History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. ~Winston Churchill

05 November, 2014

Soldier Singalongs

Back in the days before recorded music was easily portable (or even extant), getting a group together to sing around the piano was a popular form of entertainment. In accumulating photographs of this activity (which will probably still be in a future post), I was struck to see just how many there were of soldiers having a good sing at the piano. In the earlier twentieth century, pianos were, of course, much more ubiquitous than they were today, and a common feature of recreational spaces. Even today, an open piano seems to be pretty irresistible--how much more so to fellows who really need a chance to unwind. And, of course, wartime photographers, particularly official ones, tend to flock to the more reassuring types of images, ensuring the capture of some of these spontaneous moments of fun amidst the turmoil and uncertainty of war. 

© IWM (C 107)

RAF men sing around a piano in a billet in France, December 1939. Source

© IWM (A 1431)

Officers sing after dinner onboard the battleship HMS Rodney, 1940. Source

Trainee airmen singing at a piano, WW2. Source

Soldiers relaxing at the Aldwych YMCA with a piano, London, 1918. Source

© IWM (A 18151)

Soldiers sing around a piano brought onto the deck of the HMS Princess Beatrix [a Dutch ship (the Prinses Beatrix) which became part of the British navy during WW2] just before the 1943 invasion of Sicily.  Source

© IWM (CH 8025)

RAF men with drinks and a song at the local pub, Hampshire, England, WW2. Source

Australian soldiers singing to a piano in an English YMCA. Source

A singalong to a newly donated piano at a Melbourne military hospital, 1942. Source

Australian soldiers singing at a YMCA, London, 1918. Source


Soldiers at a piano in a barracks recreation room, Reading, England, 1919-1939. Source

A large-scale singalong on a troop transport ship, en route from Australia to Malaya, 1941. Source

An English civilian leading the soldiers she's invited for dinner in a song, Sussex, 1943. Source

© IWM (A 7108)

Navy men in a Christmas singalong, Alexandria, 1941. Source

The wonderful original [presumably press] caption: " 'Music hath no boundaries" is an adage that still holds good at the Music Box Canteen, on New York's Fifth Avenue, where long, lanky Australian RAAF aces, grinning American tars, and rosy-cheeked French sailors of the Tricolour's ships, the Richelieu and Le Terrible, all make merry around a Piano, singing "Le Marseillaise." It's coffee the boys are drinking out of paper cups, not champagne." 1943. Source

Exuberant singing on V-J day, Borneo, 1945. Source


Anonymous said...

Why the (sic) at the picture of the sailors at the HMS Prinses Beatrix? It is a Dutch ship....

Anna said...

You're right that it is the correct Dutch spelling; I certainly didn't mean to imply the name is a typo itself! I included it simply to note the spelling isn't a transcription error, but perhaps I'll take it out.

I looked the ship up on Wikipedia as well-- it, of course, started life out as a Dutch ship in 1939, but became part of the British navy between 1940 and 1946 (the time of the picture), where it was known as the Princess Beatrix (English spelling). From 46 to 68 it returned to Dutch hands, and was again the Prinses Beatrix. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Princess_Beatrix]. I think I'll go and note that instead...

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