Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Fic Writers Week Day #2

Fic Writers Week 2017

Fic Writers Week is an initiative over on Tumblr to celebrate fandom - the writers who create all that free content, and the readers who consume it. Find out more at my masterpost.

The task for day two is...

The Muses. Create some extra content based on one of your fics.

Rather than inflict my terrible attempts at art on the world, I figured I’d do something a little different. My favourite of all the fics I’ve written this year was a Gordlock WW2 AU, with Jim as a sergeant in the US army and Harvey as a DI in the police force. Here’s some of the background history to explain how it all worked…

Overpaid, Oversexed, [Overfed] and Over Here! 

I loosely set the fic in my own area of the country, which was one of two initial reception points for US troops. Those guys became the 8th Air Force and like the RAF (Royal Air Force) and other air units were well regarded. The problems began when the trickle of Americans became a flood of untrained GIs in 1942, stationed in camps around the city and private billets across the South Wales Valleys. They then proceeded to do not a lot of anything but clash with locals until they shipped out in June ‘44 on the ill fated D-Day Landings in Normandy. (About 10,000 allied troops lost their lives.)

The issue was mostly culture clash. Britain was boring and dowdy, and here were tens of thousands of young men with too much time on their hands and too much money in their pockets. US wages were way higher than British, and GIs were earning three times as much as their British counterparts. Most of it went on drink and womanising, what with there not being a whole lot else to do in a country that had been at ‘total war’ since 1939, and many a miserable Tommy came home on leave to find his girl had been stepping out with a yank who could shower her with imported chocolate and nylon stockings - all but impossible to get on the legitimate British market. It didn’t really help that the school leaving age in the UK at the time was 14 - young girls’ heads were easily turned by smart US uniforms and their seemingly endless supply of ready cash, and irate parents were incensed when it transpired they had been meeting up with GIs who invariably thought them years older.

Careless Talk Costs Lives

To cater for GIs local dance halls and recreation centres began segregating for the first time. Most of the troops stationed locally were from the small town south and the long arm of Jim Crow meant white GIs outright refused to socialise with black soldiers. Girls who danced with African American servicemen would be shunned or even turned away from white dance nights, and the ‘vulgar’ love of jitterbugging aside, as a result African American troops were generally regarded as politer and better behaved than their white counterparts. (In 1943 an American Red Cross report claimed that if GIs behaved the way they did in the UK back home, most of them would be in gaol. Officially they committed 26 murders, 31 manslaughters and 126 rapes - for which 18 GIs were hanged at the US Military Prison in Shepton Mallet, Somerset.) All the same, at the end of the war thousands of mixed-race babies were sent to orphanages in the US because fathers were either unwilling or unable to marry the girls they had got iton trouble. Because although c. 70,000 British girls married GIs, the US army made it as difficult as possible. Eventually around 30,000 went to the US as War Brides and one can only imagine how many more women were a little vague about the conception dates of babies who didn’t quite resemble their fathers!

With their easy access to food and lack of familiarity with £sd GIs also became the targets of the less scrupulous. Everywhere they went off base gangs of schoolkids trailed after them, thwarting their attempts to get girls alone and asking for pennies and sweets (‘any gum, chum?’); the latter were strictly on the ration and would remain so until 1953. In fact just about everything was on the ration - meat, eggs, dairy, clothing, petrol, furniture - my granddad always used to tell us stories about how he and his schoolfriends would break into the stores on one of the camps to nick food and cigarettes. Another favourite trick was offering to go to the shops for GIs, then confusing them as to how much change they were actually due because 20 shillings or 240 pence to a pound meant little to guys brought up on the decimal system. After they left overnight in ‘44 the camps were looted by kids and spivs (black marketeers). My great nan was using US army cutlery and whatnots into the 1960s. :) 

Cardiff Blitz
An Anderson shelter remains standing after a direct hit to a residential street during the Cardiff Blitz.

Overall there was an uneasy relationship with the ‘friendly invaders’. The Brits knew they couldn’t win the war without intervention, were grateful for the troops who were willing to do their bit, but at the same time it rankled awfully that GIs were apparently sitting about twiddling their thumbs when the bulk of the eligible local population was off overseas fighting. The shadow of WW1 loomed over it all - a war the US had been seen to grudgingly give its support to, but which 1/6 of the British population fought in and 1/40 died in. From the troops point of view, they had been promised action and adventure. Instead they spent two years in the dreary rain, waiting for something to happen… 

Policing in War Time 

On the outbreak of war in ‘39 the police lost the core of their manpower to the enlistment drive. To plug the gap more women were accepted onto the Force, along with the reinstatement of retired officers and the swearing in of some 17,000 WRCs - War Reserve Constables - the most famous of which was the serial killer John Christie who would go on to be hanged for his crimes in 1953. There were also volunteer special constables made up of men in reserved occupations.

Alongside regular duties, police were expected to assist the Civil Defence Service to enforce the nightly blackout, oversee evacuations and help ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens to get the public off the streets when the siren sounded. (About 3.5 million households had Anderson shelters in their gardens, and there were a further 500,000 Morrison shelters - reinforced cages you could sleep in - in use in private homes, but many relied on communal public shelters.) Everyone was volunteering somewhere for the war effort on top of their day jobs: in the fic I specifically talk about the Home Guard (‘dad’s army’, a volunteer fighting force consisting primarily of men too young, old or infirm to join the forces) and the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service, largely made up of housewives) who organized the evacuation of children out of the big cities, ran mobile canteens, and distributed clothing parcels shipped over by the American Red Cross to people who had been bombed out of their houses.

Policing in War Time

Crime rose sharply during the war. Looting was a major problem in areas hit by bombing, and black market profiteering took up a great deal of police time. Juvenile delinquency was on the increase, no doubt assisted by parents who were away at war or out at work / volunteering, and gangs of boys roamed the streets creating mischief. (Naturally the same granddad I mentioned earlier was well known to local constables. My great nan would give them a spiel every time he was brought home about how he was an angel who was being unfairly persecuted, then give him a good hiding as soon as they were gone for being a disobedient little blighter!) Ration fraud was also widespread, in spite of heavy fines for those who were caught.

The blackout created the perfect atmosphere for assault and sexual offences - as well as public indecency, meaning police spent a lot of cold miserable nights shining torches into unused air raid shelters and moving on would be lovers. Other tasks included capturing deserters and keeping tabs on would be conspirators. A local woman was sentenced to six weeks hard labour for the ‘abominable’ action of exchanging love letters with an Italian POW (prisoner of war) working on a nearby farm in 1943. Crimes involving GI perpetrators were dealt with by the military police, and the US army tried offenders under US law - for example 6 GIs were executed for rape between 1943 and 1945 even though it wasn’t a capital offence in the UK.

Demobilisation of military personnel was painfully slow and the police force continued to rely on WRCs until the end of 1948, while crime inevitably surged and lurid murders filled the headlines. Food rationing continued until 1954, meaning the black market remained a huge timesink, and derelict bombsites provided handy dumping grounds. In the mid-1950s the economy finally began to pick up and by 1957 Prime Minister Macmillan could tell the country: you ‘have never had it so good’…

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