Music tells us stories as conflicts begin

The years 1939 & 1940 are difficult to really put together in our story.  Britain was at war – the USA stood out of it.  On 31st August in Britain many civilians were evacuated from London while, in the USA, Bing Crosby was the leading figure of the ‘Crooner’ sound and was on his way to becoming a superstar of the 1940s.

In the USA ‘charts in 1939 at number 5 we find Louis Armstrong with ‘When the Saints Go Marching Home’ .  Billie Holiday is at number 4 with ‘Strange Fruit’  while number 3 gives us – Kate Smith with ‘God Bless America’  Number 2 delivers – Glenn Miller with ‘Moonlight Serenade’  and number 1 gives us – Judy Garland with ‘Over the Rainbow’

In early 1939s Britain still had the Depression to concern large parts of the population but a new “high society” had a developing and golden age of culture dawning.  The cinema industry was booming, with many people attending more than once a week to seek escapism from their daily struggles.

The 1939 Academy Awards saw 10 films nominated for Best Picture, among them classics that are still highly regarded today, including Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Mr Chips and the winner Gone With the Wind.  Britain in 1939 also had their own popular music – but in no particular order – that contained:  ‘Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major’ by Art Noel & Don Pelosi; ‘On the Outside Always Looking In’ with words and music by Michael Carr who also wrote ‘Somewhere in France with You’‘South of the Border’ had words and music by Jimmy Kennedy & Michael Carr as had ‘We’re Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line’.   Two more numbers – ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘There’ll always be and England’  – with words by Hughie Charles & music by Ross Parker. 

To closed off this set let us have Gracie Fields, with Harry Parr Davies’s words and music, asking us all – and especially our fighting forces – to ‘Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodby’.

Before the conflict began Britain was importing about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries and a typical breakfast for a middle-class Brit consisted of porridge and milk or bacon and tomatoes. Lunch might be veal cutlets and boiled potatoes and, for dinner, a meal of creamed chicken and vegetables with baked rice pudding for dessert.  That food importation was halted in late 1939 when German submarines started attacking British supply ships. There was a worry that this would lead to shortages in food supplies, so in 1940, rationing was introduced. The Ministry of Food drafted in the original “celebrity chef” Marguerite Patten to devise lean wartime recipes, and radio shows such as the BBC’s Kitchen Front encouraged the nation’s housewives to wash – rather than peel – vegetables to increase their nutritional value and avoid unnecessary wastage.

It was on 7th May 1940 that the British House of Commons began a debate about the disastrous British campaign against the Germans in Norway. This turned into a vote of confidence in Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister. Although Chamberlain won the vote it was clear he had lost the confidence of his colleagues in the Conservative Party and the field became clear for Winston Churchill to take office. He took the post on 10th May 1940 – the same day that Germany invaded Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg!

It was on 7th December 1941 that Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and very shortly after that the United States entered World War II

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