Despite the war coming to an end, British troops remained garrisoned in foreign towns for a number of months and even years. Europe was in ruins, crime was rife and weapons everywhere. An occupying power gave time to allow new democratic governments to be created, and for law enforcement to be rebuilt. Despite this, for the most part, life was pretty quiet for the British troops garrisoned in Germany and Italy. Bored troops can cause trouble, so the army recognised that it was important to give them things to keep them busy such as films, sporting events and cultural tours. Men on leave would flock to the larger cities, the men being too far from Britain to travel back there, and so leisure activities were laid on for them.
Leaflets were prepared in the larger cities by the Army Welfare Service with a list of what was on in a given week, and today we are looking at one from Milan at the very end off the Second World War:
Activities include details of the various English language cinemas in the city, restaurants and social clubs and hotels where on leave troops could stay:
A wide range of sporting activities were provided, as well as religious services for different denominations within the allied armies:
Ron Goldstein was in Italy in the autumn of 1945, but at Trieste rather than Milan. He recalls:
The YMCA in Trieste had taken over a leisure centre which offered, amongst other facilities, a chance to have one’s laundry done. On Friday evenings my friends and I would come into town and make straight for the YMCA. Here we would have a shower, a haircut, change our Khaki Drill uniform for a clean set left the week before, and then, all spick and span, we would head for one of the best restaurants in town.
We would go right through the menu, including wines with each course, followed by brandy and cigars. But the best part was yet to come. Instead of paying cash for these blessings we would each sell a tin of 50 cigarettes to the waiter and the cash received was more than sufficient to pay for the whole evening’s entertainment, including the earlier visit to the YM! Strictly speaking, of course, the authorities would not have approved of our using army issue cigarettes for this purpose, but the result was that after our evening out we used to glow all the way back to camp.