Today mark's the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

As part of this milestone anniversary, the team at West Bay Discovery Centre have created an exhibition, 'Warm Beer and Cabbages', taking a look back at when the American GIs came to West Bay in the months leading up to the Normandy landings.

It is hard to imagine the impact that 200 plus fit young men with their strange accents had on the close-knit, war-weary folk of Bridport Harbour, but there are still a number of people, children during the Second World War, who remember the time the GIs were billeted in West Bay.

It seems that one of the first things the young Americans set about doing was to impress these children. On the day F Company of the 16th Infantry Division arrived in November 1943, the local children were out in force for a glimpse of these strangers, and they weren’t disappointed.

“Company F were trucked out to a little resort hamlet called West Bay situated right on the shore. As we waited to be assigned to quarters, we were viewed with keen interest by a number of youngsters. Some of our people handed out the usual candies, gum and so on, which seemed quite enticing to these children,” Staff Sergeant Don Wilson recalls in his memoirs.

With Britain heavily rationed this new source of sugar was most welcome and soon the phrase, 'got any gum, chum?' became fixed in each child’s vocabulary.

And how were the GIs to cope with us? In a leaflet all American servicemen were given prior to arriving in Britain, they are cautioned, 'don’t buy the locals expensive drinks, or they’ll think they have to return the favour', 'don’t brag how much more you earn than the British Tommy', 'don’t swipe their girl' and above all, 'never insult the King'.

And just as abruptly as they arrived, seven months later, they were trucked out at dawn, on their way to the marshalling areas prior to embarkation at Portland and Weymouth.

Arthur Watson, who lived with his parents on West Cliff, remembers that day well.

He said: “One day we woke up to unbearable silence. The wonderful, cheerful, generous lynchpins of our young lives had gone".

This feeling was by no means one-sided. Staff Sergeant Don Wilson said: “I recall a particular sadness as we left. It was a deeper, more painful feeling than when I left Penn Station in New York a couple of years before.

"I would miss the little harbour, the quaint cottages with their tiny front gardens, the West Bay Hotel with its piano and dart board, ration day and fish and chips. But above all, I would miss the British people, young and old, who treated us so well, who lived such simple lives, and yet were, apart from the war, seemingly content.”

Mr Watson’s family moved to West Bay in 1939 and several of the GIs became family friends, including Lieutenant Rush, Lieutenant Price and Lieutenant Gilbert.

The West Bay Discovery Centre remembers the GIs in a special exhibition running until June 23, to commemorate the 75-year anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Drawing on locals’ memories and in the words of the American’s themselves, it aims to give an intimate insight into how these young men spent their seven months in West Bay and the surrounding area, entertaining and being entertained, as well as training for the Normandy landings.

It also looks at their part in D-Day on June 6th, 1944, when they were landed on Omaha beach.

Bridport shares its memories

Elizabeth Gale - WW2 People's War

“The American soldiers arrived in 1943. They were stationed throughout Dorset. My parents befriended many of them. They came for Christmas dinner and enjoyed glasses of local cider with us. One was nicknamed ‘Long Bill’. I did not know their surnames, although my mother wrote to some of their families. My father’s smoking seemed boosted with Camel cigarettes and we didn’t go short of canned fruit.

“In June 1944, all the GIs suddenly left the area. I was told that they were going to fight the enemy, in France. We were all sad and worried for them and listened avidly to the news on the wireless. Throughout the night of June 5th/6th 1944, the planes, some with gliders, flew on and on overhead. The fighting on the beaches was bloody but the newspapers never told us the full story.

“The day the soldiers received their leaving orders, I was at school but they sneaked out to say “Goodbye” to my parents and left me a black puppy, with the excuse that it was too small for them to take. I called her Normandy, although she was always known as Little Pupper. She lived to be fifteen.

“Several weeks after D-Day, Long Bill came back. I can see him now, walking down the path. A once tall, fine young man, now sad and dejected. He had been wounded. He told us that they had ‘lived in their tank for seven weeks’. He was being sent back to the front line again. That was the last we heard of him.

“Our Americans found themselves on Omaha Beach, in France. Over the intervening years, I have read and reread all about the Battle of Normandy and how they fought alongside our brave troops and other allies. The cemeteries in France are a harrowing reminder of the sacrifice that thousands of them made.

“The black American soldiers followed them into the camps and my parents readily took them in, too. They came to my tenth birthday party, in July 1944, bringing a huge box of fruit candies. We ran races and Corporal Ginlack, an athletic, tall young man, ran against me, letting me win. On behalf of the soldiers, he had composed a poem for my birthday, typed it up and put it in a decorated card that he had made. It is a treasured possession.

“Fifty years later, in 1994, an elderly American called at Burton Bradstock Post Office, enquiring for my parents, (long dead by then) and me. No one took his name. I hope it was Long Bill.”

Michael Norman - WW2 People's War

“The Headmaster, Mr Fred Jordan, was our commanding officer. One of our first tasks had been to dig trenches at the school into which the school would be evacuated in case of air raids. This was a daunting task but Mr Jordan saved the day. Troops stationed in Bridport, occupying the skittle alley near the railway station asked to be allowed to use the school sports field. Mr Jordan gave his consent on condition the troops helped dig the trenches. Needless to say they were dug in double quick time.”

Diana Rigler - WW2 People's War

“I remember the soldiers marching out to the Station and also the Americans at the Garage in East Street with their chewing gum.”

Tony Tiltman -WW2 People's War

“I saw the Americans. We used to go, when they were at Walditch. We put a show on for them. They made very good doughnuts! The ring ones. Very nice they were!

“There was always disagreement between the American and the British soldiers. Because they always had more money and they seemed to pull the girls more. And they could get special things from America, like stockings, and the girls used to fall for that.”

Gilbert Legg - WW2 People's War

“There were two cinemas then, the Lyric and the Electric. If you couldn't get in one you went up - but you couldn't get in sometimes because there was a queue, especially when the Americans and that were here, they went right down the street.

“And the pubs. If they knew a crowd was coming in they'd draw thirty pints and put them on the bar, before they pulled the bolts back. But I think that a lot of the stuff was watered down - they didn't know any different.”

* WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at

Thank you to the West Bay Discovery Centre for its information and photos.