Today is November 11th, Remembrance day a time to commemorate the sacrifices of people in all armed conflicts. It is also a time to say Thank You to the ones who are still living. Recently at the Toronto Maple Leafs game they had a remembrance day ceremony and had several military there. One of them was a woman by the name of Mary Prescott who had served with the Canadian Women’s Army Corp with the “Army Show” as a dancer and traveled to various places in Europe with the show. When I heard this, I instantly got to wonder exactly what the Army Show was and thought it would be a wonderful piece to share on this day.
Note: Pictures were almost impossible to find for this blog but I really wanted to share this story with you so I moved forward with limited images. The Canadian Archives though has some wonderful pictures that I have attached at this link for you to enjoy.
The Army Show
The Department of National Defense sanctioned a radio program with the help of the CBC called “The Canadian Army Radio Show” broadcasted from Dec 13th, 1942-September 1943. With its combination of music, comedy, skits it became widely successful and prompted the creation of a touring stage version. This idea behind the stage version was to entertain troops, promote recruitment by enhancing the army’s image, to increase the sale of war bonds, and to bolster civilian morale (Canadian encyclopedia).
Wayne and Shuster who wrote most of the material for the show
When it opened in April 2, 1943 most of the skits, lyrics and music were written once again by the comedy duo Wayne & Shuster and it also was a smashing success. Time magazine described it as a “high-spirited, always likeable, often lavish soldier show“. The show toured Canada that spring, visiting places like army camps and urban centers (Canadian encyclopedia).
While in Vancouver being refurbished for a project run on Broadway, the Department of National Defense, decided to split the troupe into 5 units to be sent overseas, two as musical revues and 3 as variety groups. Why? Morale was down in the military and the government knew that something like a musical revue would help change that AND they also saw the great success that the American USO had with their soldiers and wanted to replicate it with their own shows.
The 5 units reached England on Dec 21st, 1943 and there became part of the “Canadian Auxiliary Services Entertainment Unit” where they toured Britain and after the 1944 Allied invasion of Western Europe, at the front lines in Holland, France, Belgium and Germany (Canadian encyclopedia). The shows ended up having the effect that Department of Defense was looking for and one solider was even quoted to have said that it was like “mail from home”.
After the Allied victory in Europe, units entertained troops awaiting repatriation & serving as occupation forces. More than 20 entertainment units remained active until 1946 when all live entertainment in the Canadian Army were dispensed with.
Other Entertainment Units
As well as the Army Show there was also “The Royal Canadian Air Force Shows” and “The Royal Canadian Navy Show”, all with their own troops, singers, dancers touring to the respective bases and camps. The Navy show “Meet the Navy” was so widely popular that it even became a British Feature film.
If you would like to read more about the other troops and other exciting tidbits then check out this wonderful article entitled “It made them forget about the war for a minute” by Laurel Halladay that goes into much deeper information about all three of these entertainment units (and there is wonderful pictures that I cannot share on this blog).
I hope you enjoyed this mini little remembrance day history lesson. Troops like the ones mentioned above really were an integral part of the war effort and without them there is a possibility that the war could have gone very differently. It truly is amazing what a “piece of home” can do for one’s soul.