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15 October 2014
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When Adelaide Hall Went to War

by Stephen Bourne

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Stephen Bourne
People in story: 
Adelaide Hall
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Contributed on: 
03 April 2005

Adelaide Hall at BBC Broadcasting House in London in 1943

I had the privilege of befriending the popular American singer Adelaide Hall in the 1980s. At that time she had been living in London for over fifty years. Her singing career began in the 1920s, and lasted until she passed away in 1993, at the age of 92. She was a legend.

Though Adelaide's career has been celebrated in two biographies, various CD compilations, a Channel 4 film, and an entry in the current Guinness Book of Records (she is listed as the artiste with the longest recording span, 1927 to 1991), her war service has not been given proper recognition.

In 1939 she could have returned to America, but she decided to remain in London. It was a decision that could have cost her her life when she faced the Blitz.

She recalled: "During the 1940/41 London Blitz I entertained in underground shelters when we had air raids. People really loved that. Sometimes I had to sing without music, but it was a challenge, and so rewarding to get all the people to sing with me."

Adelaide often entertained at anti-aircraft sites, including the one at Regents Park: "The first time I sang at Regents Park an air raid started and I thought my head was going to be blown off when the guns started blasting!"

In 1940 Adelaide made an historic appearance at the old Lewisham Hippodrome in south east London: "On this particular night the Luftwaffe struck but even though we could hear bombs exploding outside the theatre, we carried on. We were told that no-one could leave the theatre because it was too dangerous. Outside everything was burning. So we carried on, and I managed to get the audience to join in. Next day the newspapers reported that I had sung 54 songs until the all-clear sounded at 3.45 am in the morning!"

Adelaide added: "When we performed during air raids we learned to become philosophical about the dangers we were being exposed to. We didn't worry too much about the terrible risks we were taking because we wanted to keep up the morale of the forces and the public."

Throughout the war, Adelaide could be heard singing on BBC radio. She also made many recordings for Decca including such wartime favourites as 'There Goes That Song Again', 'As Time Goes By', and 'I'm Gonna Love That Guy'. Her popularity equalled that of Vera Lynn.

Towards the end of the war, Adelaide joined ENSA: "I had a lovely uniform made by Madame Adele of Grosvenor Street. It was first class. I joined ENSA and travelled through Germany twice, appearing in garrison theatres everywhere. I was one of the first entertainers to enter Germany before the war was over. I moved along with the troops and it was a very dangerous thing to do. But I didn't worry about that. I just did what I had to."

Adelaide enjoyed the tours, even though she was sometimes very frightened: "I travelled in a jeep across fields in the dark. It could be scary. I'd arrive at a camp, and the hall would be packed with soldiers - and smoke! I did my cabaret and the boys had a ball! Sometimes I didn't have a stage so I improvised from the floor. It was hard work, but I'm glad I went. I loved it."

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