Thanksgiving is a call to home that not everyone is a position to answer. That’s true for many people for a variety of circumstances (distance, personal health, family strife) and is certainly true for men and women serving in the military overseas or far from home. So it was in November 1942 for the U.S. soldiers who had been sent to Europe to beat back the forces of fascism during World War II.

England showed its appreciation to its American allies by opening Westminster Abbey for a Thanksgiving service. This was an unprecedented gesture. Founded in 960 A.D. by Benedictine monks and, since the 1500s, home to the Church of England, Westminster Abbey has been the site of numerous coronations and Royal weddings. But it had had never hosted a secular service until that day. A reported 3,500 soldiers filled the room, and the service included performances of The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful.

The photos below show both the Westminster service and a feast afterward, held at an air force station and shared with local children. All around England on that day, Americans and their British hosts shared holiday celebrations. The irony is obvious, as the original Thanksgiving had its seed with pilgrims who had crossed the Atlantic to get away from England.

But with the world at war, with the Americans and the British fighting side by side, a spirit was kindled and embraced. This Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, 1942, showed how the holiday’s meaning can expand to accommodate all kinds of gratitude, and bring all kinds of people together.

Westminster Thanksgiving

Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Westminster Thanksgiving

David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Westminster Abbey

Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Westminster Thanksgiving

Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Westminster Thanksgiving

Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Westminster Thanksgiving

Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Westminster Thanksgiving

Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

Westminster Thanksgiving

Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

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