Army Show Orchestra, February 1943. Picture from Murray Ginsberg's Book "They Loved to Play: Memories of The Golden Age in Canadian Music" (Toronto: eastend books, 1998).Murray Ginsberg
Unit A, Swing Patrol, Army Show Base in Guildford, Surrey, May 1945. Picture from Murray Ginsberg's Book "They Loved to Play: Memories of The Golden Age in Canadian Music" (Toronto: eastend books, 1998).Murray Ginsberg
"It was a marvelous show and we had a 40 piece orchestra. They had a chorus line equal to the Rockettes, from New York."
No, my parents came from Europe, my mother came from Russia, a town called Białystok and my father came from Lithuania in a little town next to Vilna, it was called Svintsyan. And anyway, my father was one of four brothers and three sisters. My mother had another older sister. My mother was 16 at the time, this was 1912, and a brother, who was 21 or something.
And they made their way, talking about my mother, they were, because they were orphans, they were raised by relatives. So along with the, cousins, that sort of thing, in 1912, they made their way across Russia and across Europe and found their way ultimately through Holland and they found their way in Liverpool and boarded a ship called the Titanic, along with 300 other ex-patriots or immigrants or whatever you want to call them. And they were in the hold of the ship and the day before the ship was to sail, they were all ordered off the ship, it was overbooked and had they not been ordered off the ship, I wouldn’t be here telling this story because we all know what happened to the Titanic.
In the height of the depression or the depths of the Depression, the Great Depression, I was going to central technical school, I enlisted in, on August the 20th, 1942. And I joined the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps band out in Kingston in a, the army base was called Barriefield. And we used to, see the Ordnance are not combat people but they’re the mechanics and the electricians and that, so if anything goes wrong, they can fix the tank, they can fix the car, the jeep or whatever it is. And I remember the thrill I got because we would march these people down to the workshops, a mile and a half down the road to their workshops just playing marches. I had never played a march before and then I found out, I discovered and I can still remember the titles and the melodies of some of them, because when I played them, I got goose pimples. I wanted to go to war, it’s written that way. It was stirring.
Anyway, I was in the band for about three weeks and suddenly, I was drafted to Montréal, to Westmount Barracks because where the Royal Canadian Army show was taking place was being formed. And we used to train marching in the nearby barracks or something. But anyway, we would rehearse all afternoon and do a radio show from the Sunlife building on Sundays, what’s called, This is the Army or something. And then then General Eisenhower, who was the supreme commander, issued a statement that said every serviceman and every servicewoman, no matter where they are the world, must have music and entertainment to keep up the morale. As a result, Brigadier Mess in Ottawa and Geoffrey Waddington, spelled with G, GEOFFREY, Geoffrey Waddington, they had a music for the CBC, got together with Wayne and Schuster, these were, these two fellows, Johnny Wayne and Frank Schuster were Canada’s top comics. They were so funny that during their particular tenure, they were invited to perform on Ed Sullivan’s television show 52 times, more than any American comic. And I knew that these guys, they were dear friends, you see. We all became like a family.
So anyway, the Royal Canadian Army Show was formed and we started rehearsing, Wayne and Schuster wrote the material and some of the songs. Captain Robert Farnan, who was the head of music for the Canadian band of the allied expeditionary force, he did the arrangements. When I say the allied expeditionary force, Major Glenn Miller was the head of the American band of the allied expeditionary force and Sergeant-Major George Melachrino was the head of the British band.
And at any rate, the Canadian Army Show was formed. We rehearsed at the Victoria Theatre that doesn’t exist anymore but the Victoria Theatre, if I remember correctly, was on the southeast corner of, of Yonge and Gerrard. And we rehearsed at that theatre and it became like another Broadway show, Broadway musical show. It was a marvelous show and we had a 40 piece orchestra. They had a chorus line equal to the Rockettes, from New York. And Jack Arthur, who was a Toronto producer, and his wife, Midge Arthur, she had been one of The Rockettes, she was a dancer. And she instructed the girls to dance, how to dance.
And it was such a wonderful show that the, it received just absolutely smashing write-ups all the time. And that show lasted, we went across Canada performing for all the Army, Air Force and Navy services and also for war bonds and finally, the show, when we had played everything and everywhere, it returned to Toronto to rehearse a new show. And at that point, Major Victor George, who was a colonel, the head of the Canadian Army Show at the time, he came out on the stage and he held up his hands, he says, stop the music. He said, I just received word from Ottawa that show is going to be shipped overseas to England. And the show will be broken up into five concert parties, Unit A, Unit B, C, D and E. And Unit A and Unit B, was the orchestra split in half. And I was a member of Unit A and the Unit B, they were sent to Italy, where they performed throughout the war. …