The Way We Were: War Concerts

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AN affliction of the modern age is that seemingly the talentless are being increasingly thrust upon us in the guise of ‘celebrities.’

Indeed, despite having allegedly penned hardly a word of ‘her’ tomes there’s supposedly some woman – and I kid you not – who’s acclaimed as a ‘best selling’ author.

Apparently the initial fame was based on a couple of rather prominent attributes, on which subject we’re now being pestered by some little chap who keeps popping up to try and optimistically rekindle a singing career.

That’s when not advising lesser mortals on how to achieve some ambition or other – presumably not a singing career.

But continuing this month’s theme of the First World War, in those days before radio and television it was usual to be able to play an instrument, or to sing without the need for electronic enhancement, and to lift the nation’s morale such talent was regularly showcased in local concerts.

In fact at Fenny Stratford many of these would feature the Wallsgrove Orchestra, founded by John Wallsgrove, who, as an accomplished flautist, had played in the orchestra of the Fenny Stratford Musical Society.

For his daily employment John was in business as a fully qualified pharmaceutical chemist with his uncle, Mr H. Hands, in Aylesbury Street, but in the evenings he and his orchestra would regularly play to raise local morale.

However, in March 1916 his own morale had to be sadly raised, following a letter from an officer of the 6th Battalion Oxon & Bucks Light Infantry, “Dear Mr Wallsgrove. I am sorry to have to tell you that your son was killed last night. He was on sentry duty and was hit through the head by a machine gun bullet...”

Yet throughout the country such news was a daily occurrence, and in the local district a welcome diversion would be provided by ‘The Giggles’ concert party which, as ‘a military combination of vocalists and musicians,’ was drawn from the wealth of amateur talent to be found amongst the contingent of Royal Engineers at Staple Hall Depot, Fenny Stratford.

Indeed, being in great demand they regularly brought mirth and merriment to many a local village and town, and at Newport Pagnell one Wednesday evening in February 1918 the Electric Theatre was crowded for their amusing entertainment.

The artistes included ‘Cherub’ (Lieutenant E.V. Appleton), ‘Horace’, a ‘piano and card manipulator,’ and ‘Whizzbang,’ alias Corporal Atkinson, ‘the not so famous baritone.’

The major portion of the programme was given in the guise of a pierrot troupe, consisting of concerted numbers, duets, humorous songs, stories and jokes, and for the rendition of his song ‘Kissing,’ Corporal Walmsley received a vociferous encore.

All the acts were enthusiastically received, and the entertainment concluded with the sketch ‘Plum and Apple,’ or ‘Does the Chewing Gum lose its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight.’

Depicting life behind the lines the plot dealt with the adventures of the three well known characters from the sketchbook of Captain Bairnsfather, and for the trench scene there were clever stage effects for machine gun fire and shell bursts.

During the concert Lieutenant A. Carpenter received special applause as ‘the world renowned tenor,’ but not to be forgotten was Lieutenant Woods, who, as ‘Blossom,’ ‘exuded a mixture of angelic sweetness and girlish grace.’

Much like those babes of more recent years the Bangles, who, may the gods be praised, are rumoured to be re-forming for some forthcoming events. Now there in every sense is some real talent, for whom – well at least in the hearts of some ageing males – a flame shall eternally burn!