Theatre Programme "Meet the Navy", 1943.Blanche Lund
Blanche and Alan Lund in uniform.Blanche Lund
Alan and Blanche Lund on stage, London, England, February 1945.Blanche Lund
Stage crew used on stage in Victoria Theatre, Toronto, Ontario, 1943 and 1944; London, England, 1944 and 1945.Blanche Lund
Alan and Blanche Lund, with Noël Coward, during a production of the show called "Brothers in Arms".Blanche Lund
"And we said, oh, we’d love to be in the show. And then he informed us, well, there is one catch, you have to join the navy."
I started dancing when I was seven years old. My parents didn’t know where I got the idea from but I just said I had to dance and finally they gave in and my partner, Alan Lund, whom eventually I married, he started dancing when he was eight. He did the same thing, bugged his parents until finally his mother gave him 50 cents and he went to the local teacher and she phoned and said he has a future in dancing, if he’s interested. And she was quite surprised because she didn’t know he’d taken the 50 cents and gone and taken the lesson.
So we teamed up when my husband was 13 and I was 14, when we teamed up. And we danced together and eventually, we ended up, we played all the, we went to school and came home and practiced and rehearsed and our parents both told us, they said, without an education, you don’t have your dancing, so you’d better get good marks. So of course, we both worked as hard at that as we did at our dancing at that time.
And then eventually, we started going to Montreal to some of the most terrible nightclubs, because we felt that we would practice and get the exposure and it would help us to become better. So we eventually built ourselves up to the point where we were playing nicer clubs and at this time, my husband was, I guess he would be 19 and I would be 20. And Captain Connolly, who was, he was in charge of Special Services for the navy, he was basically a lawyer in Halifax when he joined the navy and he became a captain and he still had this desire to be connected to show business.
So when he joined the navy, well, I don’t know how long he was in the navy when he decided he wanted to put a show together with the Royal Canadian Navy. And when Al and I were appearing at this nightclub in Montreal called Samovar, and it was a very nice nightclub - we had worked our way up to that point - and he saw us dance and he asked us, he invited us to come to his table. And when we sat down he said, I have something to offer you. So he told us all about this big show that he was putting together with a 25-piece orchestra and it was going to play on the huge stages and it was going to be a huge cast. And he said, would you like to join? And we said, oh, we’d love to be in the show. And then he informed us, well, there is one catch, you have to join the navy. So being young, we both said, okay, that’s fine.
Captain Connolly had great ambitions that the show would go to Broadway and he did get an offer to take us down to New York and appear on Broadway. But the minister of national defence [for naval services], Angus MacDonald said, no way, he said, if the show goes anywhere after Canada, it’s going overseas. He said, this show is not built for the American people, he said, it was built for the Canadian servicemen and for the public. He said, for the servicemen for their entertainment and enjoyment and he said, for the public, for their morale, he said, to help build morale. So he said, it’s not going down to Broadway. So the captain was most upset. But at any rate, what happened then, we finally ended up in [HMCS] Stadacona in Halifax and had our shots and did our gas drill. And then we went overseas and arrived in Greenock, Scotland.
Well, on our opening night in London, now that was another very exciting time too and it was so surprising because to see, like when we had an opening night in Ottawa, they had arc lights and they had all sorts of, it was like a Hollywood opening. When we opened in London, the front of the theatre was absolutely jet black, people were lined up for blocks, the tickets had been sold for weeks before. But where they had, the lights and everything were inside the lobby, because they couldn’t show them because of the V1s and V2s or the air raids. So it was strange to see an opening with the theatre absolutely black, you thought nothing was happening there.
When we were in London, we played two shows a day. We played so many shows a week for the troops, just troops, and then we played like shows for the civilians but also troops could come, you know, for free. And between shows one day, we decided that - there was two married couples in the show that were friends of Al’s and mine, like one was the girl who played the accordion with two men, they did a specialty. And the other girl was in the chorus but her husband was the rehearsal pianist for the show. And they were married. So we said, let’s stay and we’ll make a pot of tea and you boys go across, you went down the stage door, out through the stage door and there was a little café. And we said, you go down and get a sandwich for us and we’ll make tea and we won’t have to take our makeup off and put it on again.
So off they went. Marg got the teapot and she was heating the water and swirling it around the teapot and Billie, I don’t know what she was doing but at any rate, all of a sudden, this horrendous bang came and Billie was thrown out the door, I was thrown down on the floor with a chair on top of me and Marg was thrown on the floor still with the teapot in her hand. And we got up and brushed ourselves off and said my, that must have been something. Well, it turns out that what it was was a barrage balloon that they flew overhead, the V-1 [Flying Bomb] hit the barrage balloon and exploded in the air. And so of course, we said, the boys, because we thought, well, the boys are down at the café, it’s probably been blown - we didn’t know what had happened - it’s been blown out. So we rushed down and we met them at the middle of the road. My husband was on his knees in the middle of the road and Sid was on his back and Bill Richards was further up, way up the street, and all the windows in the café were blown out. And so this is when, later on they told us what had happened. They said if it had come down, we wouldn’t be there. So we were lucky there was a, one of the big balloons that were put up to stop them. And so Al and I said, we’re never going to separate, even to buy a sandwich until after the war is over. So we didn’t.
The show opened with 16 of the sailors in white uniforms at the back of the set and the set was built like a part of a ship and they were on levels which was up about, I guess about six steps. And they were standing up there when the curtain opened and they all came, they were at ease and they all came to attention and then they all marched straight down the stage to the footlights singing, Meet the Navy and Greet the Navy, That’s What We’re Here For. And it was just, it just took your breath away. And then the girls came on at the end when they finished singing that first song, the girls came on and they sang, What’s Weak About the Weaker Sex, What’s Weak About the Girls. And they did a number saying that girls were as important to the service as the men. So that was really a good, a really good opening, very strong.
So we were doing the show and it was in the middle of the little Chapeau number, where the boys were in striped jackets and the girls were in bathing suits and the captain came onstage in the middle of the number and put his hands out and everything stopped. And everybody sort of went, ah, what’s happening. And he said, you’ll all be happy to know, he said, that it has just been announced that the war is now over. Well, you should have seen the audience. They came up onstage and we all cried and everybody laughed. And of course, at that point, I think everybody pictured that right away, you’re going to be home. And of course, this didn’t happen, this was many many months for a lot of them before they ever got home. And at any rate, so after about, oh, half an hour of this screaming and yelling and carrying on, the captain went out and stopped everything again and he said, now, he said, would you like the show to continue on, or he said, do you want to all go? And everybody said, continue, continue, continue!
So we continued the show but the cast, the people came up from the audience and joined in the numbers and so the show was absolutely a mess. But we all enjoyed it so much that we felt it was more fun than anything we’d ever done.