Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Taunton man sees ball game

You have to love the local press and the, er, local spin they put on everything. Odd that, bang in the middle of WW II, a local man watching a game of American football warranted an article.

There is a beer reference, if you persevere with reading, about three quarters of the way down.


Mr. and Mrs. C. P. Ewens. of "Keswick." Wyndham-road, Taunton, on Monday received a very interesting letter from their eldest son, Lionel, a Leading Aircraftman in the Royal Air Force, who is at present training in Canada and the U.S.A. to be a pilot.

An old boy of Hulsh's Grammar School, Taunton, he will be remembered as a prominent local amateur footballer. He played for the Taunton Y.M.C.A. and the Taunton Amateurs' team. On leaving school he was employed by the Somerset County Council at the County Hall, Taunton, in the Education and Health Departments. In 1938 left to join the Metropolitan Police. While serving in this he regularly played for the first XI. in football. He also played cricket for the Taunton Club for number of seasons. Aged 23, he volunteered for flying duties with the R.A.F. in August last, and has been training in Canada and America for about ten weeks.


The letter, from which the following extracts are taken, was written on November 22nd :-

"Your impressions Alabama are unfortunately limited to the little I can express in these letters, but, believe me, if I had the ability and spare time, I could write a whole book about these last two days alone. Yesterday was "Thanksgiving-day," which is celebrated over here very much as Christmas is at home, with the traditional turkey and crackling bread for dinner. Perhaps it compares more with a harvest festival celebration.

"Half of the population in the town here are negroes, so yesterday was Negroes'-day. The high spot of the celebrations was the big football game — American rugby, of course — between Alabama State, the local negro college, and Tuskegee College, a rival negro team from a town a few miles away. I can't quite understand the education system here, but most of the lads seem to go to college until about 20 years of age. though some work for living and attend college at the same time.

"You must realise that whereas a soccer match at home lasts an hour and a half, the match here lasts all day. It starts in the morning with a gigantic procession through the town composed of both teams (about 50 or so players seem to be in a team), and their supporters all dressed up and driving decorated automobiles and bicycles: and the college brass bands, about four of them, and which are really good. A negro certainly has rhythm.


"The actual game commenced at two o'clock, and lasted about two and a-half hours. The ground was about the size of say the Bristol City one, and was about full up. The gate must have been about 30,000 or so, of which 90 per cent, were negroes. There were two or three, I forget exactly, breaks when the bands performed. About a dozen players on each side play at a time, and about twice as many reserves line the pitch on the opposite sides with their supporters behind them. We still can't follow the rules of the play very well, but there is no doubt that it is a great game, and they certainly knock each other about a bit, so they need a few reserves. You get a running commentary on what is happening over loud speakers.


"You don't follow every minute the play so carefully as you do at home as you get so much of it, so you go off for five minutes to the hot-dog stand: and take it from me, you haven't lived until you have had an American hot-dog or hamburger. I expect you know what they are like — hot sausage in a roll flavoured with fried onions and plenty of mustard.

"The local folks treat us wonderfully well, and their hospitality is almost embarassing. As soon as we step outside the camp, a car pulls up and offers us a lift into town, and the driver nearly always invites the lads home to dinner, or home to have a drink. The beer is not too good, mostly iced lager in cans, and we have learnt to treat the liquor with the greatest of respect; to avoid it like poison, in fact.


"After the big ball game we were given a lift by a very nice gent, and his wife, who asked us out to have a meal with them. They drove us out to the home, and we were interested in the pecan nut trees in the garden (pronounced by the Southerners 'pie-cawn'), and which are very similar to our walnuts. We took a sackful back to camp for the lads.

"The folks started driving back to town, and we were beginning to wonder about the eats we had been promised, but forgot that it is American custom to take about half of their meals in town in cafes, which they say is more economical than preparing meals at home. We were treated to a slap-up meal—our second dinner that day, at a cafeteria style restaurant, and they insisted on footing the bill."
Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser - Saturday 03 January 1942, page 3.

Much of his description of the football game would be just as applicable today. I particularly like his use of the phrase "American rugby" which, if you think about it, isn't that inaccurate.

I'm slightly confused by the dates. The letter was written in November 1941, which was before the attack on Peral Harbour. Were British airmen training in the USA while it was still technically neutral?

The heavy emphasis on food is understandable when you realise how limited the diet, both in terms of variety and quantity, was in Britain at the time. Two slap-up meals in one day would have been the dream of many back home.

I suppose I should get onto beer (ignoring the casual racism). That Lager was the beer of choice isn't odd. That is was mostly canned by such an early date did surprise me a bit. For someone used to proper flat, warm Bitter or Mild iced Lager probably wasn't so appetising. Just as it isn't to me.


Alan said...

In Canada, before WW2 rugger was the name. Rules were still half way to rugby compared to today's game.

Gary Gillman said...

That's interesting Ron. Baseball too is basically English in origin, regional variants of the cricket group of games emerged in America in that form. The term itself, often spelled "base-ball", was used in England first.

Sausages with onions? You see that still in London a lot, as served from the carts on the high streets.

I was just in Kentucky and the country ham and bacon, the country sausage, the biscuit, have exact, often old-English or Scots counterparts. Even the whiskey is ultimately from the auld country.

The political rifts of circa-1800 were profound and (IMO) they affected the early travelogues of the English in America, e.g. Mrs. Trollope's, even Dickens's in a milder way, but in time shared cultural origins won back the shared amity of the peoples. The relationship goes through periods of stress in various times to be sure, but it doesn't affect the fundamentals, at least to date.

And finally, IPA has come back, eh?


Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

there you go Ron, I had heard of pilots being trained prior to Pearl Harbor — http://www.arnold-scheme.org/The%20Arnold%20Register.htm
Huish Grammar School is a very good Sixth Form College now (I thought you might like to know)

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, given your interest in U.S./U.K. interactions, this excellent precis of an influential book may interest you:


I read it many years ago and experience spent in both places since then, plus further reading and reflections, have only confirmed the truth of its essential thesis. (Surely, any thesis can be exaggerated, but if David Fischer's is, it is only a little).


Craig said...

By 1940 the US Army Air Corps had 18 aerodromes in 48 states that were training foreign pilots—of the 15 located in the southern states, 9 had foreign air forces. The area below the 37-parallell in the United States is considered to be the best flying training area in the world. The idea for RAF and RCAF training in the U.S was to take advantage of this environment, to strengthen Anglo-American ties, and give cadets a fairly safe environment to learn arial combat techniques.

In early 1941 an RAF depot was established at Maxwell Field—the Southeast Air Corps Training Center—outside Montgomery Alabama. The depot was set-up for a 4-week, acclimatization course for RAF cadets who were enrolled in the US Army Air Corps training program. It seems like Lionel may have been in that program. You can't get more American exposure that Thanksgiving, football, hot dogs, and canned lager.

Maxwell initially served as an acclimation center, but it was also used as a standard flight training center for both the USAAC and RAF. While Maxwell was the largest, Gunter Field and Craig Field—also, both in Alabama—were RAF Basic and Advanced training facilities

There a memorial to the RAF pilots who trained in Montgomery in 1941


Ron Pattinson said...

Adrian, Craig,

thanks for the historical information.

It sounds like the Taunton man was probably at Montgomery.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that no one addressed "negro day" there's no such thing, the day after Thanksgiving is Back Friday. It has nothing to due with race. It's the start of the holiday shopping here in the states. Interestingly it became official in 1941.

Jeff Renner said...

@ anonymous - Assuming you mean Black Friday, the big shopping day after Thanksgiving, that term is far more recent than 1940. According to Wikipedia, the first use of the term was in 1961, but it didn't gain more widespread use until the mid 70's.

It sound to me like "Negro Day" was a term used in Alabama, perhaps locally. I would take this source at face value. I don't think it can be said that "there's no such thing."