When we were in London in October, we visited the Holborn area which is where Richard's father grew up and lived with his parents, twin sister and two older brothers in the Laney Building on the Bourne Estate. While Bill, his twin and both brothers were in the war, the family home was bombed in the Blitz. Reading about it, the Laney Buildings were mostly spared, although many other buildings were bombed in the area during World War II. I do know that they were bombed out, and that when Richard's Dad came home from WWII, that his parents were living in a house in Bellingham. (During the Blitz, more than a million London houses were destroyed or badly damaged and more than 20,000 civilians died in London alone.) Richard's father died in 1959, just after his 39th birthday when Richard was just 3 years old. His Dad had spent five years of his adult life in the British Army in the Royal Corps of Signals. (Will tell you more about that in another post.) Richard and I have just spent some time looking up the places that his Dad wrote down in the small journal that he kept while in was in the Army. His Dad's name was William but he was called "Bill".
Durban, South Africa...that was one of his postings. What do you know about it? Let me tell you one thing that I have learned...
During World War II, Durban was a very busy harbour with many troop ships and hospital ships. What do you think I found out? Oh, you will never guess...there was a woman who would come down to the pier and she would sing to the troops as the ships went past! Coming or going and she never missed one! Her name was Perla Siedle Gibson and she NEVER missed a troop ship, not even on the day that she lost her oldest son in the war. She was called the "Lady In White" because she always wore the same outfit- white dress with a big red hat and a red necklace. (You may read more about her just here.) How wonderful would that have been for the men to hear her sing! It is believed that she greeted over 5000 ships and that a quarter of a million men heard her sing. And she would sing through a megaphone to be sure that she could be heard. Now, I am hopeful that Richard's father heard her sing! It is very likely, is it not?
Here, just listen to the quote from Perla Gibson herself...."I adore British Tommies, they make you sing and sing and sing and never let you stop. I once sang six hours at a stretch for them".
You see, the men would sing along with her! Have you ever heard Brits singing together? To my American ears, they all sound so very good together!
Perhaps you have heard of Vera Lynn, the Forces Sweetheart, she is well known for her songs during World War II. Vera Lynn and Perla Gibson met after the war and became friends. Well, of course, they would! These women are just my kind of people, both of them, after my heart, I tell you!
(And Perla Gibson was also an anti-apartheid campaigner for democracy in South Africa, I am happy to say.)
Perla Gibson died in 1971 just before her 83rd birthday. Vera Lynn is 102 years old now. (If anyone knows this great lady, let her know I have two of her songs on here!)
Now, I urge you to look up more about Perla Gibson. I think you would agree that her story would make a great film! Who could play her? Perhaps Kathy Bates? Don't you agree? (And how about a film about Vera Lynn while we're at it!)
Now, let's get back to Bill, Richard's father who was in South Africa during 1943 on his way to Burma. I very much hope that he heard Perla Gibson singing through her megaphone!
One of the songs that she would have sung would have been "There'll Always Be An England'. Why, I even have the lyrics for you, you can sing along like the servicemen did!
Bill, Richard's father would have been 100 years old this month. I will have more about the research I have done about his time in the Army. I hope to write more about him this month. Our son has a resemblance to his English grandfather, I believe.