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Celebrities at War


From Silver Screen to Serving in WW2 – Originally written for Military World Magazine by Kitten von Mew

So we all know about the honourable work that a lot of celebrities did, entertaining our troops throughout the war with ENSA, the USO and in the movies. What about those stars that actually served in WW2? I’m bring you just 6 of the many who did!

Attenborough 1942

Richard Attenborough 1942

Richard Attenborough in In Which We Serve, 1942. Image from http://vintage.tips

Winning 4 Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards, starring in blockbuster movies such as Jurassic Park and The Great Escape and directing classics such as Whistle Down the Wind, Oh! What a Lovely War, Gandhi and A Bridge Too Far…This is one man with a determined and energetic disposition! It is no wonder that he signed up for the Royal Air Force. He initially trained as a pilot and was then placed at the RAFFPU (Royal Air Force Film Production Unit) located at Pinewood Studios, under the command of Flight Lieutenant John Boulting. They produced propaganda films, showing bombed sites, RAF aircraft and aerial action. Attenborough volunteered to fly with the unit and qualified as a Sergeant after sustaining permanent ear damage during his further training. He flew several missions, recording from the rear gunner’s position. Although this is not technically classed as actually fighting in the war, can you imagine being up there, filming Bomber Command sorties and wondering when the next air raid would be???

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson, Around the World in 80 Days

Michael Anderson (left), Mike Todd Frank Sinatra Around the World in 80 Days 1956. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Anderson is best knows for directing Dam Busters, Around the World in 80 Days, Orwell’s 1984 and Logan’s Run! In WW2 he served from 1942 to 1946 in the Royal Signal Corps, 48th Infantry Division. There is hardly any information about his time in the British army!

Bea Arthur WW2 Card

Bea Arthur WW2 Card

Bea Arthur WW2 Marines

Bea Arthur WW2 Marines

Bea Arthur (previously Frankel) is most famous for her ‘ tough chick’ character in The Golden Girls, but was also one of the first women to serve in the Marines in the war! After hearing that the Marines were enlisting in 1943 (at the age of 21), she hoped for a role in ground aviation, but became a truck driver and typist and made it to Staff Sergeant in her 30 month serve. In her Personality Appraisal interview sheets, she had been described as ‘Officious but probably a good worker – if she has her own way!” and her conversation as “Argumentative”.

Arthur always denied serving in the war, but this may have been a cover up of her one count of misconduct…contracting a venereal disease in 1944!

Gene Autry WW2

Gene Autry WW2

Gene Autry. From rgreyh.files.wordpress.com

Known fondly as the ‘Singing Cowboy’, Gene Autry appeared on television, radio and films such as In Old Santa Fe, always playing the same singing cowboy character. He was the fist of his kind, but was superseded by Roy Rogers when Autry enlisted.

Joining the US Army 1942, he already had a private pilot’s license that proved useful. He became Tech Sergeant but was hell-bent on becoming an aviator. 2 years later he earned his service pilot rating as a C-109 transport pilot as Flight Officer. Autry flew dangerous airlift operation as part of the 91st Ferrying Squadron of the 555th Army Air Base Unit, Air Transport Command. Their missions took them over the Himalayas, between China – India – Burma Theatre. He ferried ammunition, arms and fuel until the end of the war.

Jackie Coogan WW2

Jackie Coogan WW2

Jackie Coogan in the US Army, From amazonaws.com

Jackie Coogan was famously know for his role as Uncle Fester in the Addams Family in the 1960’s (bald head, made light bulbs glow by putting them in his mouth…you know the one), but did you also know that he was the little boy in Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid?

In the First World War, Coogan worked with Near East Relief and toured across Europe and the USA in 1924 on a fundraising drive. In March 1941 he enlisted in the US Army as a medic after being angered by the Pearl Harbour attack. He later requested to become part of the 1st Air Commando Group thanks to already having a pilot’s license. Coogan was the first glider pilot to land allied troops behind the enemy lines of Burma! One of the gliders he was aboard unfortunately crashed. Coogan’s troop was attacked by the Japanese and he was the only one to survive, due to being at the bottom of the pile of bodies. He served for 5 years before being honourably discharged in 1944 and given the Air Medal and several other war citations for his service.

Alec Guinness WW2

Alec Guinness WW2

Sir Alec Guinness, middle row, centre.

He didn’t just help Skywalker defeat the dark side as Obi Wan in Star Wars! No! He also served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve too! Also famous for such movies as Bridge Over the River Kwai, Kind Hearts and Coronets (one of my favourites!) and Hitler: The Last Ten Days of which he surprisingly considered his best film performance.

Guinness commanded a landing craft in the invasion of Sicily and Elba, later ferrying agents and supplies to the National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia.

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War and Peace Revival 2014 Photos


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First World War Exhibit Entrance at War and Peace Revival 2014

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Always lots to gawp at!

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Some vintage stalls were just an old boar….

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This talented lady was crocheting berets. I bought the one she is just finishing here as it matched my Heyday coat!

The civilian tent

The civilian tent

Berlin Border Patrol!

Berlin Border Patrol!

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Hanging out with A Company in the reenactor’s field!

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You weren’t there maaaaan!

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German reenactment camp in the haze of a humid day

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poly-what?! David Burt outside the fabulous NAAFI Wagon!

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The Allo Allo cast! My darling Sue just after she has jumped up and down in greeting. I love the fact she recognises me each year, she is such a cutey!

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Mr & Mrs Mew plus shifty-eyed GI

Most of the War and Peace Revival Entertainment Crew! Swingtime Sweethearts, Scott Elvis, Adam Hoffman, Holly, Myself, Viv the Spiv, Luna Nightingale, Sincerely Yours, Peekaboos, our wonderful dancer friends and Rosy Apples

Most of the War and Peace Revival Entertainment Crew!
Swingtime Sweethearts, Scott Elvis, Adam Hoffman, Holly, Myself, Viv the Spiv, Luna Nightingale, Sincerely Yours, Peekaboos, our wonderful dancer friends and Rosy Apples

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Sincerely Yours and an adorable young follower

Scott Elvis

Scott Elvis!

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Mr Mew modelling a rather dashing look in ridiculous heat…but the boy was determined.

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Forget Woody’s Roundup, this is Patton’s version!

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Just reading our favourite military magazine!

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Visiting my wonderful friends at their stall. I look slightly Suffragette-esque!

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The gorgeous Luna at the Heyday stall wearing her ‘Poppy Nipple Hat’

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The staff at the show are always so attentive! Lee Parker either proposing to Luna’s big toe or massaging her foot. I will let you decide the most attractive scenario.

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My new half and half act!

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Taking in the scenery with my darling General Patton

Kitten Interviews Dame Vera Lynn


I contacted Dame Vera to thank her for her kind wedding wishes from 2012 and to ask whether she would honour me with a quick interview via letter. I didn’t expect answers to all of my questions and certainly didn’t expect her reply so promptly! So here it is for you dear readers…

I know the darling Swingtime Sweethearts very well and know how lovely the girls are! How did you feel recording with them for the charity single? “I didn’t record with the Swingtime Sweethearts, my voice was taken from an existing recording.”

What a shame, I presumed it was recorded for the CD! So could I ask you…I always imagine you singing around the house or whilst washing up; do you still sing and do you have any hobbies? “I have never sung around the house, my hobbies used to be gardening and painting, but neither of these I do very much of at the moment.”

What was the most requested song you were ever asked to sing? “We’ll Meet Again was the most requested”

You secretly kept a diary whilst touring in WW2 (not technically allowed, but fantastic that you did!). Have you ever thought about making it into a book? I’m sure a lot of us would love to hear of your experiences! “I have never considered writing my experiences during the war as they are not very interesting. As I was not allowed to keep a diary, they are not very detailed.”

You travelled to Egypt, India and Burma with ENSA (Indeed you received the Burma Star in 1985 for entertaining the troops there). What was your most memorable experience of entertaining during the war? “Visiting the wounded in a hospital in Burma.” “One boy said to me…England doesn’t seem so far away now you’re here” (2010 TV interview)

There has been some speculation that you did not get on with Gracie Fields. This was also made apparent in BBC4’s biopic drama ‘Gracie!’ starring Jane Horrocks. Would you like to put any rumours to bed? “I only met Gracie Fields once and that was at a charity concert. She was very nice and we had a talk, but that was all.”

I thought it may be tabloid hokum! It’s always better to ask than presume! You had some fabulous gowns for your television and press appearances. Were they yours? Have you kept any of them? “My clothes were made for TV and I haven’t kept any of them!”

*short interlude whilst I lie on the floor and calm myself*

How did it feel to be so admired by the troops and the fact that you are still looked upon as the original ‘Forces Sweetheart’ of Great Britain? “I am very proud to be called the Forces Sweetheart”

Daughter of a plumber and dressmaker, you actually started singing at the bonny age of 7 at a working men’s club. You also left school at a young age also? “I left school at 14, which was the usual age to leave at the time. I sang my first concert at the age of 7 and I had an uncle who was a professional comic! So in a way you can say I started young…”

You married the dashing and talented Harry Lewis in 1941. Harry was in the RAF No.1 Band, later known as the Squadronaires, and played the saxophone and clarinet. Did you ever sing with the band? “I think I sang with the Squadronaires once for a charity”

I later found out that this was at the band’s first ever concert in Blackpool!

I am part of a large collection of people that represent certain iconic aspects of the 1940’s. You yourself have been to such events as The War and Peace Show in years past, but what do you think of WW2 reenactors? Do you think it is important or just a strange hobby? “If people continue to do this, it will keep the memory of the war years alive.”

And lastly, my favourite songs that you sang are ‘When I Grow Too Old To Dream’ and ‘White Cliffs of Dover,’ What are your particular favourites? “We’ll Meet Again’ and the ‘White Cliffs of Dover”

 

Thank you once again to Dame Vera for her lovely letter and may we wish her all the love and luck in the world.

Competition Time!!!


Well I guess it is about time! The winner will receive an Ammo Lunch Box, a Grenade Mug and 4 Grenade Egg Cups! The perfect set for any military or WW2 enthusiast! All you have to do is subscribe to my blog,then email me at kvm@email.com telling me why you are so deserving of the prize…the funnier the better! I will pick and publish the winner and their email on 11th October! So get friends and family involved to win this explosive prize!!!
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Who You Gonna Call?…Dambusters!


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On Saturday I was lucky enough to sing at St Peter’s Church in Wellesbourne, which was playing host to a special event! Philip West (an amazing aviation artist) and the local historical society Walton History Group arrange a special celebration for the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters Raid. This bombing raid, known as Operation Chastise was completed by the 617 squadron and Squadron Leader George L. ‘Johnny’ Johnson was there! Johnny as he is affectionately called was the bomber aimer in one of the specially modified Avro Lancaster Mk III’s and told us all about his time in the war, from training to be a pilot (which he was dreadful at and had no intention of being) to becoming a husband and bomber aimer for one of the most significant raids in WWII history.

We also had the pleasure of meeting the daughter of Barnes Wallis; the creater of the bouncing bomb too! She shared stories of how her father tested out bouncing bomb ideas in the garden using her marbles.

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I volunteered to sing some 1940’s songs in exchange for one of Philip’s fabulous prints and an autograph from the artist and George Johnson! My cheeky request was accepted and I was so happy to be part of this wonderful event. Everyone was wonderful and we got to meet some amazing people such as Iris Erwin who’s husband Sgt E C Erwin was one of the Path Finders in the war and was captured and sent to a P.O.W. camp. He escaped a few times, but was soon found again and put back. He survived the war, but unfortunately no longer alive, so his wonderful wife now holds on to his amazing paraphernalia. From a rice paper P.O.W. map of Germany and the border hidden in the back of a bible to his RAF jacket, she has kept everything immaculately. She even has a wedding card in the shape of a black cat’s head of which he took with his to war and it never left his pocket, even in the prisoner of war camps. I was so taken with this wonderful lady that I am planning to ask her for an interview as a feature in Military World Magazine soon. She completely stole our hearts, especially as whilst I was singing a bit of Gracie Fields, she came and shuffling and bobbing along with her little walking stick. She reminded me a little of a wind up tin toy doll and we wanted to take her home with us!

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I do not wish to say much more as I plan to do a write up on this event in the magazine, so do not want to be repeating myself! Rest assured there will be more photos added and I will post a copy of the article once it has been published!

Ich bin ein Burl-iner!


the berliner steam train and kitten von mew

Kitten von Mew waving to the crowd with The Berliner military steam train behind.

Burlesque in Berlin! Just incase you didn’t get the title of this blog post!

I had been looking forward to this legendary trip for a good year! A chance to see and ride on an original military steam train, see Berlin and be part of this amazing journey…the first of it’s kind in fact!

Having flown from Birmingham to Hamburg (thank goodness they will start flying direct to Berlin from June!) and figuring out the trains (ignore the boards and ask the ticket information guys), we headed to our hotel! After around 9 hours of travelling, we were looking forward to getting refreshed befor eheading out at 6.30pm for my performance at RAF Gatow!

This collection of aircraft hangers and military displays is now in a maze of new housing estates, which have been built on part of the old airfield. A complete treasure hidden away, RAF Gatow is a wonderful museum and was the perfect place for the Airlift Spirit Evening. It brought together ‘puffer nutters’, war veterans and people who wanted to do something unique with their weekend; all of whom I would see again on the locomotive.

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RAF Gatow from inside the hanger, taken by Kitten von Mew

The Black Kilts Pipe  Band (hilariously only 1 of the guys is Scottish and the rest are German, wonderful chaps!), some Irish dancers (also all German) and a choir were entertaining that evening and I was to do my RAF Fancy Fan Dance, extended with a few songs to lift the mood and ease the Vets in to the fact I was wearing rather little under my wool coat. Atleast most were sitting down, but I wanted them to be of fit enough health to enjoy their steam train trip too…

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Kitten von Mew with some of the Black Kilts Pipe Band, Berlin 2012. Taken by Mr Mew

The performance went without hitch and although my little RAF cap refused to behave, I mentally ‘had words’ and it decided to more or less play ball. I sang a couple of my favourite Gracie Fields numbers before slipping into my regular burlesque act, but this time having my spitfire shaped nipple pasties to greet the crowd with a wiggly-jiggly fly-past.

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Kitten von Mew at RAF Gatow, Berlin. RAF Fancy Fan Dance performance. Photo taken by a shy fan!

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Singing in my RAF outfit at Gatow. Taken by a shy fan!

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You ask for security and this is what you get…

The next day was the start of the big event! Our first look at the awesome steam train with 15 carriages and a diesel engine on tow! We all placed outselves on the platform, awaiting the arrival of a looming loco, only to realise that it had pulled in behind us at the wrong platform. I had to laugh as it was a very ‘It’s behind you!!!’ moment. I was wearing my ATS corset for photos and kept it on for a good couple of hours before needing to change into something a little more practical. The weather on Friday had been rather a heatwave, so I think a lot of us were surprised how chilly the following day was!

kitten von mew ats uniform corset

My ATS corset outfit made by G.Hodder out of an original (moth eaten and no good for wearing) uniform. She did an amazing job and this corset will be making an appearance at War and Peace Show this year!

With a quick stop at Marienborn Station to take a look at the engine and derelict building, it was time to jump aboard for our next stop at Helmstedt. On the Saturday, this stop was particularly lovely! The sun shone and the crowds greated us at the station waving Union Jack flags! The Black Kilts Pipe Band led a procession to the pretty town square where the major and other VIP’s gave a speech from the balcony of an old building…briefly interrupted by the adjacent church bells ringing out God Save The Queen as it struck on the hour.

By this time my feet were rather aching as I forgot that although my 1940’s style shoes look gorgeous, inside the shoe itself, my toes are boshing into each other like a rowdy pub brawl. It was starting to get a little chilly, so after a quick picture with Peter (an artist we met on board who painted a special picture for the journey), Mr. Mew and I staggered back up the steep hill to the station. Luckily we had bought a rather whopping piece of strawberry sponge at a market stall as we didn’t have time for breakfast that morning!

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Peter the steam train artist with his specially commissioned painting of The Berliner

After kicking my shoes off in carriage 13 and rearranging my ‘Little Piggies’ into a respectable line, I was soon asked by the official photographer to go to the front of the train, so that when when we arrived at Hannover, we could hop off the train and do a PR shoot at the front of the engine. I put on my Iron Maidens again and staggered drunkenly (but glamorously) to the front carriage. We then tottered to the front of the train for photos and I even managed to get up to pose with the engine driver!

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With the engine driver of The Berliner at Hannover Station

After the shoot I asked Mr. Mew for his photo before we got back on the train…Just after pressing the shutter button I realised that the train was pulling away from the station…

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Mr Mew by The Berliner at Hannover

Unfortunately we hadn’t realised that this was a scheduled 2 hour stop and in our haste to do the shoot I had left my handbag, money, phone and coat in the carriage. As my toes waved white flags of surrender, Mr Mew and I made our way down the steps to the shopping mall to shelter from the cold breeze and find a seat. Unfortunately unless you were at one of the eateries, there were no seats at all and as we wondered around the shopping centre I stared enviously through the windows of shoe shops with comfy soles and comfy souls in coffee shops enjoying a warm drink.

After an hour and a bit, we managed to blag our way into the 1st Class DB lounge at the station, where we flopped into comfy red leather chairs for half an hour. I had to verbally lash Mr Mew to the seat when he saw the complimentary drinks available as we had already pushed our luck with the manager!

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Poor feet. That is the look of someone who doesn’t want to play anymore…

At last we got back on the train and the shoes came back off! Once warmed up my spirits rose again and at 8.10pm we made our way to the restaurant car where the lovely catering staff had prepared us some cheesy potatoes and smoked salmon (our first proper meal of the day!). We could have been eating lobster for all we cared, it was wonderful! On the way there I was cornered by a group of passengers in the bar carriage who requested a song. I don’t know why nerves didn’t take hold, especially with acapella of which I had never done, but I sang We’ll Meet Again and a song from my new act. They all joined in and we had a wonderful time!

The next day I made sure I was dressed dar more comfortably in my Heyday trousers and a knitted top made for me from an original pattern. I was now able to enjoy the journey far more! Learning from mistakes of the previous day, the train manager put the hilarious Rabbi on to the tanoy system with each stop and for regular information updates. He had us all in stitches!

I got to meet some fabulous people on the trip and spent most of Sunday collecting autographs in my souvenir brochure before breaking down in tears at the end of the journey when we pulled into Berlin for the last time. It was a wonderful experience and I met some amazing people who had been on the military steam train in the war and beyond!

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Meeting a veteran on the steam train who rode on The Berliner when he was 19 years old!

COMMENTS…

Name: Sue underwood

Subject: military train

We had such a wonderful weekend on the military train in Berlin, you made it all the more special with your wonderful voice & burlesque show, you were wonderful. we were the loudest on the train, hope you enjoyed our singing. love sue & the rest of the gangxxx

Name: John R. Wesley

Subject: Berliner

Just going through the rushes of my very amateur video of Saturday’s train and have a nice shot of you at Marienborn with the loco. Sally and I will be thinking of you and Richard with much fondness on June 2nd. You really made the event swing from beginning to end – you both must have been exhausted, but what a fantastic contribution you made to an extraordinary and fabulous day.

New Victory Fabric by Kitten von Mew!


WWII Victory Fabric designed by Kitten von Mew

At the weekend, amidst a bout of poorliness, I decided to make and COMPLETE my first garment. I am usually very enthusiastic about such challenges and love choosing fabrics and trimmings and carefully cutting out each piece of the pattern…and after about an hour Im through with the sewing machine having eppy-fits and realise that shopping is more fun than making sometimes.

I had purchased a WWII house dress pattern from Etsy which looked rather a lot easier than anything I had attempted before (No buttons or zips! Huzzah!). I quickly ordered this and chose a pretty fabric – bright sky blue with white polka dots and pink, yellow and red flowers.

The only pain about the pattern was that there were no size lines to scale it down, so being an amateur, I made up the piece at the size intended and then put it on and pinned it to my shape. Being so basic this worked well and the only trouble I had with it was the darting and pin tucks, but after a sweet tea, a few naughty words and a good film I managed to get through this trauma.

With my first dress complete (please do not look too closely at it once posted, although proud, there are parts of the sewing where it looks like I was trying to use the machine whilst on a rollercoaster), I am now ready to do another and to celebrate have designed the fabric above!

I am hoping to have this made in time for the War and Peace Show as a comfy sun dress to walk around in.

I have ordered 2 yards and if I need more I will use a contrasting plain cotton I think. It is not currently available for the public to buy as I need to receive the sample before it goes on sale, but if you wanted to order it through me then let me know.