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14-05-2013, 08:38
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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 thick 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 surpise 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.

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