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Bengal Bounce

Tangerine by B.E.S.A. SWING TRIO by tajmahalfoxtrot1

BAWFMIn 1939, as Britain entered World War II, it established ENSA – the Entertainment National Service Association – to keep the troops in good spirits. Singers like Vera Lynn and actors like Laurence Olivier toured Europe to perform for field units. In August 1942, three months after the Japanese had driven the British out of Burma, Calcutta was filled with Allied soldiers who had fled South East Asia and were attempting to regroup. That month, members of Calcutta’s British community decided to form BESA – the Bengal Entertainment Services Association.

Goering Had Two (But Very Small)


V Day in Bandra, 1945

untitledEver so often, the still of the Bandra night is broken by a raucous party somewhere in the distance bursting into song. A guitar jangles, someone sits down at the piano and a boisterous chorus repeats an item of World War II propaganda regarding the anatomical inadequacies of the Nazi high command.

“Hitler, he has only one ball,” insist the lyrics, sung to the tune of Colonel Bogey’s March. “Goering has two, but very small. Himmler had something similar, and Goebbels has no balls at all (pa pa pa pa pa pum…)” [A version from the film John Rabe here.]

Last weekend, as I listened to a group of my neighbours celebrate a birthday, I realised that several Bandra favourites date back to the World Wars. It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, for instance, is a tune from the Great War that expressed the homesickness of Irish troops from that town in central Ireland. Sentimental Journey, released in 1945, became a homecoming anthem for returning soldiers.

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