Wednesday, March 29, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Hayloft Patriotism and the National Barn Dance

     Sometimes as a historian you find yourself researching topics that are both very random and very specific, and that don’t always relate to your actual area of study. This is otherwise known as term paper season, which is upon us right now here at UOttawa! This will be my last one as an undergrad so I’m trying to make the most of it, expand my horizons, and even take advantage of some new digital opportunities to present research rather than the traditional twenty-page paper. My research for my course on the history of American TV and radio turned up a really interesting chapter that I wanted to share with you this week!

            The National Barn Dance radio program got its start through a station called WLS in Chicago, which was famous for its agricultural news, service to Midwest farmers, and broad range of entertainment suited to their tastes. Their Saturday night programming ran from 7PM until midnight and included the Barn Dance, which was the crème de la crème of their shows and began airing in 1924. The program featured live performances which were recorded over the radio, much the same as the similar Grand Ole Opry. At the time of the outbreak of WWII in 1939, it was heard on sixty-seven NBC stations across America and had a cast of over a hundred performers, who were referred to as the Hayloft Gang.
Some of the Hayloft Gang in 1934, including Gene Autry (left with the ten gallon hat), Radio Timeline
            Immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, WLS officials began mobilizing the station’s lineup of Barn Dance talent in support of the war effort. Management allotted the Chicago Defense Committee five hundred seats in the Chicago theatre which had been home to the show since 1932, for the use of soldiers and sailors wishing to attend December 20 and 27 performances.

            Throughout the war years, the NBC segment of the National Barn Dance often featured some patriotic theme. The January 24, 1942 program, for example, had the Hayloft Gang present a musical salute to the nations allied with the United States. The theme for the May 16, 1942 broadcast was a “Red, White, and Blue” party in honour of “I Am an American Day.” The December 5, 1942 program was devoted to recognition of the first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and all the musical numbers were war-related. These included a square dance number called “Soldier’s Joy” and a banjo rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

            National Barn Dance shows also became staple attractions of the United Service Organizations for National Defense, Inc. (known as the USO), which was established in 1941 for the purpose of providing social, welfare, and recreational services for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. National Barn Dance entertainers formed various branches which travelled separately across America to entertain the troops, and some even performed in Europe. Their impressive record of performances helped to bolster the morale of thousands of appreciative fans on behalf of the USO, and also helped to popularize country music in general.

            WWII was financed partly through the sale of war bonds and war stamps, and between September 1942 and the end of the war in 1945, the United States conducted seven nationwide war bond drives. Along with numerous other organizations, celebrities, and businesses, the National Barn Dance did its part to participate in those drives. For example, admission to some shows would require the purchase of a war bond. Individual performers and small groups of Barn Dance acts would also sell bonds at their personal appearances. Then, in August 1942, WLS announced that it would begin selling war bonds over the air, so that “You farm folks won’t have to take time away from the task at hand for a trip to the local War Bond headquarters to purchase your share.” All listeners had to do was send their money by mail to WLS.

            The National Barn Dance also responded to the call for the collection of scrap materials to be used in the war effort. Across the Midwest, WLS listeners exchanged scrap metal, rubber, and paper for tickets to see their favourite Barn Dance performances. In Normal, Illinois, for example, the price of admission to a Barn Dance show in the summer of 1942 was 100 pounds or more of scrap metal or 50 pounds or more of rubber, and competitions were held to encourage more salvaging. By August 1944, the National Barn Dance had aided in the collection of over three million pounds of scrap metal, rubber, and wastepaper, and WLS became the first, and at that time, only radio station to receive a U.S. War Production Board Citation for salvage collection.

            Finally, the National Barn Dance also played an important role in what was probably the war’s most popular home front initiative: the planting of Victory Gardens. In 1943, some forty-five WLS employees, including a number of Barn Dance performers, started operating a Victory Garden on a five-acre farm in suburban Chicago. Since most of the performers had grown up on farms, they excelled at the initiative both in reality and in its advertisement onstage. The theme of the April 15, 1944 show was “Victory Gardens,” and the cast, carrying rakes, hoes, shovels, and other tools, assembled onstage wearing overalls, straw hats, and oversized sunbonnets. The Hayloft Gang sang songs such as “Get out and Dig, Dig, Dig,” and “Plant a Little Garden in Your Own Backyard,” and the emcee insisted that Victory Gardening was “a serious business.”
This cover of the 1945 WLS Family Album depicts a postwar scene, Radio Timeline

            By mid-1945, with the end of the war in sight, the Barn Dance programming started to turn toward postwar messages and issues. The program and its cast had performed an impressive range of initiatives in support of the war effort while maintaining their tradition of popular entertainment. The program continued for another fifteen years after the war’s end before ending its thirty-six year run in April 1960.

            Thanks so much for bearing with me on yet another radio/country music theme! All information comes from “Hayloft Patriotism: The National Barn Dance During World War II” by Wayne W. Daniel, in Country Music Goes to War ed. Charles K. Wolfe and James E. Akenson.
                        Thanks for reading,

Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tomorrow is Norm Christie in West Lorne!

Don't forget that we are hosting an evening with author and Canadian Historian, Norm Christie, tomorrow at the Legion in West Lorne.  Friday, March 24, 2017 Doors open at 6:30pm with program start at 7pm.  You can still get tickets in advance by calling the office 519-762-3072 (leave a voice mail if necessary and we'll return your call), email or purchase online

Tickets will be available at the door for $15.00.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

World War Wednesdays: WWII Over the Wireless

An American family listening to the radio in 1942
     When thinking back on some of the recent posts for inspiration, I was shocked that I wrote about television and wartime before I wrote about radio! I'm currently taking a course on the history of American television and radio with Dr. Shawn Graham, and it's been a fascinating opportunity to explore my interests in radio history while learning new things about TV. I'm sure we've touched on a few of these topics over the years, but it's always good to bring it all together and add some new content.

     It's important to begin by considering just how important radio was to everyday life at the start of the Second World War. In America, eighty percent of households owned a radio by 1940, and in 1939 a survey of housewives revealed that the radio was a more indispensable household appliance than the refrigerator. Throughout the 1930s, stations had been getting involved in news broadcasts and were providing live coverage of key events, and the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany was covered by the American Press. CBS sent Edward R. Murrow to London to head their European Operations, and he became an important voice in relaying details of major events to Americans back home. In the interest of keeping things brief for you all, I will limit the general overview section but provide you with a great link for further reading if you're interested: There, you can find details on radio's role in the war effort plus listen to original recordings from major moments throughout the war.
Princesses Margaret (L) and Elizabeth in front of the radio microphones on Oct. 10, 1940
     One of the first aspects of Second World War radio that comes to mind is the technology's use by the British royal family. The day that war was declared, 3 September, 1939, King George VI delivered his infamous 6pm BBC broadcast to Great Britain and the Empire speaking of the difficult times ahead and urging his people to stand firm. Then, on 10 October 1940, during the height of the Battle of Britain, his fourteen year-old daughter Elizabeth delivered her first broadcast during a popular BBC program called Children's Hour. The popular program was intended to raise the morale of young listeners who had been evacuated from the UK under the threat of enemy bombardment, and the young Princess used her guest appearance to pay tribute to those who had “travelled thousands of miles to find a wartime home and a kindly welcome in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States of America.” Radio presenter Derek "Uncle Mac" McCullough later reflected that the Princess “never made a mistake or wrong inflection” but “gave a perfect broadcast”. 

     I would be remiss not to mention the legendary speeches delivered by Winston Churchill over the radio, which also captivated audiences and did wonders for their spirits during the war's darkest days from the very beginning of his time as Prime Minister. It turns out that he actually did not enjoy broadcasting, and struggled to speak in front of a microphone rather than an adoring crowd. If you're interested in a great essay about the conspiracy that Churchill used a radio stand-in, here's a link:

     Overall, one of the most important aspects of Second World War radio was its impact on the home front. Having the ability to stay updated on events around the world and to receive regular morale boosts over the airwaves was a great comfort to a great many people during that time, and allowed for audiences to connect with the voices delivering them in new and unique ways. Information courtesy of Dr. Shawn Graham, Imperial War Museums, and The Telegraph.
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Margin for Error: The Indomitable Clare Booth Luce

Clare Boothe Luce speaking at a Republican Convention in 1944
     I've spent the past few weeks learning about and appreciating strong women, especially women in politics, during my time as Equal Voice's Daughters of the Vote delegate for Elgin-Middlesex-London. I hope you''ll indulge me a further exploration on that theme but within a wartime context as we take a look at the life of the talented, wealthy, beautiful, and controversial Clare Boothe Luce.

     To start with some background, she was born on 10 March, 1903 in New York and spent her life as an author, politician, socialite, and public conservative figure. Her writings cover wide range of genres including fiction, journalism, war reportage, and drama, and her 1936 hit play The Women, which had an all-female cast, was adapted into a 1939 film.

     While her entire biography is fascinating and worth reading more about, I will be focusing specifically on her life during the Second World War period. Her time as a war reporter is actually much less well-known than her other roles, but it is one of the most significant elements of her wartime experience. She covered a wide range of battlefronts, enduring all the discomfort, danger, and frustration encountered by even the most seasoned war correspondents. Her first experience with the war was in 1940, which prompted her to write her first non-fiction book called Europe in the Spring. A product of her motivation to convince fellow Americans of the dangers of isolationism, it was a vivid and anecdotal account of her four-month visit to "a world where men have decided to die together because they are unable to find a way to live together." She was also a corresponded for Life magazine, and her profile of General Douglas MacArthur made the cover the day after Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. Besides withstanding bombing raids in Europe and the Far East, she also faced house arrest in Trinidad by British Customs when a draft Life article about poor military preparedness in Libya proved too accurate for Allied comfort. Her unsettling observations there ultimately led longtime friend Winston Churchill to revamp Middle Eastern military policy.
     Luce was also a pioneering woman in the politics, another of her Second World War occupations. In 1942, she won a Republican seat in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Fairfield County, Connecticut. Her platform was based on three goals: "One, to win the war. Two, to prosecute that war as loyally and effectively as we can as Republicans. Three, to bring about a better world and durable peace, with special attention to postwar security and employment here at home." In 1944, the forty-one year-old became the first woman in American history to be listed as a possible candidate for the Vice Presidency. On 28 June of that year, the first Republican convention held in wartime since Abraham Lincoln's 1864 renomination took place, and saw Luce deliver one of the most controversial speeches of her time. The event was broadcast on both radio and television, and spectators across America collectively gasped when she boldly accused President Roosevelt of lying to the nation in the months before Pearl Harbor. According to historian James A. Von Schilling,
     Women delegates gasped at her strongest statements, reported the Herald Tribune the next day, while Republican men displayed "an expression of admiration grudgingly bestowed and a small, masculine flicker of fear."Watching her on TV, a New York Times reporter noted that "the addition of sight had multiplied the dramatic value. least tenfold."

     The considerable backlash and criticism resulting from one of the biggest TV moments of the summer did not stop Luce from being re-elected to Congress. During her second term, she was instrumental in the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission, and over the course of two tours to Allied battlefronts in Europe, she advocated for more support for what she considered to be America's forgotten army in Italy. She was also present at the liberation of several concentration camps in April 1945. After V-E Day, she began warning against the rise of international communism as another form of totalitarianism which could potentially lead to a third World War. 

     Every once in a while as a historian, we come across a person who seemed to have been involved in an astounding range of historical events and whose biography reads like a history textbook. Luce's entire story is fascinating given the period in which she lived and worked, and I highly recommend looking into the parts of her life I wasn't able to cover. Research is credited to the Library of Congress "Women Come to the Front" exhibition as well as the article "Television During World War II" by James A. Von Schilling. 
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Monday, March 13, 2017

History Meme Monday #1

For a bit of history humour, we'll be posting a new meme every Monday.  Who is this or what event is this referring to?  Leave a comment with your answer

Image result for History Memes

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Do You Have Your Norm Christie Tickets Yet?

Tickets are going fast for our Evening with Norm Christie on March 24, 2017.  Click here to purchase your ticket online or call Backus-Page House Museum 519-762-3072.  Event takes place at the Royal Canadian Legion in West Lorne at 7pm, doors open at 6:30pm.    

Tyrconnell Heritage Society presents An Evening with Norm Christie, Canada's #1 expert on battlefields and cemeteries of both World Wars. Norm will speak at 7pm at the Royal Canadian Legion in West Lorne with question and answer period to follow. His focus will be on Canadians in The Great War. He will have his books available for sale and signing too. Refreshments available for purchase in the Legion's bar.
Tickets in advance are $10 and $15 at the door (if any seats are available).
All ticket proceeds will go towards the Backus-Page House Museum, operated by Tyrconnell Heritage Society. 519-762-3072

About Norm Christie: Masters of War; The Canadians in The Great War

Norm Christie outlines the history of the development of the Canadian Corps from the early days in 1915-16 as inexperienced Colonials, to 1917-18 when they became the most effective fighting force on the Western Front. It started with Canada's most famous battle at Vimy Ridge, when, against all odds, they captured the strongest German position on the Western Front. Who was responsible for these developments; how did they come about; How did this incredible transformation happen? Norm explains the players and their personalities that made it happen and how their success and confidence brought about changes that made the Canadians completely different to the British and Australian Armies? And how, after all their sacrifices and accomplishments, were they forgotten?

Norm Christie is the acclaimed television host of several History Channel Documentary series including: King & Empire, King & Country, Lost Battlefields, Striking Back, Secret Liberators, In Korea and Battlefield Mysteries. He has travelled the World following in the footsteps of Canada's soldiers, from Sicily to France, to Spain, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. In addition Norm has written 21 books on the Canadians in the First and Second World Wars, including the 10 volume For King & Empire Series on which the TV Series was based.

A metallurgical engineer by trade, Norm Christie was Chief Records Officer of the CWGC in the UK, and their Administration Officer in Arras, France for 5 years. He has been taking Tours to the old battlefields for more than 20 years. Norm is recognized as Canada's No.1 expert on the battlefields and cemeteries of the two World Wars.

Norm's most recent work includes the three volume series; Sacred Places (Canadian Cemeteries of the Great War), For Our Old Comrades (The Story of the Vimy Pilgrimage), and the 6 hour TV series, The Great War Tour with Norm Christie (TVO & Knowledge Network). His current projects include a 1 hour show, The Wounded, and the search for the missing Vimy cemetery, CA40, containing the remains of 44 Canadian soldiers, including William Milne, VC

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

World War Wednesdays:"More Trouble than it was Worth:" Ireland and WWII

Damage after a bombing raid in Dublin which killed between thirty and forty people, May 30, 1941
     Sometimes we like to get a little geographical with our WWW focus, and for this week's post I decided to venture into territory that's been on the list for a while but not yet made the cut. This one goes out to any Irish readers, or just anyone who likes a good geographical history and/or a pint of Guinness.

     To begin, it is important to point out that Ireland was a divided country during the war, and both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland remained officially neutral. But, Ireland presents a curious case as a neutral country because it did make some contraventions in favour of the Allied cause, such as allowing the use of the Donegal Corridor for Allied military aircraft and extensive co-operation with Allied intelligence including exchanges of information and detailed weather reports of the Atlantic Ocean. Geographically, Ireland's position benefited the Allies more than the Axis, since, for example, British airmen who crash-landed there could go free if they could claim not to have been on a combat mission. However, it also refused to close its German and Japanese Legations, and leader Eamon de Valera signed the book of condolence following Adolf Hitler's death in May 1945 before personally visiting the German ambassador. As a result, then, Ireland is a fascinating study of the complexities of wartime neutrality and international diplomacy in general.

     In the Republic of Ireland, the Second World War was known as the Emergency, which was declared on September 2, 1939 and gave the government sweeping powers until its lapse on the same date in 1946. In the Republic's case, the greatest wartime threat came from inside Ireland in the form of the rebel group IRA, which sabotaged the Irish Army and killed policemen while forging links with German intelligence to plan a German-supported invasion of Northern Ireland.
Some of the devastation caused by the bombing of Belfast, April 1940
     Despite the fact that the invasion never came to fruition, Northern Ireland did experience hardship at the hands of the Germans during the war. Believing itself to be a distant an unlikely target, Belfast did little to prepare for Nazi air raids, but the city's shipyards actually presented a major strategic target for the Luftwaffe. Belfast thus experienced dozens of raids in April and May 1940, with the worst on April 15 when two hundred German bombers pounded the city relentlessly. The onslaught resulted in the deaths of over nine hundred residents, one of the entire war's highest single-day death tolls, in addition to the destruction of factories, infrastructure, and half the city's housing, leaving a quarter of the population homeless.

     Between 1938 and 1939, when the war was just on the horizon, the iconic Irish brewery Guinness was exporting around 800,000 barrels of beer annually. By 1940 and 1941, the figure was closer to the one million mark. This was thanks to the rapidly-growing number of men enlisted in the British military and wartime industries, who had a thirst for the classic drink from the isle. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill recognized Guinness's importance for the preservation of morale, but by the end of 1941 wheat was becoming increasingly scarce. On all fronts, it looked like Ireland's neutrality would be unable to survive the war, and because of the vulnerability of the Irish ports and the British need to supply the neutral country with important goods for the war effort, Churchill decided to further Ireland's economic weakness in the hopes of forcing them onto the Allied side. Throughout 1941, the full onslaught of British economic warfare was thrust upon Ireland, making famine once again a realistic fear. In March 1942, in an effort to preserve the wheat supply for bread for the poor, the Irish government imposed restrictions on the malting of barley and banned the export of beer altogether. This dramatically changed the British attitude and promptly snapped them into drafting an agreement to trade badly needed stocks in exchange for Guinness. When, a short time later, Guinness complained of a lack of coal supply to produce beer for both home and export markets, the Irish government reinstated the ban and British officials once again responded with more aid. The pattern of barter continued repeating itself, resulting in enough supplies to keep Ireland afloat for the rest of the war and the thirst American and British troops in North Ireland well quenched during the lead-up to DDay. The overall result, as author Bryce Evans comments, was that Guinness effectively saved Ireland during the war.

     I hope you enjoyed this little spotlight on the Emerald Isle, and that you'll keep it in mind as St. Patrick's Day approaches. If you're interested in some further reading, here are some interesting links:
On Guinness during the war:
On Northern Ireland during the war:
Research credits to Bryce Evans, "How Guinness Saved Ireland in World War II;", and Irish History Live at Queen's University Belfast,
     Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Overshadowed Generals of WWII

General Charles de Gaulle shakes hands with General Patch in Saverne, France on 11 February, 1945. In the center, General Devers talks to General de Lattre de Tassigny.

     Hey there, history buffs! I'd like to start by apologizing for being MIA last week. It was the first time ever for WWW that I found myself unable to get a post up, but I'm hoping to be back on the air! Things have been extremely busy in my world lately, and my traditional bad luck seems to be running rampant, but I've also had the great fortune of being accepted to grad school and participating as the Elgin-Middlesex-London delegate in Equal Voice's Daughters of the Vote initiative. Enough about me, though, and I thank you for your understanding and patience!

     I recently read an article in Heroes of World War II magazine called "Overshadowed Generals" by Jolene Nolte, which is based on an interview with premier WWII historian Gerhard Weinberg where he was asked to name some unsung heroes of the war. I chose three of those generals to share with you this week, and hope you enjoy their stories.

1. Alexander McCarrell "Sandy" Patch

Born: November 23, 1889| Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Died: November 21, 1945| Fort Sam Houston, Texas
Occupation: US Army General
Allegiance: US
Honours: Army Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Distinguished Service Medal
     "This was a man who commanded the American army that landed in Southern France in August 1944," Weinberg says. "He lost a son in the war. H was a very fine army commander, and one practically never hears his name. He has more or less disappeared from view, although he was a very important and very successful and very effective commander."
     Patch was initially in the Pacific Theater, where his successful leadership at Guadalcanal led Chief of Staff George Marshall to reassign him to Europe, where he led the Operation Dragoon invasion of Southern France and went on to lead the US Seventh Army across the Rhine and to an attack on the Siegfried Line.

2. Jacob Loucks Devers

Born: September 8, 1887| York, Pennsylvania
Died: October 15, 1979| Washington, DC
Occupation: US Army General
Allegiance: US
Honours: Include Army Distinguished Service Medal (3), Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star
     Beginning in August 1941, Devers was Chief of Armored Force for the US. He was instrumental in the development of the M4 Sherman tank. In  May 1943, he was named the commander of the US Army's European Theater of Operations, the position Eisenhower would later fill. In this role, he helped build up US troops in Britain in preparation for Operation Overlord. In November 1943, Eisenhower and Devers were ordered to swap roles- Eisenhower to head European Theater of Operations and Devers to take over the North African Theater of Operations. Devers oversaw the Battle for Monte Cassino, the breakthrough of the Gustav line that enabled the Allied capture of Rome and the Allied invasion of Southern France. He also commanded the Seventh Army through Operation Nordwind and eventually the defeat of the Colmar Pocket and crossing the Rhine. When on May 5, 1945, the German General Hermann Foertsch unconditionally surrendered his Army Group G, it was to Devers.

3. Carl Andrew Spaatz

Born: June 28, 1891| Boyertown, Pennsylvania
Died: July 14, 1974| Washington, DC
Occupation: US Army, US Army Air Corps, US Army Air Forces and US Air Force Commander
Allegiance: US
Quote: Eisenhower described Spaatz as "a serious man, serious to the point of grimness, and certainly the hardest working man in the whole US Army Air Force."
     Spaatz was commander of the Strategic Air Forces in the European Theater and advocated to Eisenhower that bombing German oil supply should be the air forces' top priority. Spaatz also commanded the Eighth Air Force, which numbered 200,000 at peak strength and had an impressive tally of 220 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 442,000 Air Medals awarded by the war's end. He was also involved in the Pacific Theater and oversaw the dropping of the atomic bombs. After the war, he was an integral part of creating the US Air Force as a separate branch of the military.

     After reading Weinberg's full list, I was struck by Weinberg's American focus. I'm sure we can come up with an even longer list of the war's unsung heroes from around the world if we expand it to include those who weren't generals, and even those that were nonhuman, in response! Let me know in the comments which ones come to mind for you.
     Thanks for reading,