Photo story

Tips For American Servicemen In Britain During The Second World War

In 1942, the first of over 1.5 million American servicemen arrived on British shores in preparation for the Allied offensives against Germany during the Second World War.

That year, the United States' War Department published Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain to help soldiers, sailors and airmen – many of whom had never travelled abroad before – adjust to life in a new country. 

The following are some of the tips offered in Instructions for American Servicemen to help the troops become more 'acquainted with the British, their country, and their ways'.

  • 1. British reserved, not unfriendly

    American servicemen and women on board a train from London Victoria station, 1945.
    American servicemen and women on board a train from London Victoria station, 1945.
    D 24251

    'The British are often more reserved in conduct than we…So if Britons sit in trains or busses without striking up conversation with you, it doesn't mean they are being haughty and unfriendly. Probably they are paying more attention to you than you think. But they don't speak to you because they don’t want to appear intrusive or rude'.

  • 2. The British are tough

    Stretcher-bearers carry a casualty past an ambulance of the American Ambulance Great Britain after a V1 attack in London, 1944.
    Stretcher-bearers carry a casualty past an ambulance of the American Ambulance Great Britain after a V1 attack in London, 1944.
    D 21247

    'Don't be misled by the British tendency to be soft-spoken and polite. If they need to be, they can be plenty tough…Sixty thousand British civilians – men, women, and children – have died under bombs, and yet the morale of the British is unbreakable and high. A nation doesn't come through that, if it doesn't have plain, common guts. The British are tough, strong people, and good allies'.

  • 3. The British like sports

    A nurse keeps wicket during a cricket match at the Robert Jones and Dame Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Shropshire, 1944.
    A nurse keeps wicket during a cricket match at the Robert Jones and Dame Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Shropshire, 1944.
    D 21451

    'The British of all classes are enthusiastic about sports, both as amateurs and as spectators of professional sports…The great "spectator" sports are football in the autumn and winter and cricket in the spring and summer. See a "match" in either of these sports whenever you get a chance. You will get a kick out of it – if only for the difference from American sports'.

  • 4. They will like your frankness as long as it is friendly

    A volunteer says goodbye to a group of Americans outside the American Red Cross Eagle Club Dormitory. London, 1942 (detail).
    A volunteer says goodbye to a group of Americans outside the American Red Cross Eagle Club Dormitory. London, 1942 (detail).
    D 8335

    'The best way to get on in Britain is very much the same as the best way to get on in America. The same sort of courtesy and decency and friendliness that go over big in America will go over big in Britain…They will like your frankness as long as it is friendly. They will expect you to be generous. They are not given to back-slapping and they are shy about showing their affections. But once they get to like you they make the best friends in the world'.

  • 5. Indoor amusements

    American troops and locals at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock, in Dorset, 1944.
    American troops and locals at the Dove Inn, Burton Bradstock, in Dorset, 1944.
    D 20142

    'The British have theaters and movies (which they call "cinemas") as we do. But the great place of recreation is the "pub"'.

  • 6. Don't make fun of British speech or accents

    A British sailor making friends with two newly arrived American sailors in early 1942.
    A British sailor making friends with two newly arrived American sailors in early 1942.
    A 9192

    'Don't make fun of British speech or accents. You sound just as funny to them but they will be too polite to show it'.

  • 7. Don't eat too much

    American officers from Oregon, New York and Chicago take tea in a house in Winchester, Hampshire in 1944.
    American officers from Oregon, New York and Chicago take tea in a house in Winchester, Hampshire in 1944.
    D 21564

    'If you are invited to eat with a family don't eat too much. Otherwise you may eat up their weekly rations'.

  • 8. Remember there's a war on

    A member of the St Pancras Women's Street Cleaning Brigade sweeps the road outside a badly damaged building, 1942.
    A member of the St Pancras Women's Street Cleaning Brigade sweeps the road outside a badly damaged building, 1942.
    D 8944

    'Britain may look a little shop-worn and grimy to you. The British are anxious to have you know that you are not seeing their country at its best. There's been a war on since 1939'.

  • 9. British women at war

    Women of the ATS run to their posts in the sunshine at an anti-aircraft site, somewhere in Britain.
    Women of the ATS run to their posts in the sunshine at an anti-aircraft site, somewhere in Britain.
    D 8292

    'A British woman officer or non-commissioned officer can – and often does – give orders to a man private. The men obey smartly and know it is no shame. For British women have proven themselves in this way…There is not a single record in this war of any British woman in uniformed service quitting her post or failing in her duty under fire. Now you understand why British soldiers respect the women in uniform. They have won the right to the utmost respect. When you see a girl in khaki or air-force blue with a bit of ribbon on her tunic – remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich'.

  • 10. The British came through

    Children eat American cheese sandwiches at an open-air emergency feeding centre in Liverpool, 14 October 1941.
    Children eat American cheese sandwiches at an open-air emergency feeding centre in Liverpool, 14 October 1941.
    V 93

    'For many months the people of Britain have been doing without things which Americans take for granted. But you will find that shortages, discomforts, blackouts, and bombings have not made the British depressed…You are coming to Britain from a country where your home is still safe, food is still plentiful, and lights are still burning. So it is doubly important for you to remember that the British soldiers and civilians have been living under a tremendous strain. It is always impolite to criticize your hosts. It is militarily stupid to insult your allies'.

Discover more about the lives of American airmen in Britain in the American Air Museum at IWM Duxford.

You can buy a copy of Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain from our online shop.