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Commemorating D-Day



With this year marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day, an event that received a good deal more media coverage than the day usually does, I always knew I’d be in demand for various commemorations taking place up and down the country. The practical dilemma was how to choose which ones to accept, and how to fit them all in. As it turned out, my diary couldn’t have taken shape any better than it did. Three separate D-Day commemorations, one combined with a 60th birthday party, but each on a separate evening.


First up was on the anniversary itself, June 6th. Fylde Council, who have engaged my services many times in the past, most notably for the annual Lytham 1940s Weekend, had booked me again for an evening concert by Fairhaven Lake, a prelude to the lighting of a beacon. This was part of a co-ordinated event, with beacons being lit across the entire nation at 9.15pm. Before that, though, I was first on stage. The council had invited veterans of all ages, plus the public, to attend to mark the commemoration. Along with various dignitaries, I had a good audience and delivered a full set of military and British numbers, including the obligatory Vera Lynn numbers, along with some Gracie Fields, songs about the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, one or two singalongs, plus a number of ballads such Lilli Marlene & La Vie En Rose.


With some familiar faces in the form of Karl and Sally from Shincrackers Swing arriving just after the start, halfway through I deviated a little from my planned set to include some dance numbers, which had the desired effect of getting them and others dancing. I later learned from Chantelle, the organiser of the event, that she’d received good feedback about my performance, so that was good to know. Later, a large crowd walked en masse to where the beacon lighting was to take place. With a trumpeter playing the Last Post and one or two addresses to remind us of why we were assembled, it was a simple but very poignant ceremony, and one I felt very honoured to have been part of.



The following day, the Friday, found me in Preston at a famous town centre pub, Hogarths. The landlord, Martin, was wanting an early evening show, so a somewhat unusual start time of 5.00pm. In truth, I don’t do many pub jobs - unless they are dedicated events such as this, as 1940s-stroke-vintage material tends not to work in noisy, crowded pubs. Martin had decorated not just the front window to his pub but inside too. As a performer about to deliver material that some there will never have heard in their life, it’s a relief to find the décor matches your act. In other words, his customers (my audience) are not going to be puzzled or surprised when I start belting out Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree.


Just about two hours after starting, and with a 30-minute break in between, I had the entire place on their feet, joining in with my (at one time unique, but now much copied) Last Night of the Proms style finale. “All I wanted, and more,” was Martin’s verdict, as he immediately booked me for a return visit on Remembrance Sunday in November.


So two down, two more to go. Up early on the Saturday morning to get ready for an evening garden party in Lincolnshire. What to wear? I'm no meteorologist, but if we were already heading for the coldest June on record, I wouldn't have been in the least bit surprised. It was more like winter than summer.


Whereas the two previous evenings had been booked back in February and March, tonight's booking had only been made in the last week. The lady who had contacted me, Shelley, had enquired about my availability to perform all 1940s at her husband's 60th birthday party, which as Michael was something of a WW2 historian, she thought would combine nicely with a D-Day commemoration. Naturally, I thought so too, happy as I was to accept the booking, although it would mean three successive nights of performing. That level of singing can, and frequently does, put an additional strain on your voice, so I make sure I both rest and treat my vocal chords with honey and lemon as much as I can.


Other than a bit of a hold-up near Leeds on the M62, the drive to the small Lincolnshire village was uneventful, Dave at the wheel as always. Driving down the M1, he was intending coming off at the Worksop junction in the general direction of Newark, in order to avoid long-standing roadworks, and potential long delays on the A1. Encountering the umpteenth 50-mile-an-hour section, perhaps he was mesmerised by the endless miles of cones, but somehow turned off the inside lane, though a clear gap in the cones thinking it was the required exit... only to find ourselves in the works section.


What to do? Reversing and trying to rejoin the main carriageway would have been illegal, and simply carrying on could have taken us to a dead-end. So Dave phoned the police and in the middle of explaining his stupidity, in the wing mirror I noticed a Highways Agency vehicle, complete with flashing orange lights, slowly driving towards us. Rather than make up some rubbish excuse for being there, Dave immediately confessed his mistake. First, though, he was instructed to hand over his phone to the Highways Officers, who gave their details and advised the police that they would take it from there.


They were great about it - another one for their extensive catalogue of hapless and hopeless motorists encountered, no doubt. One advised that we'd done the right thing by staying put and putting on the hazard lights. He, himself, wasn’t too sure what lay at the other end of the section that was separated from the running lane by a concrete barrier, but advised us to travel slowly at 20mph, and where it met the actual exit, carefully rejoin the main carriageway. He would, he promised, follow behind us - something we were grateful for when the concrete barrier gave way to temporary posts, on the other side of which traffic was thundering past. With a friendly wave of thanks out of the window, we then went our separate way, thankful that we had been freed in a matter of minutes rather than been stuck there for ages, unable to move.


Arriving at the house in good time, we set up in relaxed fashion. If Thursday evening was chilly, it hadn’t got any warmer by tonight. In fact, we were both shivering and had to put on our coats. Very cold for June. Anyway, the garden party went well. Our hosts were wonderful, we were well looked after, and it was gone midnight by the time we were packed down and finally heading home. With a stop along the way, it was 4.30am when I put the key in the front door, tired but pleased with the successful completion of three successive D-Day commemorations. The rest of June is going to be just as busy. I don't mind that at all. I'd just like the weather to improve!



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