Over here - over there

Home Up Contents Search

 

Sixty years ago, Pinhoe was a small but self-contained village on the outskirts of Exeter. Now it has become a suburb of the city, but then it had working farms, thatched cottages and a small population who had lived in the area all their lives - a warm and friendly place to be.

Pinhoe Post Office c. 1930

Pinhoe Post Office c. 1930

America Hall, Pinhoe

America Hall, a 200- seat theatre and community centre which opened on May 31st 1952, was the gift of a group of strangers who came to this quiet spot and found themselves welcomed with open arms and treated as family at what was probably the most traumatic period of their lives. The strangers were American service personnel who came in the darkest days of the Second World War to prepare for the campaign which would eventually lead to the end of the war in Europe - a campaign which began with the D-Day landing on June 6th 1944.

America Hall, Pinhoe

 

Through television and films and easy travel, today most of us have a good idea of what America and Americans are like. We have learned to accept the differences between us and to value the things we share in common. 

In January 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbour in the previous December, we had no such understanding. When we heard that Yanks were coming to Devon, most people probably expected clones of Al Capone or Spencer Tracey. What came were hundreds of young men suddenly torn away by the Draft from their families, farms, small-town communities and rural way of life to take part, far from home, in a war which they barely understood - young men who were nothing like gangsters or movie stars.

The people of Devon immediately recognised that these frightened and vulnerable strangers were just like their own sons; what the young Americans discovered was that a rural community is pretty much the same whether it's in America's mid west or in the middle of Devon. There were few places locally for them to live in groups so many were billeted in twos and threes with families  throughout the County. They were a cheerful, friendly bunch who laughed a lot, shared their Spam and nylons with us and  left at least one endearing legacy - today, it is almost impossible to go anywhere in Devon without hearing the greeting  "Hiya" - not pronounced as Americans would say it but gently sung over two descending pitches to be interpreted as the warmest of welcomes.

 

The Valiant Soldier, Buckfastleigh

These Americans seemed to like England. They discovered our pubs - the GIs stationed at Buckfastleigh had two camps on the outskirts of the little town ("Sleepy Valley" as they called it) but this pub was their local. Their influence was everywhere: they played American football on Exeter City's soccer pitch and organised dances in our little village halls where everyone learned to jitterbug. They took local girls to the cinema and struggled manfully to come to terms with our locally brewed beer.

The Valiant Soldier, Buckfastleigh

 

"When the American soldiers came to Devonport, they were situated in huts not far from Edinburgh Road. All of us children used to go and see them, they would hand us gifts of chocolate and chewing gum. I can remember when they would join with us in a game of baseball.

I was never told at the time what these servicemen were doing in Devonport and St.Budeux. It was only recently that I became aware how these servicemen and many more Americans joined with our Armed Forces in the D-Day landings in 1944 in Normandy. "

Mrs. Pearl Merrett

 

Click here to continue

 

Send mail to webmaster@stentiford.org  with questions or comments about this web site.
  Last modified:
30/09/2005