British photographic history

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Revealed archive of the Americans in WWII Britain

“Overpaid, Oversexed and Over Here”. The famously succinct wartime interpretation of the Americans in Britain in World War II might give some insight into the culture clash that ensued when thousands of American servicemen arrived in wartime austerity Britain. 

But the reality was, of course, much more complex. Two highly contrasting worlds met with mixed results, despite the fact that both US and British authorities made great strides to maintain good relations between American servicemen and women and their hosts. 

The Yanks arrived at Duxford in rural Cambridgeshire in late 1942, and the 78th Fighter Group made their first combat mission from RAF Duxford on April 13 1943.  Commemorating the 70th anniversary of this first sortie of thousands, the museum has selected a series of photos from its Roger Freeman collection of more than 15,000 images of the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces in Great Britain during the Second World War. The collection, which has recently been acquired by IWM, was compiled by the son of an Essex farmer who lived close to Boxted airfield.

Entranced by the Americans as a young teenager, Freeman (1928-2005) amassed the photographs during a life-long interest during which he publish several highly-respected books on the subject. “As an aeroplane-mad youth, I was soon to relish the American presence in the East Anglian sky...” he later remembered. “They were to leave a considerable impression on those who knew them, which did not fade easily when they departed.”

The Duxford exhibition offers a tantalising glimpse into this world. It also reveals the diversity of the roles undertaken by the men of the United States Army Air Forces and the women of the Women’s Army Corps and the Red Cross. 

Among the black and white images are a journalist, public relations officer, barber, weather officer, adjutant, armourer, chaplain, parachute packer, intelligence officer, runway control officer, medical corpsman, ground crew and members of the air crew - all going about their daily activities.

The individual stories of these men and women accompany the images, illustrating their wartime experiences in Great Britain and how their own personal war ended.

Somewhere in England: Portraits of the Americans in Britain 1942 to 1945, Imperial War Museum, Duxford, April 14 - December 31 2013

Open 10am-6pm (4pm from October 27). Admission £12.25-£17.50 (free for under-16s). Book online.

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