Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Garrison Theatres.

Has any one got memories pleasant or otherwise of the good old Garrison Theatre.
Every Garrison had one, they were used for Dancing, Shows with either travelling players, or amateur shows put on by the men of the garrison.
Often as places for the unit to be lectured or briefed on some move or manoeuvre.
My memories are mainly the once a week dance at most of them but I also saw and helped one very good amateur show and a classical pianist who played a concert for us.
See Comment.


Blogger Frank Mee said...

The classical Pianist arrived at the Officers mess where I was introduced to him as guide and helper.
The S/Major had selected me with the usual, Mee you can play piano so go and move one, report to the entertasinments Officer.
I was told to assist the Pianist who was to play for us that night, in any way possible. This by the way was 09:00 hours on the morning of the concert which at first surprised me. I had this picture in my head of those Artistes rising some time after the sun was over the Yardarm.
A grand Piano had been taken from storage and put on the stage of the garrison theatre.
The Pianist ran his fingers over it then took quite a while to tune it himself, he did this twice more once just before the concert.
He was a very pleasant chap telling me what he would play, asking if I knew the pieces and could I play them.
Yes I knew the pieces no I was not going to show myself up in front of a real pianist.
He laid out all the music showing me the order he wanted it up on the piano and checking I could follow him well enough to move the sheets.
He then started to practice. Over and over the same piece then move on to another. I thought it perfect but to him it was not.
We broke for lunch I took him to the Officers mess and as a reward I got a meal in a side room with an ATS cook making sure the young lad got well and truly fed.
Back to the theatre and hours more practice, I am sure I could have played those pieces by ear at the end of his practice.
I took him back to the mess and another meal in the side room then was told to be in the theatre a half hour before the concert.
When the announcement was made and the curtains opened he was standing by the piano in his Tuxedo bowing to the applause whilst I was sitting on a seat in my best bib and tucker back and to the side of the piano stool with all the music on small table, the first piece was on the piano ready to play. The theatre was packed out.
He played with a short break for nearly two hours all from memory with me turning the music. I am sure he never once glanced at it but I was on all nerves in case I got it wrong with all those red tabs watching me from the front row.
You could have heard a penny drop anywhere in the theatre and the aplause was thunderous.
At the end of the show he thanked me and gave me a pound, big money to a young sqaddy but he had given me a behind the scenes view of how those artists worked and hours of wonderful music.
Needless to say it was some while before I cranked out Lilly Marlene on the Naafi piano after that.

Tuesday, 22 August, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Apparently there was a theatre at Streatlam Camp of Barnard Castle, this was according to a cimema projectionist who ran the films on a nightly basis - this had to be after my time as the only place we had for dances was the Gymnasium - the last thing we would have had was a classical pianist or even a fourth rated Ensa party, it was all work and the only concession was the friday night dance with SSM Bob Christie of the Horse Guards quaffing beer and keeping an eye on us.

Wednesday, 23 August, 2006  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...

Garrison Theatres?

Back to my Album & Diaries and I see that I had this to say about our month at Ulm in Germany in 1945.

The canteen at the camp had a film projector and nightly shows were given for those in transit. Because we had a different audience every night, it must have occurred to someone that it was not necessary to change the film, and therefore the whole month that we were in Ulm the film was always "Cover Girl" with Betty Grable. As the town itself was off-limits to the camp staff, we would invariably find ourselves watching the film and consequently we knew all the script and the dance routines backwards! For months afterwards some of the lads would break into one of the complicated song and dance routines. One favourite lyric was "Who's complaining, I'm not complaining, together we'll see this thing through, Because of Axis trickery my coffee's now all chicory, and I can hardly purloin a sirloin."

Ah me.... we were so young then !

Wednesday, 23 August, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Ron - know the feeling as we had to struggle through seven showings of "Mutiny on the Bounty" until we nearly mutinied ourselves - that film followed us all through Africa and Italy - with one exception - it was a mystery with Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton where he was her favourite uncle who turned out to be a murderer.
The denouement was in a newpaper cutting which gave the game away - but we could not see the cutting in the English version as it was blacked out.

We finally did see the cutting after about the fourth showing - but is was in Italian !!! What a let down - I still don't know what it was all about !

Wednesday, 23 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

I landed at Bordon in Hampshire after wandering from Brancepeth through Saighton Camp Chester then Bridgend in South Wales where it seemed nobody wanted an ex infantry man who was so dejected at leaving a Regiment to join a "Corpse" and we all knew what they were.
Martinique Barracks was my final destination in what had been the Canadian HQ Garrison through the war hence all the Barracks having Canadian names.
I had arrived at Bentley station from London and was put on the Bordon Bullet a two carriage steam train that ran on a single line into the Garrison. It was all woods and heath so I was even more depressed thinking it the back of beyond.
Dropped at the gate of Martinique I was greeted by a Sergeant saying "come on lad, I will take you to the office" he then picked up my kitbag and said follow me please. I was standing there with open mouth wondering why a Sergeant would carry my bags and say please without shouting at me. So I was introduced to the REME way of doing things.
The training company was something else, two parades a day to march to the workshops, no drill no bull and no duties apart from Fire picquet. As the fire station was two hundred yards down the road from us we were told "in case of fire report to the gate and leave it to the professionals".
In the class room I had noticed the lads were making what looked like scenery rather than doing trade tests.
On asking what was going on I was asked what I did? "Err" such as? well did I sing dance do tricks tell jokes? "Err" well not since I sang Ombre Mai Fu solo before my voice broke. Which is how I bacame scene shifter dresser chorus line in the garrison show.
We sorted out the stage whilst the practice runs went on and there were some brilliant acts among those lads. They were from all the units around Bordon with many wartime men, old hands at this sort of thing.
We had Joseph Locke, Anne Sherridan, the Andrew Sisters (three officers dressed in drag. Why was that always the officers I ask). These were lads and lasses who could really take off the names they were playing especially Joseph Locke.
There was a sketch were an Officer in German kit sang lilly Marlene in German to a very obvious tart. Three stalwart Brits in KDs with rifle and bayonet chased him away the tart became an English rose and we the chorus sang a lusty Lilly Marlene. Even the brigadier was cheering.
Over the garden wall was another sketch with a short section of ITMA. A lady sang a couple of operatic aria's very well indeed.
One sketch was a covered wagon with a cardboard horse and two chaps with Banjo's singing as they supposedly rode the trail.
The horse fell over the first night and some wag shouted, "Ok oo shot the bloody oss when it should have been the singers" they kept that in the other two nights we were on.
We had Marlene Dietrich another Officer dressed in drag, again some wag shouted out "Cor look at that I could give her something to take home to mother" we all fell about back stage as he had not twigged that was for sure.
The show ran on with many sketches and performers then back to Joseph Locke, March of the Grenadiers and Good By from White Horse Inn with us lusty chorus lads almost drowning him out.
The hall was full for three nights it ran and I must admit I enjoyed it all especially having to dress those officers in drag, they certainly loved the make up.
I saw though never had any part of other shows in the Middle East but they eventually died out like the theatre's in the fifty's.
Those Garrison Theatre's must have raised the lads morale in wartime and would bet the home grown shows were the most fun to watch.

Wednesday, 23 August, 2006  
Blogger Ron Goldstein said...


You really musn't get me started on these memories and yes...I know I've already told this story on the BBC WW2 Archives but I couldn't resist telling it again..so there!

It concerns a young Lt.Whitfield.

The campaign in Sicily had been sucessfully concluded and we were waiting for our next move, the invasion of Italy.

Someone at Regimental level had decided that the Batteries should put on their own concert parties to 'entertain the troops' and young Lt.Whitfield had drawn the short straw, he was now 84 Battery Entertainments Officer.

In a moment of madness I had volunteered to play on a battered 'joanna' and other fools had likewise offered to sing, tell jokes or tell monologues but all this was not enough for Lt.Whitfield who obviously considered that this was his moment for show business glory.

“What we are going to do” he proudly told us ('us' being his not over-enthusiastic band of volunteers and pressed men) “is to finish the first half of the show with every one on stage singing “Come landlord fill the flowing bowl until it doth run over”.

“The clever part” he confidently continued “is that whilst this is all going on, we will have other chaps coming down the aisles dishing out mugs of vino, which I will organise”.

Came the night, the show went like a dream and we duly sang ‘Come landlord fill the flowing bowl’ as though we meant it.

Bang on cue, the mugs of vino were brought down the aisles to rapturous applause.

One slight hitch… the vino was in such quantities that we never got to start the second half of the show but dear Lt.Whitfield has gone down into Army folk lore history,mine anyway!

Thursday, 24 August, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Whilst in Africa awaiting the move to Italy - we had lots of time to have squadron concerts and as I had no talents whatsoever - I was never called upon in the entertainment field.
We had two Yorkshiremen who revelled in these concerts and were constantly on stage with a Gert and Daisy type of song and dance routine. This was always received well by many visitors and were the recipients of many plaudits from our C.O. They were an odd couple as Briggs was about 4'10" and Thirkill was way over six feet high.
They failed to show for one concert and the whole squadron was concerned as a whole posse of REDHATS had taken them off to Phillipville for questioning. The charge - impersonating Police in visiting various brothels threatening to close them down unless they had some favours.
They were back in time to make the move to Italy, we never had another concert !

Thursday, 24 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Ron Tom,
Do not worry about repeating yourselves just keep those stories coming, they are priceless.
Our show did not have the Vino but to see a couple of Brigadiers cheering and singing along was also priceless.
The Bordon Garrison Theatre never showed films as we had a flea pit just down the road with the usual twice a week change of film.
Bordon was REME, Artillery, Engineers and ATS so there was always something going on.
Other units put on shows in the Theatre we of course did not have far to walk to see them and they were always a good laugh.
The talent among the men and women of the Garrison was unbelievable, they would have held their own among some of the so called talent on TV today.

Thursday, 24 August, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

When I say that we never had another concert - I really mean one whih we had all by ourselves as we had Ensa looking after us in Italy.
There were three memorable affairs which still stand out to-day.
Just after we landed at Naples we were soon transferred to a camp at Casorio near Caserta and one of the first things was a Concert by a well known Italian Opera singer - this turned out to be Beniamino Gigli and we had a wonderful two hour concert listening to many Operatic arias and the Neapolitan range of many songs which were wellknown to our audience The piano was played by Gigli's daughter and I think her name was Gina, it was a wonderful evening.
The next occasion was a vist by two Britsh Champion Table tennis players both called Richard - one was Brooks and the other escapes me at this time. They gave us an unbelievable demonstration of their sport and thenchallenged all comers which raised the roof.

The last one was in Hospital at Ancona when Patricia Burke and her pianist Jimmy Brown came to entertain us. One of the chapshad just arrived with his two legs blown off with a mine and was ina bad way - there must have been 0ver 200 of us crowded into the ward but for the whole two hours Patricia Burke sat on this chaps bed singing directly to him.
The main songwhich sticksin my mind was "you'd be so nice to come home to'
It was a fantastic event!

Thursday, 24 August, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

I don't think I've ever lived. I must have left a sheltered life!

I do however remember the Joseph Cotton film, although I forget its title for the moment. I think that was the one where he was one of two suspects believed to be using his charms on rich widows, then killing them and running off with the money. They played 'The Merry Widow Waltz' throughout the film.

After it was proven to be 'other' suspect, his niece found out it was him after all, and he then died falling off a train. If I remember rightly, it then transpired he's been a sweet little lad who'd had a bang on the head that had altered his personality.

Perhaps I didn't have a sheltered childhood after all with that grizzly tale. Still, you all seem to have done well with the entertainment!

Thursday, 24 August, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

joe - you got the right movie as I think it was call a Shadow... of something - the denouement was in the newspaper cutting and Teresa Wright went all to pieces after she read it -
We were always well entertained in Italy - between battles that is - as I recall a time when we were sleeping in a bombed out building and being wakened by the Guards Band playing a stirring march - we couldn't figure this out as were were very close to the fighting and so looking out where the windows should have been - to find the local town band strolling along in some procession or other.Their tempo was absolutely Guards like but they were strolling along !!!
There was always music and song everywhere it Italy.

Friday, 25 August, 2006  
Blogger Peter G said...

Gentlemen, gentlemen,

You really must use the Internet, think of it as a vast encyclopedia.

You gave some good clues: Joseph Cotton, Teresa Wright, Shadow of something .... Click on those three links, then have a shot at this one. :)

Friday, 25 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

Dear Peter,
We all outranked you so we delegate, much easier for us, why have a dog and bark yourself.
You made one big mistake by making yourself indispensable.
Never say you can play the piano you end up moving dozens.
Well done lad.

Friday, 25 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

You will never understand the way we all lived. It was a time of ever open doors.
We had school concerts and sometimes I suppose you could call it street theatre on the village green.
The church and Sunday school had shows, the Scouts which I was in also had shows. We were lucky in having a new school with a theatre which we all used.
I had five years as an army cadet, we had a couple of concerts a year as well as monthly dances.
Our family sunday nights in winter often had us all doing our party pieces when visitors came which with our lot was often.
I think we got used to standing up and taking part without being embarrassed.
It was a different world to the one you were brought up in. No TV or computers to take us away from home made fun, our life was outside the house which was for sleeping and eating even in winter.
There were plenty of Cinema's and two Playhouses where we saw live shows which changed every week. Dad took me as he loved it so I saw many of the music hall artists of the day.
We could all take off our favourite artiste's but how would you take off the groups or Rap people of today and why I ask??
Taking part in Shows was built in to our Psyche, if I was asked to play piano I did not play the blushing fairy, you said "on your own head be it" and played. I should say every one sang in the key of "C" well they did when I played.
I once had a girl say say can you play it in "E"? yes, she promptly started to sing in "C" so a rapid move of the fingers and she never even saw the join.
I often think of what we have lost but then again would it have been woth saving in such a different time as we have now.
The lads in the Deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan have mobile phones Ipods and Mini TV.
We in our off time would pull out the Mouthorgans play and sing to the black night, wrapped up against the cold.
In the base we got travelling shows, we still called them ENSA but they may have had a name change by then.
The lads put on shows much like the one I descibed and we always packed the theatre, there was nothing else to do apart from swilling Stella beer down our necks in the Naafi.
We have been to the school shows in which my Grandchildren took part. Believe me those shows we once did are not dead yet.
We went to see the show put on at my five year old grandsons school. It was slick well rehearsed and the boys and girls really put their heart and souls into the show.
The school covers nursary to middle school age some of the older singers were brilliant.
There is hope yet Joseph.

Friday, 25 August, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank - as always - words of wisdom regarding the street concert parties etc as there was no money around in Scotland to venture into the various concert halls - how they managed to survive
is one of those mysteries.
At school we had a visit from the Scottish Symphony Orchestra every year and was a highlight of the times.
Your comment regarding the troops to-day having mini TV's and Ipods etc is also true.
There are great lamentations over here as we have now had 27 killed in Afghanistan - but with aclose study of the incidents it would appear that almost 50% of these deaths have been caused by traffic accidents - similar to those we have every week-end - it cannot be said that it is alcohol based - but now a few facts are showing up that MOST of the trucks in the Canadian sector are driven in the centre of the roads - sort of like "tearing along the dotted line" so therefore it is not too surprising that accidents are happening - particularly if everyone is listening to the latest rap cacophany.
I often wonder about the quality of driving instruction over here
as we could use a few BSM instructors.
Recently in Vancouver a Chinese woman was pulled over for making an illegal left turn - she handed the policeman a licence with a picture of a man inprinted - she then explained that it was "the family licence"
How do you fix that ???

Friday, 25 August, 2006  
Blogger Frank Mee said...

You are right Tom, we had the same problems wish unskilled drivers in right hand drive vehicles driving on the right in Egypt. We lost quite a few that way.
On an SDS run one night, (armed to the teeth stop for nothing) we met an Egyptian motor bike, (a big truckj with only one head light) driving smack down the middle of the road. We came out of it bruised but unhurt. When the dust settled I went looking for the truck which had vanished. It had shot off the road into a Wadi and must have been filled with workmen as there were bodies all over the bottom of the Wadi.
The MP's arrived in minutes, they must have been patrolling the road.
They refused to let us help the injured, it seems the army would have been responsible once we helped. Some of those bodies were still there a couple of days later, cruel world even then.
Young inexperienced drivers in strange places where Kamikazy drivers are the norm do not stand much chance.

The visits to the Hippodrome with Dad began in the last year of peace and during the war, more money about then Tom.
Those places always seemed to be full as were the Cinema's and dance halls.
People needed relief from the constant worry of bad news we had those first two years. They also worked long hours some in boring jobs they needed a night away from it all and those places let you think things were normal.
Those Garrison Theatres must have been the only relief for troops in garrisons far from towns. They must have played a role in keeping up the spirits but there is not a lot of information about them.

Friday, 25 August, 2006  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

So there is still hope for 'Variety Entertainment' from the younger members of the Mee family! A few times near where I live they have have had wartime singing or dancing theme shows and they are popular with younger folk as well as their grandparents or great-grandparents. By 'younger' I mean anything from Under 16 to 30, not just the 40-somethings or 50-somethings! So, it would still go down well if it was given the chance.

My Great Aunt Sarah Jane Tyrer used to take in 'theatrical' lodgers. A lot of them entertained the Forces at other times. People like Tommy Cooper, Harry Secombe, Frankie Vaughan were big stars of stage and screen. So if you got to see these acts for free while in the Forces you were not doing too badly.

My Great Aunt and some other relatives got to know some of these theatricals really well. She gave me a cane that had originally belonged to a singer called Frankie Vaughan. He later went on to appear in a Hollywood film with the French enetrtainer Yves Montand and the American singer / actress Marilyn Monroe. I think he started singing in the synagogue choir, but really got started in the war years when he was evacuated to the Lancaster area. He must have stayed with my Great Aunt in the late 1940s when she was still in Preston. I'm sure I was told he entertained troops on some occasions.

Saturday, 26 August, 2006  

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