Throw on a frock, put your dancing shoes on and head into the city…the sailors are in town.
From the Great White Fleet’s visit in 1908, through the heights of WWII, in which U.S. General Douglas MacArthur had direct command of the Australian military, to today’s friendly military exercises, the U.S. Navy has been a regular visitor to Australian shores and this week’s arrival of the USS George Washington in Brisbane is no exception.
And in typical fashion, the arrival of 6,000 sailors for a weeks R&R brings with it as good excuse as any for a good night out. Long held traditions of getting dolled up and heading into town to pick up a sailor, won’t be extinguished this week.
Brisbane in particular, has a rich US military history, having seen 45,000 U.S. troops arrive in just six days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the fall of Singapore at the hands of the Japanese.
With the ‘charming’ US soldiers flooding dance halls, bars and cinemas the country over, local ladies were often swept off their feet by the mysterious Americans, who, at the time, were largely unknown except as doyens of stage and screen. They were seen as the heroes and saviours of the Pacific. They were fighting a war thousands of miles away from home, they were lonely and they were looking for love…or sometimes just a good time. Many local girls fell for the charisma of these fit and good-looking foreigners.
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With more than a million Americans passing through Australia during the war, it is no wonder that there were a reported 15,000 or more ‘war brides’. Yet their presence wasn’t always looked upon approvingly. With thousands of Australian soldiers and navy servicemen also stationed in the cities, tensions often flared over the favouritism towards the American men. There was a growing community perception that young Australian women should ‘reserve their affections’ for Australian soldiers and not surrender to their U.S. counterparts.
American warships (particularly nuclear ones) visiting Australian shores has always bi-polarised public opinion however, one can not refute the rich history and long lasting influence it has had on, not only Australian culture but on American – Australian relations.
So, if you do happen to be in Brisbane this weekend, consider throwing on a frock and heading into town for a walk down memory lane.
Did you ever go into town to pick up a solider? Did your parents? Do you have a story to tell? Please tell us.
Image: Credit to Queensland State Library