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I know Popcorn is supposed to be light-hearted, but I make no apologies for this part of the programme. There are always times of sadness and despondency in everyone’s life from which even musicians aren’t immune. Despite this, they do seem to roll with the punches better than most and eventually come out smiling.

brass section of the RAOC Blue Rockets
The Tunes of Wartime

The R.A.O.C. Blue Rockets was born at the beginning of World War II and was destined to become one of the top show bands in Britain for the duration and after. Many of the boys who had joined up had no intention of forming an orchestra, or being permanently stationed in a supply depot in their home county. They were looking for the excitement and glory of an overseas deployment, but the Army in its wisdom kept them close and safe.

Aside from public performances and numerous studio sessions, The Blue Rockets recorded a selection of shows for broadcasting to the serving troops. These concerts were under the auspices of the Entertainments National Service Association, or ENSA; also known by some participating funsters as: Every Night Something Atrocious. This radio-relayed contribution was the closest they came to the war raging beyond the white cliffs of Dover. It wasn’t until peace was declared that the boys in the band had their initial wish granted and were sent over to Germany.

Scene 1: Welcome to Germany

The Devastation

It was stunning. They had seen the damage to London caused by the Blitz, and there were many other cities that had not escaped the bombs; but they were totally unprepared for the devastation inflicted on their former enemy’s homeland. Dresden was a salvage yard. The cathedral had gone and vast areas that had once been streets of houses and shops, cinemas and cafes, had been laid waste. There was no electricity, and who would need it anyway? No-one lived there any more – there was nowhere to live. Those sad individuals who remained wandered through the rubble in a daze, most looking for food, some in search of lost family and friends and, perhaps, a logical reason for it all.

The band boys didn’t know of one. This wasn’t why they’d joined up. Although they were only witnessing the aftermath, they could imagine the fear and pain that these unfortunates had been subjected to and were only glad that they hadn’t been the ones to serve it up. That would have been terrible, not exciting. As for glory, there seemed nothing whatever to be proud of. The best they could do to ease their consciences was hand out bars of chocolate to a few starving children. Even this humble act was not without regret – there were too many orphans and not enough chocolate. Maybe their best bet was to just play their music and hope it might bring some cheer to a pathetic and dismal venue.

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