The “friendly invasion” in wartime Kettering

Picture included in the Manor House Museum exhibition American Arrivals
Picture included in the Manor House Museum exhibition American Arrivals

How much has American culture shaped Kettering? Surprisingly the answer may be quite a lot, and a visit to the Manor House Museum may provide the answers as to why.

Following the award of more than £30,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Manor House Museum has opened a new exhibition called American Arrivals.

The exhibition is one of the first aspects to be completed in an extensive project, commemorating Kettering’s Second World War legacy and explores the friendly invasion of thousands of American servicemen into the area during the Second World War.

Museum officer Eleanor Baumber said: “The museum has also been working with Harrington Aviation Museum and Kettering Library on this project, which is about much more than just this exhibition and will delve into local memories of the Second World War.

“We started things off with the Wartime Market on September 8 and the next stage focuses on recovering local memories.

“The library is taking the lead on this and we are trying to interview as many residents as possible about their memories and record them.

“And then hopefully we can make an archive of these oral memories.

“The exhibition is the first stage of the funding, then there is a 1940s tea dance in November, where people can come and experience the music and see how America influenced the social side of things at the time.”

It is the social side of the “friendly invasion” that the museum has concentrated on most for its latest exhibition.

The scene at the exhibition is set in 1941, as the USA was brought into the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

By spring 1942, the arrival of US troops in Britain was well under way, seeing extensive growth of air bases, including new and redeveloped sites in Northamptonshire.

And by 1944 there were 18 air bases in the county, of which seven were used by the USAAF and were served by almost 20,000 men.

As a result, from 1942 onwards, local air bases including Grafton Underwood and Harrington, as well as many sites in Kettering town itself, became home to American military personnel.

While the involvement of the USA in the Second World War significantly increased the Allies’ strength, it was in the areas where American servicemen were stationed that some of the most memorable and personal influences took place.

“We aren’t exploring warfare techniques or anything like that,” said Eleanor.

“We wanted to look at the social and cultural effects that these new arrivals had within Britain and more locally within Kettering borough.

“We have looked at things like the music, the food, the language, the romance and the lasting legacy, for instance the Americans paid for St Peter and St Paul’s Church bells.

“There were certain phrases they brought to Kettering, for instance people would say to them, ‘Have you got any gum chum’ and they used to say, ‘Have you got a sister mister?’ As the American soldiers were always keen to take the girls to dances.

“The pronunciation of certain names is another thing that is remembered, like instead of Grafton Underwood they used to say Grafton-Under-Mud, in reference to the British weather.”

But the attraction was not just one-way...

“The American soldiers were pretty appealing,” said Eleanor.

“Britain had been at war for about three years and times were tough.

“American soldiers were paid more than British ones, and their money was pretty appealing.

“We don’t have all the marriage figures in the area, but 155 soldiers married women from Grafton Underwood.

“Some of these women moved to America after the war, which wasn’t easy to get to back then.

“We have got in touch with some women in America by mail but I would love to hear from more, and anyone locally who has memories of the Second World War that they want to share.”

Val Hitchman, head of community services at Kettering Council, said, “This is an unmissable exhibition for all those who want to discover more about the legacy of the ‘friendly invasion’ of this area by American servicemen and women during the Second World War”.

The exhibition also showcases for the first time a commemorative wooden sculpture presented to the borough by Major General Wilson of the US Eighth Air Force, following the events of August 17, when the 70th anniversary of the first USAAF mission to be flown from Grafton Underwood was commemorated.

Cllr Steve Bellamy, portfolio holder at Kettering Council, said: “The recent visit of Major General Wilson for the 70th anniversary of the USAAF flying out of Grafton Underwood shows how important the links with America were to the local area.

“It is important to recognise the contribution of American servicemen in the Second World War and this tremendous exhibition will ensure we do this.”

Further aspects of the Kettering Second World War legacy will be announced over the remainder of this year and in 2013.

The American Arrivals Exhibition Panels are available for touring to other local heritage venues and libraries.

For more information contact the museum on 01536 534 219.

About the funding

The Heritage Lottery Fund Your Heritage programme offers grants of between £3,000 and £100,000 for projects that relate to the local, regional or national heritage of the United Kingdom.

The Heritage Lottery Fund welcomes applications for projects that help people to learn about, look after and celebrate heritage in a fun and enjoyable way.

Your Heritage has three programme priorities relating to learning, conservation and participation.

Kettering Council picked 
up two awards at the Northamptonshire Heritage Awards 2012.

The awards were given for Best Exhibition and joint winners in the award for Best Project with Children and Young People.

Find the Museum

The Manor House Museum is in Sheep Street, Kettering, easy to get to by train, bus or by car. It is near the library and close to the parish church of St Peter and Paul.

The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.45pm (closed bank holidays).

Entry is free but donations are welcome.

Call 01536 534 274 or email museumandgallery@kettering.gov.uk. Visit www.kettering.gov.uk/museums.

Being part of the project

If you have memories to share please get in touch with museum officer Eleanor Baumber on 01536 534219 or email eleanorbaumber@kettering.gov.uk.