On 9th February 2016, Gareth Mills, a retired history teacher and deputy head, told us about the sudden arrival of 2000 GIs, in Pembrokeshire, in October 1943. Initially things were a bit frosty between the soldiers and the locals, as accommodation was limited and food supplies were stretched. Some thought, from the shape of the helmets, that it was the Germans invading. But as time went on, and social contact increased, some lifelong friendships were made. Subsequently there were 36 GI brides from Pembrokeshire.
As a mark of the importance of the mission ahead, General Dwight Eisenhower, came to Pembrokeshire, to address the 110th regiment, at Llanion Barracks on 1st April 1944. Although these troops left Wales 2 weeks later, they were not involved in the first assault across the channel. Their prolonged action took place from November 1944 to January 1945, endeavouring to hold ground in the Huertgen Forest, on the Belgian/German border. Sadly many casualties were suffered, and only about half of the regiment survived the war.
The stimulus to researching this phase of local life was that the Sunderland Trust wanted to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. As Chairman of the group, Gareth took up the baton and sought stories from local people about the Americans coming here to prepare for that assault. So much information was forthcoming that our speaker wrote a short book, (see photo above) which is still available from the Sunderland Trust.
We were honoured to have with us, at the meeting, a “GI baby”. Gareth’s research has facilitated her being in contact with family members from across the Atlantic.