MUSIC RESOUNDED AMID THE RUINS OF WAR- Laura Lynne's story

from Sunday Telegram (USA), February 16 1997,
by Mary-Liz Shaw

What struck her first was the smell. It was sour, rising from the rubble of a city laid waste by thousands of bombs.Seventeen year old Laura Lynne had been prepared to see Berlin in ruins in 1947. Growing up in London during the Blitz had taught her what war can do.

But she wasn't prepared for the fierce stench of decay."There were still dead bodies that they hadn't been able to get out" she recalls. "I always remember that very vividly. And I remember the little kids; (as we were) going through France on the train, they'd be scrambling over the rails to get bread. Some of the troops would throw out their rations.

It was hard in those days.Laura Lynne Moore, now 68, tells her remarkable tale in a lilting voice. Her accent is the sort heard in the middle class suburbs of London, as smooth and comfortable as a jam tart at teatime. Her blue eyes twinkle when she smiles.At home in Manchaug, where she has lived for more than 30 years, Moore recalls as if it were yesterday - her days as a member of Britains first and best known female big band during the troubled era after World War II.

On tours of Europe and the Middle East with Ivy Bensons Ladies Orchestra from 1946 to 1953, Moore saw children begging for food in France, narrowly escaped going over a cliff in the Italian Alps, and stared down hostile border agents in Egypt before the Suez Canal crisis."I must say I've lived a very abnormal life" she says, chuckling.

The band was her life for almost nine years. Through it, she met her husband, David Moore, a West Sutton native stationed at American Bases in England in the early 50's. And her fellow band members became her lifelong friends.Their fame hasn't faded, particularly in Britain, where Ivy Benson and the band were the subjects of a one-hour British Broadcasting Corp. documentary that aired in 1990.

More than four generations of women played for Ivy Benson. Her orchestra performed for audiences around the world until the mid 1980's.The BBC interviewed "Ivy's Girls" as they were called, scattered across the globe, including South Africa, Australia and the United States. Producers were stunned by Laura Moore's collection of band memorabilia, which include hundreds of pictures, clippings and posters and even the telegram Benson sent in 1946 inviting Moore to call her and set up an audition: "Ring Welbeck 70 - Ivy Benson".

Moore was born Laura Jenkins in June 1929, the youngest daughter of Lawrence and Margaret Jenkins. Hers was a musical family - her father had played Cornet with a band while he was with the Canadian forces in World War I. Before young Laura was a teenager, she and her sister, June formed a singing and dancing act called "The June Sisters". The duet enjoyed a following at smaller London clubs."We weren't really playing the first-class places" Moore says.

Music and the sounds of war formed an unlikely harmony in London then. For Moore who was 10 when the war broke out, the buzz of incoming bombs was as familiar as the notes of the C-major scale. "We'd go down to the shelters, and we used to sing. I mean strangers would break into song. The next day we'd come out and my father would say "Oh well, lets go and see if (the house) is still there", in a very jovial voice."The emphasis was on togetherness, humour and music".

Moore suffered from Juvenile arthritis, yet she continued to perform. Eventually she gave up dancing and concentrated on the new love of her life - the trombone.

At the close of the war, Laura and her mother went to a London theatre to see Ivy Benson's orchestra, a popular band that had been playing for soldiers since 1939 under the auspices of the British War Office. Benson was the first to form an all-female band; with the war requiring men fir service, women had to take on many jobs, including entertaining the troops.

What set Bensons orchestra apart were it's versatility and talent. It's repertoire included classical music, swing tunes such as "Lady be good" and highly improvisational jazz. Benson, an accomplished clarinetist, set a high standard. "I wanted it to be equal to a male band; I wanted it to sound the same" she told the BBC.

When Benson advertised for a trombone player, Moore leapt at the chance. She adopted the stage name Laura Lynne.

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Laura and David Moore

 

"My first trip was supposed to be to Norway and Sweden, but Ivy couldn't get my papers in time" Moore says. "I was glad about that because it gave me time to learn the instrument".

Laura Lynne and her bandmates had a front row seat to what had been the war's European Theatre. They played for troops, still stationed in former war zones, and for civilians, many of whom had been bombed out. Moore could sympathise. She was haunted by memories of bombings. She and her father had found the bodies of their next door neighbours, Bobby Pickering and his mother, the morning after their shelter had received a direct hit.

Some performances included playing for German civilians. At one German nightclub, the cook refused to speak to the band in English until the last day. "She spoke it fluently, but she had made us struggle with our bad German", Moore recalls. "I think she was still very bitter."

"That bothered a lot of us", Moore says of the concerts for the German people. "But Ivy wasn't like that. She never judged people. To Ivy people were people, no matter who they were".

Although Benson wanted her musicians to play like men, she didn't want them to look like men. On the contrary, she played their femininity like a maestro.

Photographs show rows of petite bob-haired young women in gowns typical of the 1940's - yards chiffon cinched by a body-hugging bodice of satin. If it were not for the tubas, trumpets and trombones, they could be debutantes posing at their first ball.

Audiences loved it. Former soldiers told the BBC that the women looked like angles on stage. Band members were constant targets for marriage. Laura was no exception.

"She had the most beautiful auburn hair when she was younger" David Moore says as he admires a publicity shot of Laura from her band days. Her head is tilted, and she is smiling into the camera. She resembles Hollywood star Rita Hayworth.

David met Laura after the band had played at the American base at Ruislip outside London around 1950. David had just remarked to a friend that he wished he could meet " a nice quiet girl ". "God help him, he got me instead" Laura jokes.

They married two years later. Laura continued to tour, resisting David's hints they move to America. It was a dilemma. Laura feared giving up her country; David felt he couldn't stand the dank English climate another minute.

"I can remember coming home from the movies one night and the fog was so thick I couldn't see a thing" he says. "I walked with one foot on the curb and the other on the street, just so I'd know I was going in a straight line".

In the end, fate made the choice for them. Laura developed a severe skin allergy to her trombone. The rashes had been bothering her for months; even the special mouthpiece she had made wasn't helping. Her last tour ended with her rushing home for several weeks of intense skin treatment at a London hospital.

Her abrupt departure didn't leave her bitter. Rather, she regards her stint with the band as a fond dream. "I was so grateful to have been a part of it".

Her only regret is for Ivy Benson, who died in 1993, a week before she was to be knighted for her contribution to British music.

"She was the most phenomenal person. She did something that nobody thought she could do. It was a man's world back then, and she made it".