When I mention troop entertainers, one name stands out more than others. Yes you are right Vera Lynn. My first recollection of Vera Lynn was in the war years. I along with my parents, my brother and sister, all sitting round the fire in our backroom listening to the radio. When Vera Lynn sang, nobody said a word until she had finished singing. What a wonderful voice and without doubt a wonderful woman.
Dame Vera Lynn, DBE, was born Vera Margaret Welch on 20 March 1917 in East Ham. She began performing publicly at the age of seven; she adopted her grandmother’s maiden name (Lynn) as her stage name. Her first radio broadcast, was with the Joe Loss Orchestra, in 1935. At this point she was being featured on records released by dance bands including those of Joe Loss and of Charlie Kunz In 1936 her first solo record was released. She became enormously popular during the Second World War entertaining the Forces in Europe, Egypt, India and Burma, giving outdoor concerts for the troops. She became known, and is still referred to, as “The Forces Sweetheart”. In 1941, during the darkest days of World War II, Lynn began her own radio show,” Sincerely Yours,” sending messages to British troops serving abroad. She and her quartet performed songs most requested by the soldiers. Vera Lynn also visited hospitals to interview new mothers and send personal messages to their husbands overseas.
I have to mention. In 1985 it was announced that Vera Lynn would receive the Burma Star for entertaining British Guerilla units (Chindits) in Japanese-Occupied Burma territory. She lifted the hearts of the lads serving in the Burma theatre of war, making sure they were not forgotten. During those dark war years the songs most associated with her are “We’ll Meet Again” The White Cliffs Of Dover” “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” and “There Always Be An England” Vera Lynn remained popular after the war, appearing on radio and television in the UK and the United States and recording such hits as “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” and “My Son My Son.” I personally love to hear Vera Lynn singing “Land Of Hope And Glory” I get a tingling sensation in the back of the neck and making me so proud to be British of which I am
In 2009 she became the oldest living artist to make it to No. 1 on the British album chart, at the age of 92. She has devoted much time and energy to charity work connected with ex-servicemen, disabled children and breast cancer. She is still held in great affection by veterans who fought in the Second World War and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the twentieth century. I could go on forever about Vera Lynn, who indeed was an outstanding woman of the 20th Century.
Hello, my name is Ken Nicholson. I was brought up in Maryport Cumbria. In 1952 I was called up to do my National service with 1st Battalion Border Regiment which is a Cumbrian Regiment. When, my training at Carlisle Castle was finished. I was posted to the regiment in the Suez Canal Zone, Egypt from 1952-4. While in Egypt I was in a small detachment sent to Cyprus, because of the Greek earthquake in 1953. We had gone to guard the Governor’s summer residence in case of any problems. After a few weeks our detachment returned to active service in Egypt. We hadn’t been back long when all of (A) Company which I belonged to was sent back to Cyprus on earthquake relief. This was a complete godsend from the active service regime in Egypt. While stationed in Cyprus we were liberally plied with food and drink by the very friendly Greeks and Turks and we even got a bit of R and R in Nicosia. This went on for a few weeks until things were tightened up, because of the impending threat of Eoka terrorist activity. When (A) Company was eventually sent back to Egypt, it was back to doing guards in various places, manning roadblocks and frequently undertaking many long route marches and exercises in the hot sun. One of the most heartening memories I have ever been involved with, was on the approach to Falaise Camp. This camp looked like a real Beau Geste outpost. On the way back from a long route march with a load of other footsore and weary squaddies. We were straightened up, shouldered our arms and marched back into camp behind the Corps of Drums They had emerged from behind the sand dunes and they struck up our regiment tune “D’Ye ken John Peel. It certainly brought a spring into everyone’s step and a memory one can never forget. My national service came to an end when I was de-mobbed in1954 and I returned home to Cumbria.
Good luck and best wishes everyone
.Ken Nicholson, Maryport, Cumbria
When I was growing up in the 1940’s, our local cinema on Walney Island which is now demolished showed many films. The films that my age group and above liked to see were the ones George Formby appeared in. To any younger person who is reading this, might say who the hell George Formby is?
Well George Formby was born in 1905 and followed his father into the music hall scene and became one of the most popular British entertainers of the 20th Century. His career as a comedian, actor, singer and songwriter lasted for 40 years until his death in 1961. He appeared in many hit films, made over 230 records. During the Second World War he came to the fore in keeping the British people’s spirits high. George travelled widely throughout Europe the Middle East and the Far East. With his ukulele in hand he sang songs and told jokes as he entertained over the war years an estimated three million allied servicemen. Quite often George performed very near to the front line, particularly when he was in Burma. When George was not entertaining troops or making films. He was a corporal dispatch rider with the Blackpool home Guard. His contribution to the war effort won official recognition in the form of medals from two countries. The first nation to honour George Formby was the Soviet Union, where he was remarkably popular; in 1943 the Soviet government awarded Formby the Order of Lenin. Great Britain honoured him at the end of the war, when Formby was awarded an OBE (Officer of the order of the British Empire). George Formby should have been knighted for the sterling work he did in lifting moral in Britain’s darkest days
After the war George continued his career in show business, but the war and the travelling he did, had took a lot out of George Formby’s health; He suffered from heart attacks and finally died on the 6th March, 1961, at the age of 56. His funeral took place at St Charles Roman Catholic Church, Liverpool. An estimated 100,000 mourners turned out to see the funeral cortege as it travelled the 20 miles from Liverpool to Warrington, Cheshire, where George was interned in the Formby family grave at the Manchester Road Cemetery. I am sure many men who fought in the Second World War will have happy memories of George Formby. A man who tried and did put a smile on their faces, when a smile was most needed. George Formby was indeed a great troop entertainer.
My name is Harry Wilkinson. I was brought up in what can only be termed an army family. My father did 22 years’ service, my brother followed suit by signing up and serving 22years in the army. Not to be outdone both my sisters did 6 years and 3 years’ service in the army. So in my early life you could see what was expected of me. The only problem was that when I left school at fifteen years of age all I wanted to do, was join the merchant navy.
I had quite a few different of opinions with my dad and family before I was given the go ahead to join the merchant navy. I spent my sixteenth birthday at the Gravesend merchant navy training school. After finishing my ten weeks training I was sent to my first ship. Believe me it was a great life and I enjoyed every minute of it. The only fly in the ointment was, every time I came home on leave it was like an army recruiting centre. I am sorry to say after five years in the merchant navy I gave up and came ashore. I knew the army would call me up, because I was no longer exempt after leaving the navy. I thought 2 years in the army was no big deal and when it is completed I could go back to the Merchant navy and everyone in the family would be happy. If I knew then what I know now I might have had second thoughts!!!
I received a letter to do my medical which I passed, a few weeks later I was called up to join the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment at Fulwood Barracks Preston in October 1959. Well the big day came and I saw myself off from Liverpool Lime Street Station (don’t like big send offs) and arrived at Fulwood Barracks late afternoon. There was also a few other new recruits who had arrived at the same time. We were all given a bit of a talk and then shown to our billet. I thought the two corporals who took us to our accommodation and sorted our kit out weren’t too bad!!! I soon learned differently, most of the time was spent bulling our kit/ weapon training, /cross country runs and foot drill. Bulling was ok, weapon training was ok, but I could never get my head around foot drill. Don’t get me wrong I do know my left from my right, but for some reason after a while I tended to switch off.
There was one particular time doing drill on the parade ground and with it being such a nice day unfortunately for me I switched off. Suddenly I realized I was marching all by myself. The platoon had been called to a halt and I had not heard the drill sergeant. He eventually called me to a halt can you imagine the embarrassment I felt standing in the middle of the parade ground all by myself. Eventually the sergeant came to me and said very quietly in my ear (his mouth was about two inches away from my ear) what happened soldier and I said very quietly I never heard you sergeant. He started off very quietly but ended up screaming down my ear (remember he is only about two inches away from it) “I hope your ear holes turn to a-se holes and sh-t all over your shoulders” I was deaf for a few days after that!!! I was always placed in the middle of the platoon after that episode.
At the end of six weeks training, parents and friends were invited to see what we had been taught. There were two platoons training at the same time, our platoon was picked to do foot drill. The other platoon was picked to fire some weapons on the firing range. The agreement between the two platoon sergeants was for me to carry ammunition and weapons to the firing range, then stay out of sight but they had one man short, they needed someone to fire the light Machine Gun and before I could escape I was picked, I tried to explain to the new sergeant (the other sergeant had gone sick) about the agreement but the visitors were coming onto the firing range and he insisted, there were 3 weapons to fire. The LMG was in the centre with me to fire it. To the left of me was a rifle (SLR) the chap stood and fired from the standing position with the chap on my right was to fire his Sterling Sub Machine Gun also from the standing position… I had to lay down in order to fire the LMG, so the procedure for me was to stand behind the weapon and wait until given the order. When given the order to move I got down behind the weapon fitted the loaded magazine and cocked the LMG, bringing it up into shoulder. I set the range and waited for instructions to fire. The sergeant gave me instructions for single round firing. I wanted to get it over and done with so I set it on rapid and emptied the mag all at once. The sergeant apologized to the visitors for my mistake and said we will do it all over again!!! So I wasn’t a happy chappy and may I say neither was the sergeant
When we were getting near to the end of our 10 weeks training, we had competitions to see who was best in sport, P E, and weapons etc. The men who were picked to be the best were to be given prizes by the VIP who was taking the passing out parade. Guess what, I was best shot on the SMG, which meant I was on the front rank when doing the march pass. The reason I had to be on the front rank was because the winners of the competition had to march out to receive their diplomas. We practiced for weeks and sometimes the RSM stood on the dais and he pretended to give the diplomas out. When it was my turn to march out everything went according to plan, except when I came to a halt. The RSM did not like the way I came to a halt and he said very quietly so no one could hear. I didn’t like that at all you were just like a gollywog (I bet you cannot say that any more) what are you soldier and I said very quietly I am a golly wog sir, and he said very quietly I did not here you soldier and I said it again, but a bit louder he said the same very quietly he could not hear me. In the end I was shouting at the top of my voice I am a gollywog Sirrrr. There were about 70 men on parade and quite a few people watching so after that I made sure whenever I had to come to a halt it was perfect.
When the big day came it was a lovely warm sunny day. I will never forget it, we had our last practice at eight o’clock (the actual pass out was nine o’clock) we practiced the usual foot drill and eventually came to a halt in front of the dais. The RSM called out company will fix bayonets and on the command fix you moved the rifle barrel forward and the next order was bayonets, you then took your bayonet from its scabbard and fixed it at the end of the barrel, when it was fixed firmly to your rifle you hit it with the flat of your hand to make sure it was on properly. Guess what, my bayonet wasn’t on properly and went flying across the parade ground. I think on the actual passing out parade we did not perform that exercise. When I read my certificate after the parade they had spelt my name wrong I never complained I just wanted a quiet life. That was the end of my training at Fulwood Barracks with the knowledge in knowing I had only another 90 weeks to do before demob!!!!