Part III: The Ugly
The image of all-conquering American GIs has long been choreographed as one of a welcome ray of sunshine to a blood-drenched and battle-scarred Europe. Yet two recent books illustrate the dark side of Europe’s liberation by illuminating just how unwelcome U.S. troops became on the continent. Far removed from the narratives of the “Good War” fought by the “Greatest Generation”, historians Mary Louise Roberts and Miriam Gebhardt inject realism into what remain(ed) largely idealised occupation-histories of France and Germany.
Europe was saved by a tidal wave of valour and derring-do on the beaches of Normandy, Roberts reminds us in What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II (2014), but reveals to readers that with the landing on Omaha Beach ‘a veritable tsunami of male lust’ washed over large swathes of French towns and villages. (p.9) Gerhardt, meanwhile, author of When the Soldiers Came: The Rape of German Women at the end of World War II (2015), advances the thesis that American GIs are responsible for a vast number of rapes hitherto blamed on Soviet troops. (For those interested, Roberts points out that 152 soldiers were charged with rape in France between the years 1944-1946 while Gebhardt claims a staggering 190,000 Germans were raped – including men and boys – during the decade 1945-1955.)
Taken together, these clear-eyed examinations of the transition of the U.S. soldier from ‘rescuer-warrior to violent intruder’ (Roberts, p.10) in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) strip away the rose-tinted spectacles directors Steven Spielberg – through his reverential portrait of GIs in the Oscar-winning film Saving Private Ryan – and Norman Taurogand – where an unconvincing Elvis Presley refuses female advances in the box-office hit G.I. Blues – fashioned for cinemagoers. The reason I refer to these two works is because a similar text, published prior to the two above-referenced and which refers to rape cases specifically in Liverpool, should lead us to similarly revisit, review and possibly revise our impression of occupying GIs – occupying GIs glamorised by Hollywood A-listers Harrison Ford and Richard Gere in their respective portrayals of well-mannered and good-natured characters in the overly sentimental films Hanover Street and Yanks.
The book in question is entitled Taken by Force: Rape and American GIs in Europe during WWII (2007), written by sociologist J. Robert Lilly, and succeeds in shining a light on the often acknowledged but much-overshadowed ‘ugly underbelly’ of American behaviour in England. (p.13.) This ground-breaking study, based on trial transcripts, was first published in 2003 (in France and, in 2004, in Italy) yet initially failed to find an American or British publisher, so provocative was its thesis that an estimated 2,400 rapes were committed by Americans in Britain. This figure might sound inaccurate since wartime documents disclosed in 2006 revealed that 121 rapes were in fact committed. Yet only five per cent of rapes are ever reported, criminologist Sir Leon Radzinowicz convincingly claimed, meaning that Lilly had to multiply known cases by twenty in order to arrive at a more accurate total number. If we were to employ “Radzinowicz’s formula” in relation to the two reported cases in Liverpool featured in Lilly’s book, the number of reported/unreported rape accusations would be as high as 40 – a number which puts an altogether different slant on the popular British wartime slogan that American servicemen were “overfed and overpaid” as well as being “oversexed” and “over here”.
Putting formulas and unknowns to one side, however, let us now turn to the facts of the two known cases according to the records of the Judge Advocate General Branch of the ETO. We will start with the case of 1943 before turning to the one in 1942, the facts of which Lilly chooses to open his book with given it involved the first ETO soldier in England to receive a dishonourable discharge and life imprisonment for rape.
The first involves Private Kenneth M. Waite, a 25-year-old white male, who was tried upon the charge at Seaforth Barracks of having ‘carnal knowledge’ of Annie Parry, a 20-year-old white female factory worker in Aintree. (Board of Review: European Theatre of Operations, vol.2, 1943 (1945), p.379) They met one another at the Queens Arms on 23 July 1943 – the very day that Waite had landed in the area – after he enjoyed what could be termed a “whistle-wetter” in the Sefton Arms. At closing time that evening Miss Parry and a friend left together with Waite and another soldier. ‘On the way home’, according to the record, ‘Annie and [Waite] stopped in a doorway for about an hour, “necking, kissing and talking”’. (p.380) He asked her if she “would”, it continues, but she replied saying that she would not. They arranged a date for the night after next, Sunday 25 July 1943, ‘but [it] was not kept.’
Miss Parry and her friend returned to the Queens Arms a week on Monday (2 August) where ‘each consumed’, it is believed, ‘4 or 5 half-pints … of mild beer and “draught” Bass.’ When approaching last orders, it notes, Miss Parry ‘accosted’ Waite outside and ‘gave him a cigarette.’ Later, at about 10.30pm, she walked down Ormskirk Road with Waite to his barracks. Soon after passing the American Storage Camp they reached a cul-de-sac where, the record states, the accused grabbed her and said “I have got to have you”. It is at this point that Waite raped Parry during a vicious assault before she managed to escape down the lane. After a two-day trial, conducted on 26-27 August, Waite was convicted and sentenced to 20 years hard labour at a Federal Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. His life sentence was commuted in no small measure because over a period of a week, the members of the court-martial believed, Parry had been encouraging Waite; it also evidently helped that the victim indicated in a letter she had been very troubled by the life sentence passed.
The second case involves Private Wesley Edmonds, a 32-year-old black male, who was tried upon the charge at Maghull of having ‘carnal knowledge’ of Ellen Rigby, a 34-year-old single woman who had been employed as a spreader in the munitions works at the Dunlop Rubber Company (Board of Review: European Theatre of Operations, vol.1, 1943 (1945), p.87) Edmonds was a member of the Port Battalion, Transportation Corps, who were quartered at Deyes Lane and Poverty Lane camps. Unlike the previous case, the facts of this one centres around three hours from 7.30pm on 8 October 1942. This was when, according to testimony, Miss Rigby walked the short distance from her home on Rock Lane in Melling to Glover’s shop for a loaf of bread and from where Mr Edmonds – in the store at the time having walked a half mile from camp – ‘followed her [in an attempt] to engage … in conversation.’ Not interested in talking to Edmonds, Rigby departed after quickly shaking his hand.
Shortly after arriving home Rigby went back out, this time on her bicycle, and in another direction to earlier in the evening. She passed Edmonds en route to her cousins when ‘he again [p.88]’, the record chronicles, ‘attempted to engage her attention but failed.’ (pp.87-88) As she approached home, approximately an hour later, Edmonds appeared for a third and final time. His sudden appearance caused Rigby to apply her brakes and thus enable Edmonds to grab her saddle, causing her to dismount. He said he ‘wanted her to go around to a haystack[,] which she refused’, leading Edmonds to force ‘her and the bicycle inside the field [before wiring] up the gate.’ It is here, much to her protestations, that the accused raped her in an attack lasting over two hours wherein she was bitten and beaten after refusing money to comply with his demands. ‘After accomplishing his purpose’ at roughly 10.30pm, the transcript tells us, ‘the accused arose, laughed and said “Now you may go”.’
It was the opinion of Rigby’s doctors who, having examined the state of her injuries, concluded that she had been a virgin. Despite losing her virginity in such a manner, Rigby, ‘of her own volition at the conclusion of her testimony,’ the document concludes, ‘asked the court to deal leniently with the accused’ and rule out the death penalty. Eight of the thirteen members of the court-martial agreed to her wish, granted clemency accordingly at the two-day trial conducted on 19-20 October, leading Edmonds to serve out his life sentence in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. ‘The impact of the rape on Miss R[igby] did not end with Edmonds’s conviction and sentence,’ Lilly reminds us. (p.5) Edmonds did “complete the act”, contrary to his statement, and Rigby subsequently gave birth to a baby on 8 July 1943. ‘As far as we know,’ Lilly surmises, ‘she received no compensation, and she never married. She probably raised her son alone.’
If Rigby did indeed choose to raise her boy (and not put him up for adoption as so many young mothers did) she deserved considerable praise since, as Sabine Lee observes, ‘social ostracisation’ would quickly follow. (Contemporary European History, vol.20, no.2 (2011), p.164) The GI baby-boom acted, to be sure, as midwife to the birth of many witticisms: “Next time,” went one dig, “just send the uniforms. We’ve got the bastards here already”; “Those horrible Yanks,” ran a second, “making up for drinking the pubs dry by filling up the nurseries”; while a third, Norman Longmate recalls, was a roadside sign by Burtonwood warning GIs to “Please drive carefully [since] that child may be yours.” (The GI’s: The Americans in Britain, 1942-45, p.285) But it was no joke to bring up a mixed-race child fathered by an American GI in Britain during and after the war, as at least 1,700 mothers did, particularly when unmarried and alone – and especially after experiencing such a horrendous conception as Rigby did. Her plea for clemency on behalf of Edmonds tells us she would not have taken pleasure from hearing the news that his mental health had deteriorated to such an extent he was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, Springfield, Missouri. Let us hope in the end, though, that Rigby and her boy had the last laugh.
By way of a conclusion, I state a simple fact: I needed to cut severely Part I, entitled The Good, in the interests of providing an equally-divided three-part history. The same cannot be said thankfully for Parts II and III, respectively entitled The Bar and The Ugly, notwithstanding the amount of secondary and declassified material consulted. This fact alone suggests that the time Americans spent in Liverpool during the Second World War should be regarded largely as ‘good’ rather than one dominated by a colour ‘bar’ or, arguably worse, believed to be ‘ugly’. One of the ‘good’ things to have come out of this “Friendly Invasion” was undoubtedly the blossoming friendship between transatlantic cousins, which was illustrated – illuminated even – in two very contrasting ways. Although at root a lament about the shortcomings of Liverpudlians, a poem by “Arnold Wilkes” to the editor of the Liverpool Daily Post & Mercury detailed delightfully his desire to please Americans. Entitled ‘Hospitality to U.S. Forces’, he wrote:
In knocking round the clubs and pubs in some distress I am. How little we in England can show hospitality to troops of Uncle Sam. We’d like to best one Mistress West – to melt their hearts and soften; to make ‘em glow. Not “sometime.” No. We’d like to see ‘em often.
Alas! Alack! The outlook’s black, as black as our own black-out. We cannot take friend Hiram, Jake or Jonathan or Jack out. We lose “on points.” We have no points. To smuggle eggs is risky. ‘Twould be a sin to take ‘em in – no beer, no cheer, no whisky.
It should be stressed we do our best; that England is old-fashioned. Though taxed to death, we’d share our last breath, but everything is rationed. But while the Mississippi flows, and Mersey’s a mere trickle, we sure must tell ‘em, in this show, we’d share our final nickel, and our last stale crust. We can. We must, by word of mouth and penship. Our golden rule in Liverpool. We never ration friendship. (8 July 1943, p.2)
American officers and men stationed in Liverpool were grateful nonetheless for the welcome that they had received, only expressed it in a different, more tangible way – with words engraved on a granite stone built into the wall at the Pier Head. It reads: ‘Here in the dark days of war and in the dawn of victory American troops and cargoes moved through this port furthered by British and Americans working together. This stone records their unity in accompanying this mission.’ The granite stone plaque remains in situ today, 70 years on from when the Americans left Liverpool, and endures – as the Lord Mayor (Lord Sefton) wished in his declaration at the unveiling ceremony in November 1944 – as ‘a permanent memorial’ to their respective roles in the development of an Anglo-American “special” relationship.