the factory to the test pilots, and off they'd go. It was fantastic. You have to know something about manufacturing to realize just how fantastic it really was.
They'd just keep rolling those big buggers out of the end of the assembly lines, and they'd just keep coming and coming and coming. As I said, when I'd worked in Willow for a while, I knew that Hitler and the Japs could never win the war.
They Bombed Everything That Moved
WE NEVER wanted the Yanks around us, their air support. What those stupid bastards were going to do next, I don't think even the Lord on High knew.
In France they'd bomb anything. A jackrabbit in a field. Anything that moved. They bombed Germans, sure, but Canadians, British, their own, the Poles, anything that moved. If a unit wasn't exactly on the point where it was supposed to be, if that unit had moved a few hundred yards, boom. Bomb, bomb, bomb. Everything. An old peasant woman going into the field to get her cow. Hit her. I'm exaggerating a bit, but I sure as hell know where
they got their bombing tactics for Vietnam. Right out of the book their generals wrote for them in Italy and Europe.
And the thing is, they couldn't hit anything. With the fighter bombers it was visual bombing. Map coordinates, a house, a tree, a road, and you find your target from there and go in. They couldn't do that. The mediums were a little better, but the big boys, just dots up there in the blue, there'd be this village here called Abbeville or something and 500 yards away there'd be another tiny one and bang, they'd try for Abbeville and get the other one. Why try for either anyway? It was just a bomb-the-goddamn-hell-out-of-everything philosophy.
Us? Oh, yeah, they knocked us around three or four times. Accidental, of course. Always accidental.
Say, if you ever see a guy of about forty-seven or fifty walking around with a nose all over the place, ask him if he flew bombing runs into the Caen and Falaise areas of France in '44. He just might be one of those guys.
The G.I. Was a Good Guy
I THINK the -Americans suffered a lot from titles they didn't deserve, and I mean that. A lot of guys knocked them who didn't know them. The Americans were top dog over there, best equipment, most men, best conditions, so everyone wants to take a shot at you, eh? I think, and English guys who fought in North Africa with them, said they were terrific soldiers, so that's two of us. I met American tankmen I thought were the best goddamned tank men I ever saw. And the American G.I., he was a good guy.
"Tough Guys, You Canadians"
WE WERE shipping a cargo of mutton and wool from Auckland and we were glad to stretch our legs ashore when we got to Bora Bora. The island paradise. My friend, then it was the asshole of the world. About 10 feet above the water at most, and most of it swamp and bugs and no booze, and the women are no screaming hell, and what's worse, the Yanks are there. The Seabees, that's the construction corps of the army. Or the U.S. of A. frigging Marines.
Everything comes off by barge so we've got a couple of days and the second day we go ashore, about 25 of us. Looking for booze, women if they're not hiding. And on the road what do we meet but these Yanks. I find out later they're a very pissed-off lot because the women are no good or something and the old war has passed them by and they don't know what they're doing on Bora Bora, just washing laundry and playing poker. Lord, you know, you can only play so much poker.
So they meet us. About 50, 60, 75 of them and one guy comes forward and he says how many? He means how many of us. I say, just a guess, oh, 25. But he wants to know exactly. What the hell. I count. Twenty-three. So what it turns out to be, he calls out 22 other guys from his bunch and we're gonna fight them. All together, boys, all friends together, but man for man and every man for himself. Oh, we're willing enough. We're pissed off too, not being allowed ashore at Auckland. So I says, like, who starts this fight? He says, "Buddy, you and I start." And he charges. And it's on. I won't give you blow by blow, but you can pretty well imagine it. Broken noses. Black eyes. Guys spitting teeth. Kneecaps half kicked off. Those guys could fight dirty, but so, for Christ sakes, could we. Twenty minutes later, or maybe ten, somehow we all decide it's gonna be a draw, so we quit.
That's all, we quit. The big guy says, "Tough guys, you Canadians," and I say, "Tough guys, you Yanks," and we go back to their barracks, their canteen and drink about 15 cans of their Schlitz beer each. Everybody's patching everybody else up and we're all friends.
They just wanted to fight, see. Just fight. The place was boring them to hell and we came along and gave them some entertainment. That's what a goddamn tropical isle could do for you.
The Navy Against the Army
THERE WERE thousands of guys waiting for the boats at Liverpool to take them back home and there was nothing for them to do, and I remember one fight and by God, there must have been hundreds in it. Just like one of those barroom fights in the movies, except you multiply it by a hundred or more.
If you came around the corner into this area, you'd think it was Canadians against the Americans, but if you looked closer you'd see it was different. It wasn't Canada against the U.S., but the navy against the army. So, there were American and Canadian navy types fighting American and Canadian army guys and oh, what a battle. Broken noses, broken arms, a few guys half-kicked to death. Some in pretty rough shape, let me tell you.
This wasn't one of those Canada-against-the-Yank things. No, this was just like a brawl, the guys fighting, beating the hell out of each other because they had nothing else to do with their time. So it was easier to just pick out a navy uniform and bash what was inside it and then hit the next one than go looking for an American uniform or a Canadian uniform. It made it that much simpler.
A Group of Them
Christ, we had Americans who hadn't been in England two weeks, sitting in pubs with English guys, Australians, Canadians, and we'd been to Dieppe and on raids on the coast, and a lot had come back from North Africa, some had been in Norway-and there we would be sitting in the pub and listening to these guys say that if it wasn't for the Yankees, none of us, including England itself, would be there. They hadn't even set foot in a battle yet, and they had practically won the war.
You get three Americans together and they're pretty obnoxious, and get in with a group of them and you usually wound up in a battle with them. And don't think that didn't happen, because it did.
The Yanks Couldn't Navigate
AFTER THE Americans came in, after they got their aircraft plants going and their crews changed, they started ferry operations. Some down to Brazil, over to the Azores and up to England that way, but an awful lot to Gander in Newfoundland for refueling and then the one big hop, or to Iceland for a fill-up, or Greenland and then in to Scotland. It was a simple operation.
Except for one thing. For some reason the Yanks couldn't navigate. Now you take a squadron lost 100 miles somewhere off Iceland. That is one hell of a lot of planes going to hit the drink somewhere in that cold old Atlantic. This was happening, and nobody was saying anything about it, but often one or two Flying Forts, B-29's, others, wouldn't make it with the rest. That is one hell of a way to die, ditching in the Atlantic.
This buddy of mine named Watkins, a navigator, his crew was at Iceland flying V.I.P.'s home this time and the word was out that about 18 American bombers were lost, and the way he puts it, in his own descriptive language, he said, "And Bunny, I mean good and bloody lost." The upshot was, somehow back-tracking on their flight plan and figuring the winds, drift, magnetic variations, his crew went out and found them, and they were hell and gone, north by northeast above Iceland and heading for Santa's home. Fifty or so miles off. They'd missed the base completely.
This was happening far too often. Losses, you understand, weren't all that heavy, just a few, but there was going to come a day when a whole squadron or more, maybe two or three, were going to follow the leader right into that North Atlantic soup and that would be that, and God only knows, Britain, the war effort, needed those planes.
The upshot was, on the big ferry hauls where there was no trained navigator, they were putting Canadians on as head navigator. Like, follow me boys, just follow your leader-and they'd always get there. It was like a drunk going home. I think there only were six or seven course changes, and any kid who'd ever handled a sailboat could get them right.
The Dutch Victory Parade
Day of the parade, we're like we were having a ceremonial in Ottawa before all the high mucka-mucks. I hadn't polished a button for months but there we were, all of us, polishing. Where they got that filthy blanco I'll never understand.
A big victory parade, you understand. Thousands of guys, and they're flying in a band from England for us, and the Yanks had their own. A big day and it's a wonderful day, understand? May, weather just lovely.
Two regiments are chosen, and away we go to the marshalling site, about 12 miles away, left, right, left, right, cadence count, you know the old bullshit. Just like in training. Then we're there, and the army's the same as ever, run to get there and wait for 2 hours until somebody tells you to do something. Understand?
Officer says we're waiting for the bloody Americans. Parade can't start without the bloody Americans, and they're only 6 miles away. So here they come, and, boy did they come. Could they march 6 miles? Not those lads. Jeeps, little trucks, big trucks canvas-rolled, half-tracks, every bloody thing that moved was filled with American soldiers, and so help me Hannah, in their walkingout dress. Where they get walking-out dress on a battlefield I'll never know. Any G.I. I ever saw was usually a walking pile of dirt and beard. Anyway, they sure looked pretty, and they've got a couple of bands.
Off goes the parade, our general, their general, the mayor, some guy who is probably the governor, and then the Dutch underground and they look like a bunch of farm laborers, which many of them were, you understand, and then us guys. The Canadians, there we are slogging along with rifles just as if there was a bloody war on, and the British boys, they're there too, and some air force guys from somewhere. And then come the Yanks. Rah ta ta ta ta tah! Give them bugles, lads. There come the Yanks, riding in their bloody vehicles. Fancy little hats, laughing and joking among themselves and some drinking out of bottles. Paying no attention to the Dutch people all standing there and waving their little flags and cheering. Couldn't even march more than a couple of miles in a parade. We all thought that was pretty bloody lousy.
The Dutch people saw us, and then they saw this great big bloody convoy with these pretty soldiers sitting in the trucks, and when we ended the parade in their big city square you can guess who got the cheers and the invites home to dinner and the big eyes from the girls. Yep, I felt good being a Canadian that day. Those Dutch people have never forgot, you know. Go to Holland even today and say you're a Canadian and you get the welcome mat put out for you.
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