My first encounter with the U.S. was, I suppose, through the movies. The first two I can recall were THE THIN MAN and CAPTAIN BLOOD. Given my mother’s penchant for the opposite sex, I am surprised it wasn’t through an honorary uncle—as her lovers were normally titled—but mother mostly didn’t take to Americans.
I was to fall in love with an exception.
I think my mother’s attitude had to do with some experiences in the war. Though most realized that Hitler would be hard to defeat without American help, there was still considerable resentment felt about U.S. troops in the UK who tended to forget that the British had been at war since 1939—and didn’t much appreciate that while they were stationed in Burma (for instance) Americans were sleeping with their wives.
In fact, I had a great uncle who really was stationed in Burma in WW II and who ended up commanding the Chindits. One of may favorite authors, John Masters, served in the unit at the time. Their mission was long range penetration of Japanese lines—and they took terrible casualties in the process.
To repeat a saying that was popular at the time—and which my mother often quoted: “The trouble with Americans is that they are over-paid, over-sexed—and here.”
I confess that at the age of five, or thereabouts, I didn’t share her antipathy. Then I became positively pro-American when the U.S. Information Service lent me a requested book on the war in the Pacific. If memory serves, it featured the 2nd Marine Division—and was the most amazing non-fiction book I had ever read up to that date. It portrayed quite astonishing courage under the grimmest possible circumstances—and I was lost in admiration.
Who are those guys, I wondered—and I still do.
My first encounter with living, breathing Americans was when I was 15 and on the way to Greece with my sister Maxine. At the time were were in Brindisi—down at the bottom of Italy—killing time while waiting to board the ferry to Corfu. While wandering around the town, we ran into a bunch of off-duty servicemen who befriended us, drove us around, and finally bought us a meal. I would like to think it was my personality which occasioned the encounter, but I think it is more likely that it was my sister Maxine’s long blond hair. During that trip—even though she was only 13—she attracted men like honey attracts bees. In fact, if she went exploring by herself, it became quite routine for her to re-appear with some man in tow—normally carrying something for her, and walking half a pace behind. Maxine had quite an imperious manner in those days with command presence to match. It worked wonders.
To be continued tomorrow. Photo is of author John Masters - a truly terrific writer.