When I arrived back in London on Friday morning, I was told that there hadn't been any rain for a week. It was only a few hours later that the rain came back again, and then I really knew I was back in London.

I had just returned from a wonderful seven weeks tour of the sun-baked Middle East, embarrassing the Canal Zone, North Africa and the George Cross island of Malta. We added up the distance we had traveled and it came to just over 10,000 miles. We were told by the official tour sponsors that we had played before no fewer than 45,000 servicemen.

Reception:
I just don't know how many shows we put on but in the whole time away we only had three clear days off. The trouble was that wherever we played there would be far more wanting to see us than accommodating would allow. So we just had to put on an extra show.

This was repeated practically everywhere we went. The reception we had from the troops made up for any discomfort and inconvenience there may have been.

Scenes at some of the places were really amazing. Shows out there are few and far between, so the regulations just event by the board and troops would crowd into every available seat, aisle and thruway.

Transport:

I remember when we were playing at the RAF station, Kabrit, troops were not only standing everywhere but were seated on the roof beams as well. They were behind the officer, who were seated in the front rows, of course, and I expect it was a good job they didn't look upwards, or there may have been a few charges flying round next morning.

I had to be careful that my glances up to the roof did not get noticed by the officers, but I found it very difficult to surpress my smiles when it came time to end the show and play the National Anthem.

Those boys antics would have to be seen to be believed. They couldn't stand so they just put on their caps and sat as straight as best they could!

The spirit of my fifteen girls has been marvelous. No matter what tribulations there have been - and however well it is organized, a tour like this is bound to encounter some snags - the girls have smiled through and the show has gone on.

Our normal method of transport has been by road, although we flew out to Egypt and home from Malta. Additionally, we made several flights between long distances whilst in the Middle East. In all, we were airborne five times.

But as far as road travel went our kit was taken ahead of us by lorry an we followed two hours later in the coach thoughtfully provided by the authorities.

The most unpleasant event of the tour happened when we were traveling to play a concert for the Scots Greys at Barci. It was necessary for me to go ahead by taxi and the girls followed by coach, leaving Derna, where we had played the previous day, at 8 a.m.

Desert Drums:

At 2.30, when the Barci show should have started, there was no sign of the girls coach and a search party set out. It was not until 5.00 that they were found; their coach had broken down right in the middle of the desert, and they had gone without food and water for the whole of that day.

As soon as they got to Derna, they prepared for the show which went on at 8.15. The troops had waited since 2.30 and my girls just would not disappoint them, despite the fact that they were hungry and thirsty.

The most remarkable thing happened on another journey across the desert. We were not far from the famous cemetery at Tobruk.

 

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Most of the girls were a little travel weary, I think, and we were all surprised by a mighty yell from my tenorist, Jean Naylor. She had happened to notice a drum lying off the road in the desert. We all looked and were sure that it was my drummer, Paula Pyke's brand new Premier bass drum. Could it be a mirage? By this time the driver had stopped and we all went across to have a look. It was no mirage! It was Paula's instrument. It must have fallen from our lorry two hours before and been blown into the desert by the wind. The only thing broken was the rim and that was repaired at our next stop, thanks once again to the kind cooperation of the Army.

When I was making arrangements for this tour, I asked the editor of The New Musical Express if he would tell his readers that I was prepared to deliver messages to the troops in the area that I was visiting. This he did, and scores of requests came in to me.

I was very happy to deliver these. Unfortunately, I could not deliver them all. For instance, at one place I had been asked to play three requests from home. When I announced the first, there was a great laugh from the audience and I gathered that the person concerned was "in detention" as the Army put it.

I tried a second one; another laugh. He was "On Guard". The third was equally unlucky as he was playing at a dance in the Regimental Band.

A request also came in from a mother to her son in the Royal Military Police, which was "My Hero" from the "Chocolate Soldier". This boy will never live it down.

Requests:

But, by and large I was able to meet all the requests and it gave me and the girls great pleasure to be able to do so. It has been equally pleasant to receive so many letters of thanks from the relatives and friends who asked me to link them with their boys so far from home.

I am, of course, glad to be home even though these trips are so rewarding ( I have visited the troops in the Middle East four times since 1944). We had to return, for the very day after our homecoming we were due to open at the 400 Ballroom, Torquay, for a long summer season that will take us up to September 5.

I know that many of you danced to our music when we were at the same place last year, and it will give us great pleasure to see you once more. It would please me immensely, if we were able to meet any of the people who asked me to deliver messages.

My drummer, Paula Pyke, had a very worried return as she had heard that her mother was seriously ill, in Paula's home town of Liverpool. Paula immediately set out to travel to Liverpool, even though it meant returning the same night in order to be in Torquay for our opening.

A much more pleasant homecoming awaited my lead trumpeter, Ella Godwin, who announced her engagement to Jack Parker, son of the famous brass tutor, Phil Parker.

Coincidentally, it was Phil Parker who introduced me to my latest signing. She is a fifteen year old trumpet player named Elaine Harris. Elaine has been studying trumpet for seven years, latterly with Phil Parker and is so absolutely brilliant that I am adding her to my brass section.

Torquay now:

We are settled in Torquay now and I have made two resolutions. One is to try to retain the sun tan I got from the Middle East. The other is to retain a piece of paper passed to me by the captain of our aircraft at a quarter to one last Friday morning. On it was written the most wonderful message I have ever received.

It had been sent by radio from Malta and had been picked up on our aircraft's radio. This was what it said: "RAF LUQA WISHES TO THANK YOU FOR YOUR LOVELY SHOW. BEST WISHES FOR ALL FUTURE ENGAGEMENTS, AND COME BACK SOON".

No tour could have a better ending.

This article was written by Ivy Benson on her return
from the 1954 tour of the Middle East and published
in The New Musical Express - 2 July 1954