Postgraduate Profiles: Abi Murphy – British Women and American GIs during WWII
25th July 2018
This post comes from MA by Research student in History at the University of Gloucestershire, Abi Murphy, who is being supervised by Dr Christian O’Connell and Prof. Melanie Ilic.
Life as a research student is fairly new to me. After taking seven years out of academia, I decided that it was now time to re-embrace my passion for studying and researching history. In February 2018 I went back to university as a part time PGR student.
Despite only being five months into my research degree, one of the things that have stood out already is how supportive the members of the history department are. Whenever I have needed to meet with my supervisor it has never been a problem. When I had to write my first assignment, my supervisor was there to guide me through a whole new referencing style and helped me focus on the topic at hand whilst I was getting my head back in the game.
One thing I have found as a new research student is the amount of opportunities the department provides for its students. Recently the history staff organised an event where current PGR and PHD history students got together to present their research and showcase where they are currently at with it. These people were all at different stages within their research projects, but it was so valuable to meet them, form connections and gain contacts that will hopefully enable us to all become a community to one other. At this event I got to showcase my research which explores the sexual relationships that British working-class women had with American G.Is during the Second World War in Gloucestershire. Between 1939 and 1945 there were millions of foreign allied troops that had been stationed in Britain. American, Canadian, Polish and troops from around the Commonwealth were billeted throughout Britain in preparation for military action in Europe. Three million of these men were American G.Is.
Gloucestershire was no exception to this activity. Throughout the war, Gloucestershire saw large numbers of American G.Is stationed in places such as Cheltenham, Gloucester, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean. This influx of foreign soldiers meant that relationships between the G.Is and British women developed. But these men were different. They wore good quality smart uniforms, they looked and sounded like Hollywood movie stars and gave women gifts such as nylon stockings, lipstick and chocolate, commodities that were rare or had not been seen in Britain since before the war. There were varying degrees of sexual relationships that British women had with the G.Is. There were encounters between prostitutes and G.Is, casual flings, extra-marital affairs, marriage and some relationships and encounters produced children. All these types of relationships will be considered in my research.
The aim is to understand the motives for these relationships and how the women who entered into them were treated by society. Many faced hostility from their community and families, yet, despite this hostility there were still around 70,000 war brides who travelled from the UK to the USA after 1945. What then were the experiences of these women when courting the American soldiers, and did the hostility and the threat of being ostracised by the community and family put any women off? I intend to find the relevant information for my research by looking in local and national archives. The Imperial War museum has a fantastic collection of oral history interviews which I will use. I also intend to conduct my own interviews with women who are willing to share their memories of relationships they had with G.Is, as well as with people who may remember how these women were portrayed or treated as a result of these having these relations.
The Second World War and the history of women fascinate me. For my BA dissertation I explored the types of relationships British women had with American G.Is during the Second World War. Through this research I discovered that whilst a select few chapters of books are set aside for this topic, there are no such full in-depth studies. Therefore, for my Postgraduate research I wanted to explore the motives for these relationships and how these were perceived by the general public. This will also involve understanding the culture of the time, whilst exploring the attitudes and expectations placed on working-class women by society.