Over-paid and over here, GIs were warned: ‘Never mix it with locals’

American  troops on the march in Northern Ireland in 1942. (archive photo)
American troops on the march in Northern Ireland in 1942. (archive photo)
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American military being billeted in Northern Ireland 75 years ago were provided with a guide book on how they should interact with locals.

The dos-and-donts listing was prepared by the Special Service Division of the US Army in Washington DC.

American soldiers, who started to arrive on January 26, 1942 were given two golden rules: they were not to argue with locals on religion or politics.

The young Americans, particularly those from warmer climes like California, were advised: “The sun is only an occasional visitor in Ireland.”

An insight into industry championed the Belfast shipyards, but hardly inspired confidence in the product, as the pocket handbook added: “Giant liners, including the ill-fated Titanic, were launched here.”

Bragging about how great life was in the States was frowned upon, especially when the locals were faced with hard times. The handbook counselled: “The people of Ulster are, in general, serious-minded and hard-working. The heavy infiltration of Scotch blood may have something to do with the fact that they are exceedingly thrifty. But they are thrifty also because Ire­land is not a rich country and a living is difficult to come by. The Ulsterman likes to drive a hard bargain in busi­ness affairs and he thinks a spendthrift is a dope.”

The troops were continually warned not to engage in political or religious arguments. Their guide told them: “The Irish love to talk. Conversation is the most highly perfected form of entertainment. Although class distinc­tions are important in Northern Ireland, the large land­owners, professional men, industrialists, tradesmen, farm­ers, laborers (sic), all accept their allotted places in the social set-up. There is a democracy of self-expression. No Irish­man is too poor or too humble to offer an opinion, and every Irishman expects to be listened to.

“Argument for its own sake is a Scotch-Irish speciality, and arguing politics might almost be called a national sport. The pub is the principal forum. You may be de­ceived by the high temperatures developed in these discus­sions. The Irish call each other names, accuse each other of the most bizarre irregularities, indulge in wild exagger­ation and virulent personal abuse. You may ex­pect a rousing fist fight at any moment. A word of warning: your place in these arguments is on the side lines.”

It’s a wonder so many GIs survived long enough to take on Hitler.