Today 26th January 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the first GI American servicemen arriving in Britain, the first in blitzed Belfast then others through Clydeside and Bristol. By 1944, over a million US servicemen had arrived in every part of Britain from here in Cornwall, our zoo cousins at Paignton and Slapton in Devon.
Previous blog posts have told the story of Operation Tiger the tragic loss of life on training at Slapton Sands (our nature reserve run by FSC) and the GIs camped at Paignton Zoo’s Clennon Gorge. Many troops from the Torbay area embarked next to The Marine Spa which became in 2003 the peaceful location of Living Coasts, our sister zoo.
In a rationed and blitzed Britain, Digging for Victory to feed itself, these young GIs and airmen changed not only our eating habits with gum, chocolate and unfamiliar plants like sweetcorn. They also changed our landscape and left many things behind.They left hard stuff like runways, beach ramps but also softer things – memories, broken hearts but more positively, many a GI bride.
Many an American zoo employee was called up and served overseas, some never to return. American zoos and gardens went into a s alavge and Dig for Victory garden footing. Our World War Zoo Gardens at Newquay Zoo with its American plants like Sweetcorn / maize is a quiet memorial to zoo keepers of all nations from America to Japan, Germany to Russia, worldwide who served and suffered on the home front and the battlefield.
Previous blog posts (see the month by month selection) also mentioned the 1943 US Liberator crash, whose engine relics were displayed here at one of our World War Zoo garden events. Down at the bustling beaches of Watergate Bay near Newquay Zoo, home to the famous Fifteen and the Extreme Academy, look out for a simple plaque marking the crash of a Liberator and the loss of its American crew in 1943, remembered each year by Douglas Knight , Newquay ‘boy’ now in his 80s.
Not forgotten. ‘Over here, over paid, and over sexed’ was one popular summary of the GIs in Britain, something Juliet Gardiner discusses critically in her wartime history books. The recently republished pocket advice manuals to US servicemen on life in wartime Britain make fascinating reading about our strange British habits, cultural differences and hard wartime experiences. But we have much to remember and be thankful for …