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Family History - You Must Remember This

WWII dance band on stage

It was destined to become one of the top wartime show bands in Britain, performing in public as well as playing for the officers' dances. It would seem that fate had handed George the world on a plate. He could serve his King and at the same time stay in touch with his dream. But it wasn't what he wanted - it was too tame.

He tried various avenues to improve his lot. Mum mentioned a couple which Dad never talked about, perhaps because the memories bruised his pride. Flying fighter planes sounded pretty good, so he applied to join the RAF. They didn't want him because he had a couple of medical problems - a heart murmur and flat feet. It seemed strange that the Army hadn't picked up on these. Not to be deterred, he decided to become a dispatch rider, one of the "Death or Glory Boys" as they were called. He could ride a motor bike, so he was half-way qualified, and he almost made it. This time, he scuppered himself. Maybe he was practising for his new role, who knows? But he was caught breaking some road rule or other, possibly speeding, and lost his licence!

Some of the tales he did tell certainly smacked of dissatisfaction, but they were related in such a way that it was hard to know whether he was being serious, or simply exercising his dry wit. It seems the band boys had an obnoxious sergeant who tried to make their lives more miserable than most. He would have them painting coal, then re-painting it in a different colour, apparently so that it didn't attract German bombers in search of a target. It remained a mystery why the enemy would bother with a small pile of solid fuel at the barracks when there were huge heaps just down the road outside the mine. That was always assuming they were really after the coal and not the surrounding military establishment which no amount of paint in any colour could have disguised. Theirs not to reason why, they followed instructions to the letter, but added their own protest by giving the regimental mascot a khaki makeover. Not to be outdone, the Army went one better and placed the poor bulldog on a charge for being out-of-uniform while on parade!

This was the kind of blind stupidity which provided a wealth of material for comedy skits in the shows. Everyone needed something to raise their spirits and as the war dragged on, The Blue Rockets continued to deliver, on stage, radio and vinyl records (78's, of course). A recording of "Ma - I Miss Your Apple Pie" was a classic example of a light-hearted protest about NAAFI meals. The introductory dialogue between a soldier and his sergeant makes sarcastic reference to baked beans which, according to George, was the staple diet at Chilwell and would eventually turn him off them for life. Then there was Company punishment, usually for some petty or fabricated charge, which had the miscreants cleaning things that were already spotless. So, the boys put it in the show, going down on their knees to scrub the boards in the comedy sketch "Jankers".

The Blue Rockets dance band on Stage

The Army couldn't have failed to figure out it was the butt of these on-stage jokes, but it chose to turn a blind eye, perhaps also being in need of comic relief in the face of global insanity.

Back in the barracks, the lads continued to go through the required motions, obeying pointless orders, needlessly shifting boxes of parts from one side of a warehouse to the other, then back again. In a fit of exasperation, George's mate Tommy kicked a crate from the top of the pile. It splintered on impact, scattering pins for tank-tracks all over the floor. The fact that these had been missing presumed lost forever did nothing to quell the sergeant's ire, and they were on jankers again.

According to George there was a solution to this senseless waste of energy. Obviously refusing to obey orders, especially in wartime, was not an option; however, there was a better way. He claimed he could spend an entire day in the barracks doing absolutely nothing and not get pulled up for it. The boys challenged him to prove it. The bet was on. He achieved the impossible with a clipboard which he tucked under his arm and marched around looking like a man on a mission. He saluted all the officers, attended every meal session and on the odd occasion when he thought he might be under suspicion, he would consult the clipboard, frown deeply, then march away at the double to deal with whatever it was that apparently required immediate attention. George won his bet, but he was still in the Army.

Even so, there were ways to make life a little easier, and a spare quid, if one utilised available talents. Obviously the band members must have gained some concessions, especially with regard to time off for regular rehearsals; but for a canny individual like George there was another pie to stick a finger in. Reviving his former occupation, he ran a print shop, producing advertising material and tickets for official functions and dances. No doubt there were a few private jobs in the mix and, though knowledge of these might have raised the odd eyebrow, officers having their private business cards run off at a bargain price were unlikely to say anything. One surviving example of a Christmas card testifies not only to the existence of the print shop, but also to the diverse abilities of the lads who designed and produced it.

Cartoon postcard of The RAOC Blue Rockets members

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