Those concert parties of wartime PNG
30 November 2014
THE armed forces of Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom have a great tradition of entertaining the troops in wartime through concert parties which bring popular entertainers to the frontline.
The tradition dates back to World War I when the generals decided to bring some light entertainment and comedy to the troops to keep their minds off more bloodthirsty matters.
The concert parties continued post-war in Malaysia (It aint' half hot mum, the popular television series used this as context), Vietnam and in other wars. As the Australian War Memorial recorded:
The non-stop 90 minutes of entertainment at Nui Dat, Vietnam, was greeted with constant applause, shouts of more and the occasional humorous remark. Most popular artists were vocalists and dancers Patti McGrath and Denise Drysdale, both of Melbourne. The concert party gave four performances for the troops of the Task Force and later visited Australian and RAAF troops throughout Vietnam.
But not so much is now recalled of the concert parties in Papua New Guinea during World War II.
The US troops were entertained by such outstanding celebrities Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Larry Adler, while on the Australian side the talent included George Wallace, Michael Pate, Gladys Moncrieff, Bebe Scott, Jenny Howard, and Colin Croft of the 1st Australian Entertainment Unit.
There were even concerts on board warships, such as HMAS Australia which was at the time in Milne Bay.
Australian celebrity George Wallace, posted to the 2nd Division Concert Party, toured New Guinea as producer and comedian. He was commissioned as Lieutenant in January 1946 and prided himself on being the only officer in the army whom no one saluted and everyone called George.
The concerts attracted huge audiences from battle-weary troops who were missing family and friends back home. A concert unit including Frederick Jagel, Robert Weede, Polyna Stoska, Isaac Stern and Alex Zakin landed in amphibious ducks to perform for 10,000 GIs in New Guinea.
The PNGAA website (thanks to Ed Zanders whose father Douglas was a pianist with a concert party) records the memoir of Corporal Frank Lamprell, an entertainer from Melbourne, who was with the 3rd Australian Division Concert Party:
Off we sailed next day and on the Tuesday drew in to Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. I must say the first impression of this place was very favourable.
We had been told by Jack Sparkes, who had been there before, that it was a woeful dump, but how wrong he was. We could see at once it proved to be the best spot of our entire tour.
The sisters and nurses disembarked for 118 AGH, which had come from Aitape to Jacquinot Bay, then we followed and got into a truck and were driven along a palm lined road for about a half mile where we got out to be billeted with an ammunition unit.
Bully beef and M and V were the main meat dishes with fish patties in close second; I nearly starved, but the area was so beautiful I would have willingly lived on tea and biscuits.
We were right on the edge of the Bay itself, there was no beach and swimming had to be a cautious event, as sharks were often seen close to the shore.
Small boats, lakatois, sailing boats and skiffs were to be found everywhere, abandoned by troops who had move out, so our boys grabbed what they could and repaired them, painted them gay colours and had much fun paddling around the Bay….
A couple of special concerts were presented to the nuns by Douglas, Don, Slim Jim, Ted and band, with Don creating a sensation by playing and singing German music and songs, Bach, Beethoven, etc. The nuns had heard no music for three years; one had never seen a saxophone.
We gave a show at the New Zealand Air Force about two miles away. They were most kind to us, nothing too much trouble for them and a really splendid audience too.....
On another occasion a couple of native lads came along as Jumbo was busy practising his trombone; they were looking down wondering where the noise came from. Jumbo could hardly blow for laughing.
Then we got them to sing; one was rather timid, but the other obliged in a high loud tuneful voice with a song that seemed to be endless. On another occasion Don asked the native to sing one of their native tunes and out came Lily Marlene!
Australian Military Forces concert party, Milne Bay, 1942 (Roy Hodgkinson), The members (left-right): Sergeant Will Handley (comedian, with top hat, seated), Corporal Terry Hughes (female impersonator), brothers Private R Holden and Private L Holden hold up Private T McElvogue (clown), Staff Sergeant F Tupper (compere, looking in mirror)
Just picked this thread up so need to reply to Jan Lamprell and Marlene Kleemeyer.
I started looking into my father Douglas Zander's wartime experiences in the Concert Party around the time he was talking about these things in a rather confused way as dementia was getting the better of him.
I found Michael Pate's book online and was amazed to see references to Douglas, and particularly his friendship with Frank Lamprell.
I wanted to find out more and got a photocopied document of Frank's diaries from the AWM, which of course weren't typed up by me - I just went through it on the computer to transfer it to word processor format.
I hadn't been able to find any living relatives of Frank and therefore had no idea of the background to the diaries.
I do remember a visit to London by one of dad's army colleagues, around the early 1960s. I'm pretty sure that would have been Frank. There's a nice signed photo of him in our photo collection - dad died in 2012.
Would be nice to make contact - Frank and Douglas obviously had a strong connection - sharing the 'Holy Tent' etc.
Posted by: Ed Zanders | 28 October 2022 at 10:29 PM
To Ed Zanders, I can't understand why you claim to have typed up my uncle, Frank Lamprell's diaries. I became aware of their presence when I attended his funeral in Bendigo in 1985. His life-long friend, Fred Jones, told me about the book that Michael Pate was writing and that he had quoted from the diaries extensively.. Perhaps you had access to them prior to that? It took me 12 months to type them. as they were quite fragile and worn, having been in the tropics of New Guinea. That is why I sent them and a typed copy to the Australian War Memorial, but I kept a copy for my family. I found them most entertaining, full of Uncle Frank's dry wit. The book was released in 1986 so, unfortunately, Uncle Frank did not see it.
Posted by: Marlene Kleemeyer | 15 December 2021 at 04:46 PM
Frank Lamprell was my uncle, my father's brother. I lived with him at my grandparent's home in Prahran during my high school years.
I was involved in Uncle Frank's vaudeville shows and pantomimes. After his death in 1985 I collected his War Diaries from Michael Pate, who quoted extensively from them in his book, 'The Entertaining War'.
I typed them up and sent the original, and a typed copy, to the Australia War Memorial, where they are now available to view.
Ed Zanders claims that he typed up Frank's diary?
Thanks for correcting that, Marlene. I'm guessing that typing those diaries must have been a chore of delight - KJ
Posted by: Marlene Evon Kleemeyer | 08 December 2021 at 09:34 AM
My cousin was Frank Lamprell. I recently typed memoirs he had kept in a scrapbook. My other cousin, Marlene Kleemeyer-née Lamprell, typed Frank’s diaries he wrote in World War II.
Michael Pate borrowed these diaries to include them in a book he wrote. The diaries are now at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. If anyone is interested in this information, please contact me below.
Posted by: Jan Lamprell | 08 December 2020 at 08:19 PM
Nice to see this, thanks. I started looking into my father's concert party experiences (as you quote above) and came across Michael Pate's book, so one thing led to another.
The 'another' was Frank Lamprell who wrote an extensive set of memoirs which I transcribed into a legible form. He also describes operations in Wewak.
If anyone has a connection with this stuff I'd be pleased to hear from you (contact details on the PNGAA website).
My wife and I visited Rabaul in 2013 and we're off to Melanesia again tomorrow, but not PNG this time. Fascinating part of the world and very different to Cambridge England!
Posted by: Ed Zanders | 20 October 2015 at 12:31 AM
A fascinating part of wartime history, Peter,
By way of interest, Michael Pate, one of Australia's better-known film and TV actors, was a member of the Australian Army Amenities Service Entertainment Unit in the South and South-West Pacific during World War II.
His literary reminiscence, "An Entertaining War" (Dreamweaver Books, 1986), recounts concert party operations and tells of some of the big name actors and musicians with whom he worked in entertaining the troops.
Posted by: Martin Hadlow | 01 December 2014 at 10:14 AM