Musical Memories of WWII

A Crown & Country Radio exclusive programme presented daily at 0400h and 1300h British Standard Time (BST).

Musical Memories of WWII is a special programme dedicated to the musical sounds of yesteryear and created in honour of the men and women who gave so much of themselves during the war years. This feature programme is presented by Thomas Mace-Archer-Mills who takes a deep look into the meaning behind many of the songs from the late 1930’s and 1940’s.  With songs from Dame Vera Lynn, Glenn Miller, The Andrew Sisters, and may other greats, this show will certainly not disappoint.

What is remarkable about the efforts in the UK and the USA during World War II is the degree to which the desires of most people were in line with that of the leaders. This meant the American and British government could count on popular music reflecting much of the same war aims that the government wanted. The people of America wanted a quick final victory over the Axis without compromise and the songs about a world after the war at peace with the boys coming home not only meet the personal desires of people but also reflected the goals of US government. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had always been motivated for a quick end to the war. This unity of private and state desire likely gave the UK and the USA a degree of energy that allowed the nations to accomplish a great deal more at less human cost than the other major powers in the war. The mass suffering at the hands of the governments was not necessary as it was in Germany.

Before the war, BBC Radio had had quite an elitist approach to popular music. Jazz, swing or big band music for dancing was relegated to a few late night spots. During the war, the BBC was obliged to adapt, if only because British soldiers were listening to German radio stations to hear their dance music favourites. This adaptation was not without conflict. The BBC establishment reluctantly increased the amount of dance music played, but censorship was severe. The American hit “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” for example was censored because of its almost blasphemous mix of religious words and a foxtrot melody. BBC heads were also worried about American-style crooners undermining the virility of British men. The BBC establishment tried hard to stick to the jaunty tone which they felt had helped to win the first world war – so George Formby and Gracie Fields were very much played on the radio. Indeed, these two stars were undoubtedly more heroes to working-class people in Britain than was Sir Winston Churchill, since they were seen to “come from the ordinary people.”

The United States did not need a forward Propaganda Minister; it could count on big bands producing music that reflected the government’s primary interests because those were the interests of the population. Britain did have a mass media which played popular music, much enjoyed by the Germans stationed in France and the Low Countries or flying over Britain. The most famous single performer was Vera Lynn who became known as “the forces’ sweetheart”.