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15 October 2014
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Happy Italian POWs Singing English Songs

by A7431347

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F. Cloake
Location of story: 
Bizertier, North Africa
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Contributed on: 
18 October 2005

I joined the Terrirorial Army six weeks before the war started. I was in the 5th Battalion Folkestone. I falsified my age; told them I was seventeen when I was only sixteen.

First, we was deployed all over the country. Eventually, I went abroad to North Africa and then to Italy. In 1943 I was in Bizerter in North Africa. I was twenty and in the Royal Artillery. I remember hundreds and thousands of POWs, mostly Italians. They were marching to captivity by us. They were singing English songs especially Lily Marlane because it was popular across the world. They looked pleased I expect because they felt it was all over for them.

I felt nonchalant, it was them or us.

This story was submitted to the People's War website by Helena Noifeld of BBC Radio Kent and has been added to the website on behalf of F. Cloake with his permission. He fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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Message 1 - Re: Happy Italian POWs Singing English Songs

Posted on: 18 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mr Cloake

Actually both they and you were singing a German song.

The lyrics of Lilly Marlene are from a poem, 'The Song of a Young Sentry', by a WW1 German soldier, Hans Leip. He wrote the poem before going to the Russian front in 1915, combining the name of his girlfriend, Lili (the daughter of a grocer), with that of a young nurse named "Marleen" who waved to Leip, while he was on sentry duty, as she disappeared into the evening fog. The poem was later published in a collection of his poetry in 1937. It caught the attention of the German composer Norbert Schultze, who set it to music in 1938. It didn't apparently do too well until it was transmitted to the Afrika Korps in 1941. The Italians translated it into Italian, and later it was translated into English. It is now in about eighteen languages, you'll find a few here links including the original German one.

Peter Ghiringhelli

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