Posts Tagged ‘WW2’

Two Perfect Women – the meeting of Prunella Stack and and Gertrud Scholtz-Klink in 1939

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink and Prunella Stack meet in March 1939

On March 7 1939, a few months before the beginning of the Second World War, and just nine days before Germany invaded Czechoslavakia, a German woman called Gertrud Scholtz-Klink arrived at Croydon Airport. Described by Hitler as ‘the perfect Nazi Woman’ she was met at the aeroplane by the wife of the German Ambassador Frau von Dirksen. A few hours later Scholtz-Klink was introduced to Lady Douglas-Hamilton, more well-known as Prunella Stack, who, as leader of the 200,000 strong Women’s League of Health and Beauty, was at the time one of the most famous women in Britain. Coincidentally the 25 year old Prunella Stack was also known as perfect and called ‘Britain’s Perfect Girl’.

They were both at a dinner at Claridges organised by the Anglo-German Fellowship who had invited Scoltz-Klink over to London, ostensibly, “to study the work done by and for English women” but in reality to publicise the connections and similarities between the two nations, despite an almost certain war approaching.

Lord Halifax, the Duke of Saxe Coburg Gotha, and Joachim von Ribbentrop at the Anglo-German dinner.

Lord Halifax, the Duke of Saxe Coburg Gotha, and Joachim von Ribbentrop at the Anglo-German dinner.

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, Himmler and Hess, three weeks before Gertrud travelled to London to be greeted by the Anglo-German Fellowship

The Anglo-German Fellowship, of which Prunella Stack’s husband Lord David Douglas-Hamilton and brother-in-law Douglas Douglas-Hamiton MP were both members, was an upper-class and it would be fair to say a predominately right-wing organisation. In fact many of the fellowship were almost unashamedly pro-Nazi and anti-semite.

It’s worth noting that this particular dinner was held five months after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when during the night of 10/11 November 1938 and with sickening violence, the Nazis burnt over 1000 synagogues and destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria. Ninety-one people were killed by the Stormtroopers and for the first time Jews were arrested on a massive scale and about 30,000 Jewish men were sent to the Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. The Times, the day after Kristallnacht, wrote:

No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.

Jews arrested during Kristallnacht line up for roll call at the Buchenwald concentration camp. November 1938

Jews arrested during Kristallnacht line up for roll call at the Buchenwald concentration camp, November 1938.

Nazi Rally with Gertrud Scholtz-Klink

Getrud Scholtz-Klink was the head of the National Socialist Women’s Union and in 1939 considered the most important woman in Germany. Her main task was to promote both male superiority and the importance of child-bearing to the 40 million women of which she was in charge. She once wrote:

The mission of woman is to minister, in the home and in her profession, to the needs of life from the first to last moment of man’s existence.

Considering she was a leading Nazi the Fellowship was utterly unembarrassed making sure Scholt-Klink was made particularly welcome. The day after she arrived she again met the 25 year old Prunella Stack who, with photographers present, was taking an evening class of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty at the League’s headquarters at the Mortimer Halls in Great Portland Street.

During the remainder of her three-day stay, the German woman leader visited the headquarters of the Mothercraft Training Society at Highgate, the Lapswood Training School for girls at Sydenham Hill and the South London Hospital for Women near Clapham Common.

Mother of six ,Gertrud Scholtz-Klink at a nursery in Kensal Rise

Gertrud and Prunella at a Women’s League of Health and Beauty 1939

Nine months before Gertrud Schlotz-Klink’s visit to London, during the summer of 1938, five thousand enthusiastic members of Prunella Stack’s Women’s League of Health and Beauty had performed in front of a huge crowd on the bright green grass of the fifteen year old Empire Stadium in Wembley. The finale of the ‘Empire Pageant’ was meant to feature an impressive Greek-influenced athletic dance with women in white tunics carrying swords, shields and javelins.

At one point during the Pageant’s Finale grecian-style chariots emerged from the Wembley tunnel drawn by horses that were meant to gallop around the cinder athletic track that surrounded the famous turf. Instead the horses charged across the pitch scattering performers in every direction completely upsetting the careful choreography of the event. Realising that flaming torches were involved, Mr Herbert, Wembley’s overweight manager, stood with arms outstretched shouting “For God’s sake, Ladies! For God sake, take care!”

Prunella Stack leader of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty rehearsing at Wembey Stadium

Women’s League of Health and Beauty rehearsals in 1937

Order was eventually restored and 24 year old Prunella Stack – the woman that the Daily Mail had only recently described as ‘the most physically perfect girl in the world’ – climbed to the top of a thirty feet high column and raised her burning torch high above her head.

On the pitch below, utterly in awe, the five thousand rank and file members of the League of Health and Beauty looked up at her and soon waves of applause that echoed around the twenty-five year-old stadium.

Prunella at rehearsals in Liverpool

Mary Bagot-Stack the founder of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty

The original Bagot-Stack Dancing Academy dancing at Clacton 1928. The dancers were apparently ‘in harmony with the rhythm of the wavelets lapping the sand and with the vibration of the sunlight on sea and shore. Every movement was an object lesson in the expression of the strength and health and passionate joyousness of pulsing natural life.” I totally agree.

The Women’s League of Health and Beauty had been started in 1930 by Prunella Stack’s mother – Mary Bagot-Stack – a First World War widow who believed, not unreasonably, that rigorous exercise would help get a nation fitter.

Mary once wrote how she would start each day at 6.45am:

I jumped out of bed, said my prayers, had a cold bath, opened my windows, stripped off my clothes, and set going on my gramophone the gayest jazz tune I could find, and I exercised around my bedroom in physical bliss.

She also wrote:

This ‘skin-airing’ should be practised daily with nothing on..I like the goal of beauty, and beauty is unself-conscious,“ she imagined a world where the women are so beautiful that they are an inspiration rather than a temptation – a joy to themselves and everyone else.

The League’s motto was Movement is Life and its aim was ‘Racial Health’. This didn’t mean, apparently, that they were concerned with racial purity or superiority, but with a harmony between ‘beauty and peace.’ Mary wrote:

Women are the natural Race Builders of the world.

The ‘classlessness’ of the League was stressed at all times and this was helped by members exercising in the same uniform of rather daring satin knickers and a sleeveless white blouse. Members were advised to shave under their arms, use a deodorant, and make sure they always had a clean handkerchief stuffed up their left knicker leg.

The WLHB led by 16 year old Prunella at their first open air demonstration at Hyde Park in 1930

The Women’s League Of Health And Beauty exercising during their second, much larger, exhibition at Hyde Park

To attract publicity the League quickly began to perform at public events and in 1935 two and a half thousand women performed at a huge event in the Grand Hall at Olympia in West London. It was less than a year after Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists had their infamous rally at the same location where the violent behaviour of the BUF stewards caused the Daily Mail to drop support of the party.

Prunella Stack 1933

Prunella at a rally in Hyde Park in 1935

In that same year, 1935, Mollie Bagot Stack died of cancer and her 20 year old daughter took over the organisation and within three years Prunella was leading the League’s biggest-ever exhibition at Wembley. The seventy-year old journalist and ex-editor of the Sunday Express, James Douglas was watching from the, then uncovered, stands. Douglas was famous at the time for his occasional idealised paeans to British womanhood but also for his moral stance on lesbianism. He was partly responsible for the banning of DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow and Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness about which he wrote: ‘I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel.’

At Wembley Stadium Douglas was almost overwhelmed by the sight of the healthy Miss Stack:

The queen of this wonderful spectacle was Miss Prunella Stack. Nothing more exquisite could be imagined than her beauty and her glamour – beyond the dreams of Hollywood.

If Douglas was impressed with the young leader another nameless journalist in the Daily Express writing on 1 April 1938 described the Women’s Health and Beauty dancers as ‘Stormtroops’ and Prunella Stack as – a radiant, strapping, 23-year-old Nordic, with excellent teeth” and captioned a photograph of her at Wembley – ‘Fuhrer Stack’.

The journalist also playfully wrote:

She studied new methods of physical training last year in Berlin and ‘she’s frightfully keen on anything German’ I was told.

Prunella Stack – “Nothing more exquisite could be imagined than her beauty and her glamour.” Or “Fuhrer Stack” which ever you prefer.

A worrying Government report in 1935 had estimated that over 90 per cent of boys between fourteen and eighteen years of age never engaged in any form of physical activity whatsoever and after a very disappointing performance in the Berlin Olympics a delegation from the Board of Education had gone to Germany to have a look at how physical education was being taught there.

The delegates particularly admired the ‘excellent work’ of the Kraft durch Freude (Strength Through Joy) movement. The KdF started in 1933 and was started with the aim of breaking down the class-divide by making middle-class pursuits available to the masses.

It provided affordable leisure activities such as concerts, plays, day-trips and holidays and for this large specially-built cruise ships such as the Wilhelm Gustloff (named after the assassinated Swiss Nazi leader whose wife was once Hitler’s secretary) were built.

Wilhelm Gustloff

The League of German Maidens

The League of German Maidens.

Bund Deutscher Madel or BDM was the girls’s wing of the Nazi Party youth movement.

What impressed the Board of Education delegates, however, was the provision of free or cheap physical education and gymnastic classes. After their trip the British delegation concluded that the KdF was:

Certainly the most agreeable and possibly the most instructive phenomenon of the Third Reich.

Following their return Neville Chamberlain, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

In the matter of attention to physical development we may surely learn something from others. Nothing made a stronger impression on visitors to the Olympic games in Germany this year than the splendid condition of German youth.

In 1937 Prunella had been invited to join the board of the National Fitness Council which had been put together to oversee the government’s Physical Training and Recreation Act, that was intended to transform the non-splendid condition of British youth and ‘to make Britain an A1 nation’. A ‘Keep Fit’ campaign was a low-key attempt by the Government to discreetly prepare for a war that they knew, even if the Anglo-German Fellowship hoped otherwise, was certainly approaching.

On the 15th October 1938 Prunella married a Scottish Laird, Lord David Douglas-Hamilton the youngest son of the 13th Duke of Hamilton. At their first meeting, at the opening of a swimming pool, he impressed her that he was keen to start a fitness summer school in the Highlands. As he said goodbye, he took her hand and examined her fingernails. “I’m glad you don’t paint them,” he said, “I hate artificiality.”

The Laird and the un-artificial Lady Douglas-Hamilton

Douglas Hamilton had German and Austrian friends (his best man was Prince Ernst August of Hanover) and before their wedding they went on  holiday just days after the 8th Army of the German Wehmacht had marched into the Austria to be greeted by cheering Austrians with cheers, Nazi flags and salutes. Prunella, in her auto-biography, described Bands of Hitler Youth marching through the streets shouting ‘Jeder Deutsche stimmt mit ‘ja’. Nur ein Schwein stimmt mit ‘Nein’. (Every German votes with ‘yes’. Only a swine votes with ‘no’.)

Prunella also visited Germany in the summer of 1938 after the League had been invited to participate that summer in a Physical Education Congress sponsored by Kraft durch Freude. It was reported in the British press that at one point she gave a Nazi salute. Prunella and the rest of the League women stayed on the Wilhelm Gustloff from which they watched mass demonstrations of German physical culture and folk-dancing.

The British Women’s League of Health and Beauty performed twice – “their neat black and white uniforms and slim figures contrasted with the generous build of the blonde German girls,” Prunella later wrote. On the ship she was introduced to the Reichsportsfuhrer, Herr von Tschammer und Osten, Dr Ley, the leader of Kraft durch Freude and even Himmler.

The Wilhelm Gustloff in Hamburg

A few months after the Anglo-German dinner at Claridges in September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and the Second World War began. The League’s impressive pre-war membership started to plummet when many of it’s women were called up or had no time for classes. Now pregnant, Prunella moved to Dorset while her husband, as all his brothers did, joined the RAF.

In May 1941 Rudolf Hess, the deputy Nazi leader, flew to Scotland in the supposed hope that he could broker an amazing diplomatic victory by securing peace between the Germany and Britain. After parachuting from his plane and captured by a local farmer Hess said he had come to meet the Duke of Hamilton whom, he insisted, he had met in Berlin in 1936. Indeed Douglas, Prunella Stack’s brother in law and who had only just become the Duke after his father had died, had been in Berlin during the summer Olympics as part of a multi-party parliamentary group.

While in Berlin Douglas-Hamilton met Hitler and Goring at a grand dinner hosted by Von Ribbentrop – the German ambassador to Britain. The Duke of Hamilton always said that he had never personally met Hess and indeed sued anyone who suggested otherwise.

Neville Henderson the British Ambassador to Germany watches the football match between England and Germany (who had just incorporated the useful Austria team) in Berlin in 1938. Behind him are Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess and von Tschammer und Osten. The England team, including Stanley Matthews, gave the Nazi salute but won handsomely 6-3.

On 30 January 1945 the Wilhelm Gustloff, by now a floating army barracks, was sunk in the Baltic sea by three Soviet torpedos. The former luxury cruise-liner was bringing back refugees, military personnel and Nazi officials from East Prussia after they were surrounded by the Red Army. It has been estimated that 9400 men, women and children died after the ship sank in just 45 minutes, making it the worst maritime disaster ever.

The previous year in 1944 Prunella’s husband Lord David Douglas Hamilton died after his Mosquito plane crashed with engine failure just short of the runway at RAF Benson. Like her mother, Prunella was widowed at the age of just thirty.

After the war she remarried and moved to South Africa with her second husband but returned for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 accompanied by a controversial (in South Africa) multi-racial group of League members. Three years later she returned to London with her two sons for good.

At end of the war, in the summer of 1945, Scholtz-Klink was briefly detained in a Soviet prisoner of war camp but quickly escaped. With her third husband, SS officer August Heissmeyer, she went into hiding but was caught three years later and imprisoned until 1953. She died in 1999 still an avid supporter of National Socialist ideology.

Scholtz-Klink an unashamed Nazi until the day she died

The Women’s League of Health and Beauty continues to this day although now with the more modern sounding name of the The Fitness League. Prunella died in December 2010 at the age of 96 outlasting by seven years the old Wembley Stadium where she had performed with her Women’s League of Health and Beauty so memorably sixty-five years before.


Marc Blitzstein, Roland Hayes and the ‘Negro Chorus’ at the Royal Albert Hall in 1943

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Black American soldier and girlfriend at the Bouillabaisse Club in Old Compton Street, 1943

According to Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, the cabinet meeting at Great George Street on 13th October 1942 was very disappointing:

Everyone spoke at once while PM read papers. Discussion was on a low level.

In fact the only contribution Churchill made during the whole meeting was to look up, after Viscount Cranborne, Secretary of State for the Colonies, had pointed out that one of his black Colonial Office staff had been excluded from a certain restaurant at the request of white American troops, and say:

That’s all right: if he takes his banjo with him they’ll think he’s one of the band.

Maybe not Churchill’s finest hour. The cabinet, with or without Churchill fully concentrating, agreed that it was important to respect how the US Army treated its black troops (they were completely segregated) and that it would be less problematic for all-concerned by concluding that:

It was desirable that the people of this country should avoid becoming too friendly with coloured American troops.

The war cabinet room at Great George Street. Protected by a five foot layer of solid concrete known as ‘the slab’. Now part of the Churchill War Rooms.

Less than a year later on September 28th 1943 the Daily Express, who had recently been running a pretty strong anti-segregation and anti-colour bar campaign, put on a show at the Royal Albert Hall that was for and on behalf of the visiting ‘coloured American troops’.

At the beginning of the evening and to the sound of rolling drums a single file of two hundred black soldiers from a segregated division of the American Air Forces’ Engineers marched onto the stage of the Royal Albert Hall on the evening of September 28th 1943. The nervous soldiers were joined on stage by Roland Hayes the renowned black lyric-tenor who had travelled to England specifically for the occasion.

Roland Hayes and the ‘Negro Chorus’ were at the prestigious venue for the debut of an orchestral work called ‘Morning Freedom’. The piece of music was described as a ‘tone poem’ set to traditional ‘negro spirituals and songs’ by its composer – the controversial communist and, as far as the mores of the day allowed, the pretty-well openly gay Corporal Marc Blitzstein.

The dapper Roland Hayes performing at the Royal Albert Hall, 28th September 1943

Corporal Marc Blitzstein the gay, communist American composer.

The two-hundred strong ‘negro chorus’ at the Royal Albert Hall.

The black serviceman choir was originally put together by Private McDaniel from Kansas City as a quartet to sing spirituals and hymns they would have sung at church back home. Slowly the singing group grew to the two hundred men that made up the chorus Blitzstein used for the Albert Hall concert. Private McDaniel explained to Life magazine about the soldiers’ love of spirituals:

Christianity means a lot to us dark boys. A man that can sing a good spiritual can always find his way into another boy’s heart.

members of the audience at the Albert Hall watching Blitzstein’s Morning Freedom

Roland Hayes, a son of two former slaves, was well known to British audiences of the time , although unlike his contemporary Paul Robeson, almost completely forgotten in Britain now. He had first came to London twenty three years ago. Hayes, born in Georgia, had been finding it next to impossible to find prestigious engagements in his homeland and decided to travel to Britain to further his career.

Incredibly within a year of arriving in London he was asked to give a private performance to George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace on St Georges Day 1921. When Hayes arrived at the Palace, it was said that King George told his attendants: “There will be no formalities today. I shall meet Mr. Hayes man to man.” The royal recital immediately gave Hayes international prestige and he toured Britain and Europe to great success.

Roland Hayes painted by Glyn Philpott, 1923

Hugo Weisgall conducting American tenor Roland Hayes and the London Symphony Orchestra

The (Manchester) Guardian wrote of him:

The only really good tenor who has come along lately is the Negro Roland Hayes. His voice is genuine, pure warm and rich, and his artistic instincts are of the finest.

When Hayes visited Berlin in September 1923 he found the appreciation slightly harder to come by. Time magazine that year wrote:

To Germans, black men are “colonials”; they encountered them in the French line during the War; more recently, in the Ruhr. Learning that a member of this unpopular race was to appear publicly in their midst, Berliners were indignant. Protests were made to the American Ambassador against the “impertinence” of permitting a Negro to be heard on the concert stage, against the lèst majesté of offering musically scrupulous Berlin the tunes of the Georgia cotton-pickers.

Not entirely surprisingly, when Hayes appeared on stage, the audience started booing and hissing almost immediately. Hearing the noise the apprehensive singer suddenly decided to change his rehearsed programme and started the evening singing Schubert’s Du Bist Die Ruh. It was a German favourite and the crowd quietened almost immediately but by the end of the song, the audience, throwing their prejudice aside, were on their feet cheering and applauding the black American singer.

Roland Hayes at the Royal Albert Hall, 1943

Exactly twenty years later the British had started to bomb Berlin seemingly on a nightly basis in the hope of breaking the city’s morale. The tide in the war had changed and American soldiers were arriving in Britain in greater and greater numbers, including approximately 130,000 segregated black Americans. In 1943 the entire indigenous black population of Britain was around only a tenth of that number.

I am fully conscious that a difficult social problem might be created if there were a substantial number of sex relations between white women and coloured troops and the procreation of half-caste children.” Herbert Morrison (the Home Secretary) in a memorandum for the cabinet, 1942.

The arrival of the black American troops caused disquiet in both the US and UK governments ostensibly because of the fear of racial mixing and miscegenation. Sir Percy James Grigg, the Secretary of State for War, advised in a circular that he intended to be sent to all senior officers in the British Army:

It is necessary for British men and women…to take account of the attitude of white American citizens. British soldiers and auxiliaries should try to understand the American attitude to the relationships of white and coloured people and that difficult problems do arise when people of different races live together.

Sir PJ, as he was known, betrayed a rather hideously ignorant and patronising attitude to black Americans in his circular. ‘Mutual esteem’ indeed.

Tom Driberg, then an Independent M.P., asked the Prime Minister in Parliament to “make friendly representations to the American military authorities asking them to instruct their men that the colour bar is not a custom of this country.” Time magazine in the US reported that Driberg’s question ‘peeled the blanket of official silence off a complex and dangerous problem’. The magazine quoted eyewitness stories such as:

A pub keeper, indignant at American whites’ behavior toward Negroes, put up a sign on his bar door:

For the use of the British and of colored Americans only.

Three Negroes on a bus leaped to their feet when a white officer boarded it. Said the girl conductor, tartly:

Sit down. This is my bus and this is England.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill thought Driberg’s question was unfortunate and

…that without any action on my part the points of view of all concerned will be mutually understood and respected.

‘Understood’ and ‘respected’ weren’t probably the first words that came to mind for a lot of people when the US military issued an horrific memorandum of advice, albeit hurriedly withdrawn, for its commanders:

Colored soldiers are akin to well-meaning but irresponsible children. Generally they cannot be trusted to tell the truth or to act on their own initiative except in certain individual cases. The colored individual likes to ‘doll up’, strut, brag and show off. He likes to be distinctive and stand out from the others.

At a cabinet meeting it was agreed that the UK should not object to the Americans segregating their troops, but they must not expect the UK authorities to assist them with this policy. “It should be made clear to the US that there should be no restrictions on the use of canteens, cinemas, pubs and theatres by ‘coloured’ troops”.

Black American GI dancing at the Bouillabaise club in Soho, 1943

“The morale of British troops is likely to be upset by rumours that their wives and daughters are being debauched by American coloured troops”. Herbert Morrison, reporting to the cabinet, 1942.

“There are some white women in this country who feel that American coloured troops are particularly attractive and who run after them, that is a difficulty which will not be cured by keeping American coloured troops out of canteens or clubs at all”. Memorandum from Viscount Simon, Lord Chancellor, 1942.

“For a white woman to go about in the company of a Negro American is likely to lead controversy and ill-feeling, it may also be misunderstood by the Negro troops themselves”. Memorandum from Stafford Cripps, the Lord Privy Seal, 1942.

In reality this just wasn’t the case, for instance in 1944 American world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis was in Britain on a morale boosting tour. He decided to watch a film but when he entered the cinema, he was told by the manager that there was a special section in the cinema which was reserved for black troops. Louis recalled:

Shit! This wasn’t America, this was England. The theatre manager knew who I was and apologized all over the place. Said he had instructions from the Army. So I called my friend Lieutenant General John Lee and told them they had no business messing up another country’s customs with American Jim Crow.

Marc Blitzstein, determined to do his bit in the fight against fascism, joined the US 8th Army Air Force after the USSR entered the war. Stationed in London he was also the music director of the American Broadcasting Station (eventually to become ABC) and continued to compose.

Before the war he had written a musical that had made his name – The Cradle Will Rock. The show was about striking steel-workers and produced by the young Orson Welles (the success of the productions inspired him to start the Mercury Theatre).

Marc Blitzstein with Leonard Bernstein at the piano in 1943

Now Blitzstein was in London he became incensed about the blatant oppression and segregation of the second-class soldiers that made up the so-called ‘colored units’. Black soldiers, whatever their rank, were always seen as subservient to white officers. The segregation of the black soldiers inspired the composer to write Morning Freedom and he dedicated it to their struggle.

The ‘Negro Chorus’ performing ‘Morning Freedom’.

Roland Hayes

At the Royal Albert Hall Morning Freedom was performed for the first time. McDaniel’s chorus was accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sergeant Hugo Weisgall. The choir with the help of Roland Hayes also sang Blitzstein-arranged spirituals such as Go Down Moses and In the Sweet By and By. They also sang Ballad for Americans a political song made famous by Paul Robeson.

At the end of the concert the audience of over five thousand stood up and ‘enthusiastically acclaimed’ the performance. The Evening Standard wrote:

The most remarkable ceremony I have ever attended in that famous meeting place. The audience was in ecstasy…it was impossible to believe that the chorus had not sung together before in public

The Times was equally as effusive:

without parallel in the long and varied sequence of events that have taken place within its encircling walls.

Marc Blitzstein carried on composing after the war but in terms of commercial and popular success it was Blitzstein’s 1954 adaptation and translation of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera that made the greatest impact. Incidentally, due presumably to the lack of threepenny bits in America, Blitzstein had toyed with calling the musical ‘The Two-Bit Opera’ or the ‘Shoestring Opera’.

The production, featuring Weill’s widow Lotte Lenya recreating her original role, albeit this time in English, enjoyed one of the longest runs in New York’s theatre history. By the end of the decade Blitzstein’s version of Mack the Knife became a huge hit for several singers including, of course, Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

In 1958, Blitzstein appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities where he admitted his membership of the Communist Party although he had left in 1949. However he refused to name names or co-operated any further.

In January 1964, holidaying in Martinique, and after a session of heavy drinking, Blitzstein picked up three Portuguese sailors. Pretending to initially respond to his sexual advances they eventually robbed him, beat him and stripped him of all his clothes. The injuries didn’t seem serious at first but he died the next day of internal bleeding on January 22nd 1964.

American serviceman were paid up to five times the amount their British equivalent earned.

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981. It at last integrated the military and ensured the equality of treatment and opportunity for black soldiers. It also made it illegal in military law to make a racist remark. Unsurprisingly the American army dragged its feet and the proper desegregation of the military was not complete for several years and in fact persisted during the Korean War. The last all-black unit in the US Army wasn’t disbanded until 1954.

American public information film called ‘Know Your Ally – Britain’. Apparently the island is as crowded as a sardine tin.

Nat ‘King’ Cole – In the Sweet By and By

Roland Hayes – Du Bist die Ruh

Paul Robeson – Ballad for Americans

Roland Hayes – He Never Said a Mumberlin’ Word