American GIs in the Old Market Square, 1944. The posters are advertising a baseball game being held on the Goose Fair site. Source: Nottinghamshire Archives
Square Memories WWII
Originally published in 2012 as part of theSpace arts project funded by Arts Council England and the BBC
Derrick Buttress, a contemporary of Sillitoe, revisits Old Market Square during the Second World War.
When American soldiers arrived in Nottingham, during the Second World War, rooms above a shop on Long Row were transformed into a coffee bar which only they could use. Nevertheless, the doorway to this little bit of Americana tempted the local girls like butterflies to a buddleia.
The Americans, who we had discovered were called G.I.s, strolled the Square in groups, most of them loud and exuberant. Others, alone or in pairs, sat on the walls with glum faces, looking lost and no doubt feeling homesick. My pals and I pestered them for chewing-gum. Mostly, they ignored us; some swore. We had no idea what it felt like to be thousands of miles away from home, trying hard to follow the strange-sounding vowels of the Nottingham accent.
Then one day the town was full
of loud G.I’s in hep-cat uniforms
sporting blazons and badges bright enough
to make boys ache with envy.
We followed as they strolled through the Square,
wolf-whistling the girls they tried to date
in drawls that sounded Metro-Goldwyn.
The Yanks lounged outside the roughest pubs,
eyed floozies easily tempted
by a port and lemon into the usual sin.
Besotted girls trying to forget
their sewing machines saw only
the Texas sun in their boyfriend’s smile,
heard the confident music of their laughter
and dreamed they were dating a crooner.
We wondered what they thought
of our decrepit town, its miles
of cobbled streets, the ugly terraces
that related their history of neglect.
We didn’t know that most G.I.s were hicks,
country boys who had never seen a Broadway show
or driven down the boulevards of Hollywood.
Nor could we know that these loud and carefree
Hanks and Als would jump into a D-Day dawn,
drift and die in the raking fire of startled German troops,
also young and deadly, and far from home.
The Sillitoe Trail
Take your own interactive tour of the author’s city and follow in Arthur Seaton’s footsteps around Nottingham, exploring the real locations of key scenes from the novel. You can go back to the Old Market Square or visit The White Horse pub, the Raleigh factory, the River Trent and Goose Fair.
Follow: Arthur Seaton @Thespacelathe on Twitter
Download: Sillitoe Trail Factory Handbook (17MB PDF)
Fillingham and Walker 2020