To Which We Serve

There are times when ‘doing what you plan to do’ gets done – and there are also times when ‘what you planned to do’ didn’t get done – and today I am not sure which of these apply – so I’ll leave it to you to decide!  It’s a part of our ‘Music for Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’ story – but doesn’t specifically contain either!  Last week our 1942 story had two new singers on the scene. This week we are all at sea with the story of HMS Kelly- a K-class destroyer of the British Royal Navy and the flotilla leader of her class. She had served through the early years of the Second World War in Home Waters, off Norway and in the Mediterranean. Throughout the ships service it was commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten. The vessel was lost in action in 1941 during the Battle of Crete.

In 1942 a British patriotic war film, directed by Sir Noël Peirce Coward and Sir David Lean, with the assistance of Britain’s Ministry of Information, came on screen.  It was called ‘In Which We Serve’ with a screenplay inspired by the exploits of Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten.  In the Box Office the film was the second most popular movie at the British box office in 1943 and was one of the most successful British films ever released in the US, earning $1.8 million in rentals.  Noël Coward had composed the music as well as starring in the film as the ship’s captain. The film also starred John Mills, Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson and Richard Attenborough – it was Richard’s first screen role. ‘In Which We Serve’ also received a full backing by the Ministry of Information which offered advice on what would make good propaganda.  The film remains a classic example of wartime British cinema through patriotic imagery of national unity and social cohesion within the context of war.

However – there were ‘responses’. 

A New York Times writer observed, “There have been other pictures which have vividly and movingly conveyed in terms of human emotion the cruel realities of this present war. None has yet done it so sharply and so truly as In Which We Serve… For the great thing which Mr. Coward has accomplished in this film is a full and complete expression of national fortitude … Yes, this is truly a picture in which the British may take a wholesome pride and we may regard as an excellent expression of British strength.”

Variety called the film “a grim tale sincerely picturized and splendidly acted throughout” and added, “Only one important factor calls for criticism. It is that all the details are too prolonged. The author-producer-scriptwriter-composer and co-director gives a fine performance as the captain of the vessel, but acting honours also go to the entire company. Stark realism is the keynote of the writing and depiction, with no glossing of the sacrifices constantly being made by the sailors.”

Despite largely positive reviews by audiences and critics alike, the film was not well received by some within the Admiralty who dubbed it “In Which We Sink“.  None-the-less – on Christmas Eve 1942 in New York, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures honoured the film as the ‘Best English Language Film of the Year’ citing Bernard Miles and John Mills for their performances.  The film was nominated in the 1943 Academy Awards but lost to ‘Casablanca’ for Best Picture and ‘Princess O’Rourke’ for Best Original Screenplay. However, Noel Coward was presented with an ‘Academy Honorary Award for “his outstanding production achievement.”   In 1943 ‘In Which We Serve’ also won the ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award’ for Best Film’, beating Casablanca’, and the ‘Argentine Film Critics Association Award for Best Foreign Film in 1943.

Advertisements

‘To Autumn’ by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;  conspiring with him how to load and bless with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; to bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, and fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; to swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells with a sweet kernel; to set budding more, and still more, later flowers for the bees, until they think warm days will never cease, for summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find thee sitting careless on a granary floor, thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: and sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep steady thy laden head across a brook; or by a cyder-press, with patient look, thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— while barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, and touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn among the river sallows, borne aloft or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; and full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft the red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; and gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

1942 sees two ‘new’ singers on the scene

The war was now across the whole world but the music of the US in 1942 brought a top five tracks that would last long after the conflict had ended.  These were:

At number 5 was ‘A String of Pearls’ by Glenn Miller while, at number 4, Jimmy Dorsey was telling the story of ‘Tangerine’ with Vaughn Monroe’s version very close behind.

Glenn Miller was also at number 3 – this time with ‘Moonlight Cocktail’ – with Paul Whiteman ‘Traveling Light’ at number 2.

At number 1 was Alvino Rey – or Bing Crosby – or Horace Heidt – or the Merry Macs – but, which ever we chose, all will tell us the same story – the story that was ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’!

Meanwhile in Britain, without any question, the most popular vocalist of the time and place was Vera Lynn“the forces’ sweetheart”.  She sang just about every well-known wartime song in her concerts and in her travels to the troops.  I remember my Dad sending a message back to mum and me at home saying they had enjoyed ‘Vera Lynn singing and talking to everyone out in the desert one afternoon – but he could not say where it had happened’. I know he also had two or three more ‘shows’ from Ms Lynn – but he never did say where they were!

There was, however, more than one side to all of this – and that came to the fore in February 1942 when bandleader Tommy Dorsey said of an singer:  ‘He’s a great singer, but ya know, you can’t make it without a band.  Every singer has got to have a band behind him’. Tommy was talking about a twenty-six-year-old singer who was riding the crest of phenomenal popularity.  Wherever this singer appeared with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra he would be greeted with screams, sighs, and fainting spells from a faithful contingent of over-stimulated female bobby-soxers greeting his every phrase, motion, and intonation with loud and rapturous delight.

Having spent the previous seven years paying his musical dues – a tour with a Major Bowes’ amateur unit; a stint as a singing waiter, a year as vocalist with the struggling Harry James orchestra – one Frank Sinatra now felt he was ready for a solo career, even if his boss Tommy Dorsey said he was ‘a damn fool’ for considering it!

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on 12th December 1915 – an American singer, actor, and producer who would become one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century.  He became one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide and would find success as a solo artist after he signed with Columbia Records in 1943, becoming the idol of the “bobby soxers” when he released his debut album, ‘The Voice of Frank Sinatra’ in 1946.

Noel Coward and London Pride

Noel Coward wrote “London Pride” in the spring of 1941, during the Blitz. According to his own account, he was sitting on a seat on a platform in Paddington station, watching Londoners going about their business quite unfazed by the broken glass scattered around from the station’s roof damaged by the previous night’s bombing: in a moment of patriotic pride, he suddenly recalled an old English folk song which had been apparently appropriated by the Germans for their national anthem, and it occurred to him that he could reclaim the melody in a new song. The song started in his head there and then and was finished in a few days.

The song has six verses. The opening lines, repeated three times within the song, are:

London Pride has been handed down to us, London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us, and our pride it forever will be.

The flower mentioned is Saxifraga x urbium, a perennial garden flowering plant historically known as ‘London Pride’. The song was intended to raise Londoners’ spirits during the Blitz. It was also circulated after the July 2005 bombings.

Coward acknowledged one of the traditional cries of London – “Won’t You Buy My Sweet-Smelling Lavender” as the starting-point for the tune, but he also pointed out the similarity with “Deutschland uber alles”, which he claimed was based on the same tune. It contrasts with many of the major-key, grandiose melodies used to celebrate patriotism, including God Save the King and Land of Hope and Glory. Its orchestration also contrasts with those anthems, employing muted strings and a celeste, rather than a pipe organ and a choir.

The words above – the story above – are an introduction to today’s story line. In an hour or so time the full words for London Pride will appear for you – just as it would had done so many years ago!

Here are the lyrics for London Pride as promised a short time ago:

London Pride has been handed down to us.  London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us, and our pride it for ever will be.
Woa, Liza, see the coster barrows, vegetable marrows and the fruit piled high.
Woa, Liza, little London sparrows, Covent Garden Market where the costers cry.
Cockney feet mark the beat of history. Every street pins a memory down.
Nothing ever can quite replace The Grace of London Town.
INTERLUDE

There’s a little city flower every spring unfailing

  Growing in the Growing in the crevices by some London railing,
Though it has a Latin name, in town and country-side
We in England call it London Pride.
London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be.

Hey lady, when the day is dawning, see the policeman yawning on his lonely beat.
Gay lady, Mayfair in the morning, hear your footsteps echo in the empty street.
Early rain and the pavement’s glistening; all Park Lane in a shimmering gown.
Nothing ever could break or harm the charm of London Town.

INTERLUDE
In our city darkened now, street and square and crescent,
We can feel our living past in our shadowed present,
Ghosts beside our starlit Thames Who lived and loved and died
Keep throughout the ages London Pride.
London Pride has been handed down to us.
London Pride is a flower that’s free.
London Pride means our own dear town to us,
And our pride it for ever will be.

Grey city, Stubbornly implanted, Taken so for granted For a thousand years.
Stay, city, Smokily enchanted, Cradle of our memories and hopes and fears.
Every Blitz Your resistance Toughening, From the Ritz To the Anchor and Crown,
Nothing ever could override The pride of London Town.

Songwriters: Noel Coward / Noel Pierce Coward   London Pride lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Britain’s first known car fatality

It happened on Monday 17th August 1896 when Bridget Driscoll was knocked down by Arthur Edsell who was reportedly driving at 4mph.

The Morning Post’s report on Friday 21st tells us that Mr Percy Morrison held an inquest at Penge on the body of Bridget Driscoll, the 44 year old wife of a labourer of 137 Old Town, Croydon, who was fatally injured by a motor-car at the Crystal Palace on Monday 17th August.

May Driscoll, daughter of the deceased, said she had gone to the Palace with her mother and a friend named Elizabeth Murphy to see the Catholic fete connected with the League of the Cross taking place that day.  They were on the Terrace when she saw three motor cars approaching, the last one of which was coming at a very fast rate, and going from one side of the road to the other.  The ladies safely avoided the first two cars, but the third one, which was a good distance behind, swayed towards them. As soon as Miss Driscoll had run close to the rails she turned and saw the car passing over her mother.

At the subsequent inquest the Coroner [c] asked: Did the car knock the deceased down?’  The Witness [w] replied: ‘Yes’.

[c]: ‘Did the driver appear to be attending properly to his duty?’

[w]: ‘I don’t think he understood how to drive; he kept going from one side to the other, whereas the other two were going straight.’

[c]:’Did your mother do anything to warn the driver?’

[w]: ‘Yes, she put her umbrella up.’

[c]: ‘Was your mother quite sober?’

[w]: ‘Yes, and I am sure she did not fall down in front of the car.’

The jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” after an inquest enduring some six hours, and no prosecution was made.

Two war-time happenings in one day in May 1941

Last week we were talking abought war in Britain and great music in the USA.  This week we have a surprise when a man from Germany arrived in Scotland with no music but had tea and chatter with a local family.

It was on the night of Saturday 10th May 1941 that David McLean, a Scottish farmer, found a German Messerschmidt airplane ablaze in his field and a parachutist who identified himself as Captain Alfred Horn.  The pilot had left an airfield near Munich in a small Messerschmidt fighter-bomber a little before 6 p.m., flying up the Rhine and across the North Sea. He used all his considerable skill by navigating such a course alone, using only charts and maps, on a foggy dark night over largely unfamiliar terrain – and all the while avoiding being shot down by British air defenses!  By 10:30, he was over Scotland, out of fuel, and forced to bail out just 12 miles from his destination.  He was injured and lying in a field so David took him to the house and his mum was soon serving him a cup of tea by the cottage fireside.  For nearly an hour the ‘visitor’ chatted with McLean, his mum and various relatives that had learned about the crash.

But – their surprise guest was no ordinary Luftwaffe pilot.  He was, in fact, Rudolf Hess, a long time Hitler loyalist!  He had joined the Nazi party in 1920, stood with his friend Adolf Hitler at the Beer Hall Putsch, and served in Landsberg prison.  It was in there that he had taken dictation for much of Mein Kampf.  As deputy Fuhrer, Hess was positioned behind only Hermann Goering in the succession hierarchy of the Nazi regime that had Europe firmly under the heel of its jackboot.  His appearance on Scottish soil was a self-described mission of peace just weeks before Hitler would launch his ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union, was one of the war’s strangest incidents.  We’ll take this a little further another day.

While this was happening in Scotland the worst air raid on London during the Blitz was taking place.  Destruction was spread out all over the city, with German bombers targeting all bridges west of Tower Bridge, factories on the south side of the Thames, the warehouses at Stepney, and the railway line that ran north from Elephant and Castle.  Over 500 bombers flew to London on the night of 10 May, the full moon lighting their snaking path along the Thames. The pilots had 15 minutes to locate and bomb their targets once they reached London.  However the bombing lasted nearly seven hours, starting at 11pm on 10 May and continuing until the all-clear sounded at 5.50am the next morning. The British anti-aircraft batteries and RAF night-fighters managed to shoot down 33 planes, but despite their best efforts, 10th -11th May 1941 was one of the most destructive raids of the war.

Meanwhile – on that same night – David McLean, a Scottish farmer, found a German Messerschmitt airplane ablaze in his field and a parachutist who identified himself as Captain Alfred Horn.  The pilot had left an airfield near Munich in a small Messerschmitt fighter-bomber a little before 6 p.m., flying up the Rhine and across the North Sea. He used all his considerable skill by navigating such a course alone, using only charts and maps, on a foggy dark night over largely unfamiliar terrain – and all the while avoiding being shot down by British air defences!  By 10:30, he was over Scotland, out of fuel, and forced to bail out just 12 miles from his destination.  He was injured and lying in a field so David took him to the house and his mum was soon serving him a cup of tea by the cottage fireside.  For nearly an hour the ‘visitor’ chatted with McLean, his mum and various relatives that had learned about the crash.

But – their surprise guest was no ordinary Luftwaffe pilot.  He was, in fact, Rudolf Hess, a long time Hitler loyalist!  He had joined the Nazi party in 1920, stood with his friend Adolf Hitler at the Beer Hall Putsch, and served in Landsberg prison.  It was in there that he had taken dictation for much of Mein Kampf.  As deputy Fuhrer, Hess was positioned behind only Hermann Goering in the succession hierarchy of the Nazi regime that had Europe firmly under the heel of its jackboot.  His appearance on Scottish soil was a self-described mission of peace just weeks before Hitler would launch his ill-fated invasion of the Soviet Union, was one of the war’s strangest incidents.

I’ll come back to this – and the responses – later

It was just ‘One of those days’.

We’ve all had one of these – for me Friday 14th August 1908 was one of them.  The information sources I found told me that this day was the days of ‘The first International Beauty Contest in Britain – it was held at the Pier Hippodrome at Folkestone in Kent.’   That was all that was said!  I dug deeper and found another source that said that ‘Felixstowe held the first international beauty contest on 14 August 1908. Entries were said to include six English girls, three French, one Irish, one Austrian and ‘a number of fisher girls from Boulogne’ – and nothing more!  I dug further and finally found ‘The West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser’ and that told me that:

‘Folkestone Beauty Show: A crowded audience assembled at the Pier Pavilion on Friday evening in connection with the final of the International Ladies’ Beauty Show. Three visitors and three residents had been selected by the votes of the audience to compete against a selection of foreign beauties – representatives from Paris, Boulogne, Vienna and America. The English visitors all came from London. They were Miss Nellie Jarman from East Molesey; Miss Lever from Maida-vale and Miss Winnie Pickworth of Chelsea – who were adjudged first, second and third respectively at the preliminary adjudication. The former lady is an accomplished long-distance swimmer. The prizes were a grand cottage piano, a lady’s cycle and a gold watch. The Mayors of Folkstone, Hythe and Maidstone superintended the voting on Friday in which the audience took part. Whilst the counting process went on the ladies sat in full view of the audience.  Amidst a scene of great enthusiasm the Mayor announced the winners as follows:             

At 3rd place with 209 votes – Miss Winnie Osborn, Folkestone

At 2nd place  with 346 votes – Miss Asta Fleming of Vienna with 346 votes

At 1st place with 470 vote we have Miss Nellie Jarman, East Molesey

Each of the losers was presented with a souvenir medal. 

I must admit that I would have loved to watched this

11th August 1968 and British Rail makes 3 Special Offers

 A 315 mile, almost eleven hour journey marked the end of standard gauge steam-hauled passenger service on British Railways.  The timings sheet was headed with the statement – ‘Last steam hauled train on Britain Railways on standard track, Sunday 11th August 1968.’

A ‘Souvenir Platform Ticket’ was available – it tells us that: The last steam hauled train to operate on standard gauge track will run on Sunday, 11th August 1968.  The train will run from Liverpool 09.10 via Manchester to Carlisle calling at Manchester Victoria at 10.36 and 18.48 and will be hauled from Liverpool to Manchester by a class 5 locomotive.

Front & back of a souvenir platform ticket is available from The John Debens Collection.   Manchester Victoria souvenir platform ticket 2s 6d.  Not valid on Train. Not Transferable.