While they were ‘over here’ helping with the war effort during WW2 and bringing Britain victory, thousands of servicemen and women from the USA, Canada and other Allied countries were stationed in hundreds of locations across the country.

Image1 Rummaging through dusty tomes (and I do rummage) I have over the years come across a goodly number of references to Allied servicemen experiencing life in an English pub for the first time – and then going on to enjoy it again and again. In this article I examine a handful of servicemen’s views on that most English of institutions but particularly focusing on the diary of American serviceman Robert S. Arbib, Jnr.

(The image (left) bears the caption ‘OVER HERE – a quartette of the advanced units of the vast force which the United States is sending to Britain in readiness to take part in the European theatre of war, enjoy a glass of English ale, at the sign of The Fox, a typical English inn somewhere in the country. Mine host and hostess are glad to welcome, as we all are, these men from the great American Republic.’)

Arbib was stationed at Debach, Suffolk in 1942. On his third night there he and six colleagues decided, strictly against regulations, to wander into the countryside. They wandered as far as the village of Grundisburgh and there they were ‘officially welcomed to England’ at The Dog. Arbib described what he and his colleagues saw as he entered the little pub:

We found three or four small plain rooms with wooden benches and bare wooden tables. Each room connected somehow with a central bar – either across the counter or through a tiny window. One of the rooms had a dart board, and another had an antique upright piano. We went into the room with the dart board and ordered beer.

News that ‘the Yanks had arrived’ spread quickly and soon the front room was filled with young men and farm workers in rough clothes, whilst the back room was occupied by ‘old gaffers, and their evil-smelling pipes’. The saloon bar filled with family groups, ‘casuals’, young couples and women. Arbib wrote of the aftermath of this ‘welcome’, ‘[H]ow we got home up the pitch-black country lanes to our tents…I cannot recall.’

[The image of The Dog shown was taken in 2018; reassuring indeed that this country pub is still serving the community.]

Clearly Arbib soon developed a taste for the English pub. When he was transferred to Watford, Hertfordshire, Arbib frequented the Unicorn, a small public house comprising of four rooms which included a Public Bar that he described as ‘a plain room with plain benches and tables.’ According to Arbib, Unicorn was ‘typical of this entirely British institution’, a pub most definitely for beer drinkers ‘with a dart board thrown in for sport and conversation’.

In my subsequent research I found no trace of a Unicorn pub actually in Watford. However, there was (and is) a pub of that name on Gallows Hill in nearby King’s (sometimes Abbot’s) Langley.

Described on its website as ‘riddled with history’ and a mere 800 yards from King’s Langley railway station, my guess is that this is the pub to which Arbib was referring.]

Apparently all in Arbib’s Company agreed that the pub was ‘a good thing, a great idea, [and] both a social and democratic institution.’ Indeed, Arbib piled further praise on to the Unicorn when he wrote

The public house means much to England – as a meeting place, a poor man’s club, a public forum, a sanctuary and a retreat; it fills a need for companionship and social life in villages where there is little other, or in communities where the average home is not pretentious enough to welcome guests.

[The cartoon (left) featuring ‘Private Breger’, a character based on a real life serving US soldier, bears the caption “And they have the swellest omelettes of dehydrated mushrooms and powered eggs.” As PHS Newsletter Editor Chris Murray observed, this illustrates the privations of wartime rationing in England.]

It seemed strange to Arbib that there was so little ‘visiting’ done in England as there was back home in the United States. However, he appreciated that the village pub partly fulfilled that role by providing ‘a common living room for all friends’ which enabled them to meet ‘without any invasion of privacy of the home.’ Arbib recognised that this was founded upon an entirely different system of living to that which he and his countrymen were accustomed to and he realised that to try and reproduce the English pub anywhere else would surely fail. Indeed, he wrote

those Americans who dallied with the idea of introducing the public-house institution to American life soon realized that it would never work.

As a darts historian, I cannot leave this brief examination of the ‘invasion’ without a reference or two about visiting servicemen and darts. (Indulge me momentarily please.)

Edie Beed, whose family ran “Ye Olde White Lion”, Bradninch, near Exeter, for six decades (1918-1978), recalled the presence of the overseas visitors in the village during World War Two. The servicemen occupied Nissen huts which had been built all around the cricket field and found Edie’s pub ‘much to their liking.’ One evening a customer asked an American soldier if they played darts or rings (quoits) in his country and the man replied, “No, we don’t throw nothing at walls.”

C. G. McLean served with the Canadian army in the Second World War and was stationed in various parts of the UK. During that time he was always able to find ‘a friendly pub’ where he and his colleagues were warmly welcomed and where locals were always ‘willing to show us how to play [darts]’. Indeed, McLean took the game home with him and in 1997 was still playing in two darts leagues; one at his local branch of the Canadian Legion and the other where he lived in a complex in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Dan Drozdiak of the Royal Canadian Air Force was posted to England in 1943, originally to Bournemouth where he and his friends spent many happy hours playing darts in pubs.

From Bournemouth Drozdiak was transferred to the Canadian Overseas Postal Depot at Wembley. Such was his enthusiasm for this ‘new’ game that he declared in a letter to me that he and his friends ‘would sooner play darts then eat’ and formed a formidable team which went from strength to strength. “We were very successful”, Dan told me, “We met all pub challenges and, I don’t wish to brag, but we seldom had to buy a round of drinks.” When he returned home after the war, darts became very popular in Legion clubs and in 1997, Drozdiak was still playing darts in his hometown of Duncan, B.C.

[The caption of the contemporary (c. 1944) cartoon, right, reads “Next time we’ll have to come earlier and see if we can’t get a better table.”]

Both the institution of the English pub and the pub games played within them brought much pleasure to those who came over to the UK to help defend our country in our darkest hours. It is interesting to note that it has been impossible to truly replicate the traditional English pub across the ‘Big Pond’ but note too that the development of the traditional steel-tip game of darts in both America and Canada has often proved problematical especially with the emergence in the late 1990s of electronic or soft-tip darts.

Original text © 2008 and 2018 Patrick Chaplin

(This article first appeared in the PHS Newsletter Spring 2008; subsequently updated 2018.)


Arbib, Robert S. Jnr. Here We Are Together – The Notebook of an American Soldier in Britain (London: The Right Book Club, 1947)
Beed, Edie. 70 Years Behind Bars (Bradninch, Devon: Published by Author, 1984)
Branch-Johnson, William. Hertfordshire Inns – A Handbook of Old Hertfordshire Inns and Beerhouses – Part Two – West Herts (Letchworth: Hertfordshire Countryside, 1963)

Drozdiak, Dan. Letters to Patrick Chaplin dated 9th and 18th September 1997.

East Anglian Daily Times, Wednesday August 15, 2018 (Image of The Dog)

McLean, C. G. Letter to Patrick Chaplin dated 11th September 1997.

Pub History Society Newsletter, Summer 2008, page 2.

Cartoon sources and credits:

And they have the swellest omelettes…” - Originally sourced by Editor Chris Murray from his own personal collection, this cartoon appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of the PHS Newsletter. Introducing Dave Breger’s work Chris M. wrote

Cartoon by Dave Breger (1908-1970) from about 1944. Private Breger was based on the real life observations of a serving US soldier who was based in England for part of the Second World War. Originally showcased in services publications Stars and Stripes and Yank his cartoons were issued in anthology form in the UK. Pte Breger was a somewhat naïve but anti authority figure much loved by the military. This cartoon illustrates the privations of wartime rationing in England.’

Next time we’ll have to come earlier…” - Undated cutting. Exact details unknown but believed to the work of Sgt. Dick Wingert, c. 1944 and the main character is ‘Hubert’. Wingert drew cartoons for the U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes.


The Unicorn, King’s (Abbot’s) Langley –

  • Diary Dates

    What we’re doing and when we’re doing it. You might even find a date or two for your diary from other like-minded groups. More details can be found by following the link below.

    Continue Reading »

  • Mail List

    Not sure if you want to be a full member yet? Why not sign up for our occasional newsletter, no obligation, no pressure! More details can be found by following the link below.

    Continue Reading »

  • Membership

    Becoming a member of the Pub History Society is a great idea. You’ll have access to all of our back issues of our newsletter and even a downloadable bibliography should you need it. More details can be found by following the link below.

    Continue Reading »