ENTERTAINERS WOMEN OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The Andrews Sisters were an American close harmony singing group consisting of LaVerne, Maxine and Patricia who were brought up in Minneapolis. They started their career singing with various dance bands and touring in vaudeville. In 1937 radio broadcasts brought them national attention. During the Second World War they entertained Allied forces in America, Africa and Italy. They performed in munition factories, hospitals, Coast Guard bases as well as Army, Navy and Marine bases. They encouraged U.S. citizens to purchase war bonds and helped out at California’s Hollywood Canteen. The Hollywood Canteen was a welcome retreat for servicemen where the trio often performed, volunteering their time to sing and dance for the soldiers, sailors and marines They often did the same in New York’s Stage Door Canteen. They were dubbed as the “Sweethearts of the Armed Forces Radio Service” and possibly their most well-known song was “Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)”. Patty (Patricia) seceded to break away from the trio in 1951 and re-united in 1956 but by the Rock n Roll was the fashion and they soon faded from the limelight.
Marlene Dietrich was a German actress and singer who held both German and American citizenship. Until 1930, aged 29, she acted on stage and in silent films when she moved to the United States. She starred in numerous American films and was approached in 1938 by members of the Nazi Party to return to Germany. She refused the offer as in 1937 she had applied for U.S. citizenship and in 1939 she renounced her German Citizenship and became an American citizen. After America entered the war Marlene toured the U.S. to entertain the troops and sell war bonds. She performed foe allied troops in Algeria, Italy, Britain and France. One of her most famous songs was Lili “Marlene” which was a favourite of both sides of the conflict. For her wartime efforts she was awarded the American Medal of Freedom and the French Légion d’honneur.
Phyllis Dixey was an English entertainer who specialised in singing, dancing and recitals. She was 25 years old when the Second World War broke out and prior to the war she was a singer in variety shoes in Britain. During the war she joined Entertainments National Services Association (ENSA) and entertained the British forces. ENSA was affectionately known as “Every Night Something Awful”. She sang, recited and posed in naked shows for them, which proved to be very popular. In 1942 she formed her own company of girls and rented the Whitehall Theatre in London to put on s striptease review called the Whitehall Follies. She was known as the “Queen of Striptease”, for she considered her exotic shows were artistic. She stayed at the Whitehall for the next five years while providing the Peek-a-boo reviews. After the war her shows were not fashionable and she was forced to close down and leave the stage. She ended up bankrupt and died from cancer in 1964 aged 50.
Dame Gracie Fields, DBE, was an English actress, singer and comedienne and star of both cinema and music hall. Gracie was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for “services to entertainment” in 1938. Seven months before her death in 1978, she was invested a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II. During the 1930s she was involved with many charities but in 1939 she became seriously ill with cancer, from which she suffered a breakdown. Just prior to the start of the war she moved to Capri to recuperate. While she was recovering from her cancer surgery the Second World War began and she signed up to ENSA in order to entertain the troops. Gracie travelled to France where she performed her concerts, and visited America in order to advertise for war bonds in aid of the Navy League and Spitfire Fund. She occasionally returned to Britain in order to perform in factories and army camps around the country. Travelling as far as New Guinea she performed many times for Allied troops and in late 1945 she toured the South Pacific Islands. After the war she continued her career less actively and spent her latter years on the Isle of Capri Italy.
Dame Vera Lynn is widely known as “The Forces’ Sweetheart”. During the Second World War she toured Egypt, India and Burma as part of ENSA giving outdoor concerts for the troops. Vera was born on the 20th March 1917 and was already a star as a singer, songwriter and actress before the war. The songs most associated with her are We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and There’ll Always be an England. In 1941 Vera began her own radio programme where she sent messages to troops serving abroad and performed songs most requested by the soldiers. At the end of the war she continued her show-business career and also became involved with charity work. She was awarded the British War Medal 1939 – 1945 and the Burma Star. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1969 for services to the Royal Air force Association and other charities. In the 1975 Birthday Honours she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for charitable services. She has been awarded with many honours for services to entertainment and charity.
Edith Piaf was a French vocalist, songwriter, cabaret performer and film actress who was born in Paris in December 1915. During the German occupation she performed in a famous nightclub close to the Paris Gestapo headquarters. Deemed to be a traitor as German personnel attended some of her performances. Her name was cleared by André Brigard, a member of the resistance. She was instrumental in helping a number of prisoners to escape and it is reputed she performed several times at prisoner of war camps in Germany. In December 1944 she appeared on stage for the Allied forces in Marseille. She died aged 47 on the 10th October 1963 in the French Riviera and is buried in her hometown of Paris.
Anne Shelton OBE is remembered for her radio broadcasts and personal visits to military bases throughout Britain. Her radio programme “Calling Malta” was broadcast from 1942 to 1947 and she sang inspirational songs for all soldiers. Her radio programmes were primarily for troops overseas and her concerts were for troops stationed in Britain. She was invited in 1944 by American band leader Glen Miller to sing with him and his orchestra in his show in France. As she had a prior commitments she had to decline the offer. Sadly Glen Miller died when his plane disappeared on his way over to France. His orchestra was scheduled to follow on another flight. Anne was a popular English vocalist who was born in November 1923 and was singing on the radio by the age of 12 and had a recording contract by the age of 15. After the war she continued her singing career an in 1990 was awarded the OBE for her work with the “Not Forgotten Association”. She performed at charity and anniversary events until her death on the 31st July 1994.
Jo Stafford was an American solo singer who entertained soldiers stationed in the U.S. Her wistful singing voice reminded servicemen and women of the American home front. Affectionately known as “GI Jo”, she performed with the United Service Organisations (USO) during the course of the Second World War, but does not appear to have served overseas. However, her recordings were broadcast extensively on the American Forces radio and also in some military hospitals after lights-out. She continued with the USO when the Korean War was being fought. Jo was born in California in 1917 and was singing from an early age and progressed to become a popular solo singer. Her involvement with servicemen led to an interest in military history of which she acquired a sound knowledge. She went into semi-retirement in 1959 and finally retiring in 1975. She died aged 90 in July 2008.
ENTERTAINERS WOMEN OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR