Ken Howe is a local resident and historian. Raised next door to Bushy Park, his parents made friends with an American family on the base in peacetime, leading Ken to make several visits there. In our Kingston RPM interview, Ken spoke about his astonishment at the life of luxury the troops would lead on the base, the general societal impact of its presence in the borough, as well as his perspectives on Kingston’s music scene more broadly.
They were quite resented in wartime because they had more of everything. They could go into their restaurant and have anything they wanted. And they would get the ladies running after them – if you ever saw a lady with a new pair of stockings you knew damn well how she’d got them.
A description of luxury life on the Bushy Park base, all the way down to the bowling alley.
Local attitudes to the American presence in the area, from male resentment caused by the charming of Kingston’s ladies to peacetime cordiality.
Ken’s experiences of socialising with an American family on the base.
How Glenn Miller and other performers were invited across the Atlantic to make the base a ‘home from home’.
Bryan Adams first came to Kingston in the 1950s to study architecture at Kingston Art School, while later in life relatives of his would come to be part of the ‘GI Bride’ phenomenon of British women marrying their American sweethearts. As well as discussing his own involvement in Kingston’s live music culture and popular trends overall, Bryan relays to us the impact of American Forces Network radio on his own personal tastes, remaining a huge jazz aficionado today, and American troops selling their records to local businesses as they left the country.
They didn’t want spotty youths coming to their dances. They wanted the girls to themselves. We didn’t like them so. But we knew they had records and it was nice to find that they left a lot of them behind.
How the US army presence – and their later departure – had a knock on effect on music consumption in the local area.
English teenage male attitudes towards American troops and their ‘honeypot’.
How an aunt in Bryan’s family became a GI Bride.
Carolyn Smyth and her family were among those who found themselves a post-war home in the reappropriated barracks on Bushy Park’s Chestnut Avenue. Her father had served in the war, and the family moved to the former Camp Griffiss site while Carolyn was still a baby. In this in-depth interview, Carolyn paints a picture of childhood life on the former base, while also recounting her own personal passion for singing and music that developed in her early years.
One of the most picturesque memories is of leaving washing out on the line over winter. The deer would come and eat it, so you had to make sure that you brought the washing in.
A picture of living in a converted army barracks.
How Bushy Park mothers taking their prams to Kingston power station helped them heat their homes.
The deep significance of music to Carolyn and her family.
A youthful trip to Eel Pie Island, where Carolyn acquired an unusual souvenir from Rod Stewart.
Heather Spear is the daughter of Canadian wartime officer George Spear and his wife Jean, a ‘war bride’ from Kingston. Jean was one of thousands of women who met North American sweethearts in the UK during the war, and who travelled in great numbers across the Atlantic to start a new life in the US and Canada. Heather – whose parents remarkably passed away within hours of each other in 2017 – spoke to Kingston RPM about their shared love of music, how they would frequent social dances in the area, and how Jean went onto become a community leader of Canadian war brides.
Some of them came over to find that their men were already married or had nothing to offer. That warbride generation is a whole history of itself.
The earliest interactions of Heather’s parents at regular social dances at a venue known as the Palais, and the challenges of hosting a wedding in wartime Britain.
The importance of music to the Spear family, and how Heather’s mother Jean would later forge a friendship with wartime sweetheart Vera Lynn.
Jean Spear’s leading community role in which she established the ESWIC Group, a support network of Canadian war brides that engaged in charitable activity and eventually earnt her an MBE.
Heather recounts some of her parents’ later years: showing them previously unseen footage of their wedding at their 50th wedding anniversary and recreating the event for their 65th. She also discusses the incredible timing of her parents’ passing.
Cathleen Alexander worked as a signals officer in a variety of locations during the war, ultimately becoming part of the British minority that were stationed at Bushy Park. She relayed to Kingston RPM tea dances at the Bentalls department store in Kingston, dance evenings at Covent Garden Theatre especially laid on for the services, and the general interaction between US and UK officers. In the full interview Cathleen’s great-nephew, Duncan Barrett, also contributes, rounding off the interview by discussing his book, The Girls Who Went to War, which focuses on the ‘GI Brides’ phenomenon of British women sailing the Atlantic to start new lives in the US.
You came in along the road and there was the sentry box. We used to just say ‘halt, who goes there?’ But with the Americans it was: ‘halt or I’ll shoot!
US troops wowing the natives with their jiving, and live music regularly hosted on Camp Griffiss itself.
Life on the Bushy Park base for British officers, benefiting from the superior facilities and generosity of their American counterparts.
A tale of allied co-operation as Cathleen recounts sourcing some leather gloves for an American colleague to send to his wife.