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Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper
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04 December 2003

Shortly after landing in Italy with the 21st British Army Tank Brigade, we found ourselves too close to the Army HQ at Caserta and so had to be on our best behaviour as the Army Group Commander, Gen Sir Harold Alexander, was often to be seen being driven to and from various locales. This impressed our senior officers, who were a bit paranoid in case we were spotted doing something odd which would mean trouble.

Fortunately, the lower ranks were not quite so impressed and went about their lives as usual, which meant that inasmuch as we had no idea what was in store in the near future we were determined to make the best of it while the best was still available.

My own particular best was music, of which I was an avid listener as the playing of same avoided my talents, and so being so close to Naples and the San Carlo Opera House, I made my way there at the first opportunity.

Strange as it seems now, my mother's favourite opera was playing, Cavaleria Rusticana, Mascagni's tale of love, lust, betrayal and death in Sicily. This was part of a two-opera show with the saga I Pagliacchi, and so I booked myself into a box all by myself and with feet up and completely relaxed, I enjoyed the first act of Cavaleria. The highlight then approached, the Intermezzo, and settling even further into the chair I listened as the orchestra struck up the first four notes... which were the last I heard as bedlam broke out with the audience running up and down with ice cream, juices etc, screaming and shouting to each other like long-lost brothers and sisters.

Then the story hit me... Mascagni had written this particular beautiful piece of music in order to prevent the audience from moving out of their seats... he failed miserably! Crestfallen, I wandered back to our camp without waiting for the end.

Some two weeks later, a notice appeared on squadron orders to the effect that we were all 'invited' to an operatic concert to be given by a famous Italian singer! This was not too well received by all ranks, and I found myself the only 'volunteer' other rank amongst all of the brigade officers who had been especially 'invited' by the brigade commander. I had mentally gone through all the various famous Italian singers of the day, realising that people like Schipa, Simonetta and many others were a bit past their prime and others like Gobbi were up and comers and so it left one name dangling in the air.

Sure enough, Beniamino Gigli was to sing for us for two hours, accompanied by his daughter on the piano, and we had a most fantastic evening of all the popular arias along with many of the Neapolitan songs.

Time and the war moved on and one day during a short leave in Rome, I was celebrating my 21st birthday at a café near the Pantheon when I noticed two things. One, my waiter was crying, and on the other side of the piazza was a funeral cortege. I asked the waiter what was wrong and he merely pointed to the cortege and said, 'Maestro Pietro Mascagni!' So my mother's favourite composer was buried in Rome on 22 July 1945.

It was when we were close to Rome I heard many operas via the radio, but the standards were not as high as they would have been as most of the ladies had gone to the USA prior to the war, and wisely stayed there, and most of the men were long past their prime with a few good new voices here and there. It was here that I first heard the wonderful voice of Renata Tebaldi and even today when I hear a recording of her singing Ebben from Catalini's La Wally, I still get shivers up my spine!

Again the war moved on and I happened to be in Vienna... illegally downtown looking for the Statopernhaus when I heard an orchestra obviously rehearsing, and so I slithered into the basement of the bombed-out building and saw and heard the Vienna Philharmonic of the day, conducted by Von Karajan, with a young soprano who was as thin as a rake as if she had been on a no food diet for some time... but the voice was unbelievable. At the end I must have applauded as I was 'invited' to leave by two Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alikes. It was two years later, back in the UK, that I heard that voice again... it was the great Dame Elisabeth Schwartskopf! To hear her sing the soprano for Beethoven's Ninth Choral, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler at Bayreuth is an experience ALL schoolchildren should have today.

Many times during that period I was in Milan and invariably dashing around to La Scala only to find that it closed last night... it will open next week. Eight times I have been in Milan... not once inside La Scala!

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Music in Italy

Posted on: 05 December 2003 by GerryChester

Hello Tom,

I will always remember two visits to hear the works of Rossini in Pesaro. There is a brief acoount of this on: links



Message 2 - Music in Italy

Posted on: 05 December 2003 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Gerry - wonders will never cease - managed - finally - to get through to your account on page 31 of your sojourn in Riccione - while I was still "suffering" in the Catania hospital until about the time you left Riccione !

Message 1 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 26 March 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

I was browsing through your stories, not much else to do I suppose (only kidding) when I was electrified by the Music in Italy, now I am extremly jealous.
To hear those wonderful voices in Italy must have been something. I have been in Milan and never even made an opera let alone the La Scala, how I wish.
In Vienna My wife and I did get to see an Opera among other things and we both do love it.
I do play piano and now own a Yamaha Electric that cost a lottery win but my wife said if not now when.
I honed my playing on battered Naafi and Sergeants mess piano's well oiled with beer (me and the piano) and learned a lot of the Italian ballads and light operatic tunes from the German POW's waiting for repatriation.
I first met them while recuperating from the BMH I think the blue WW1 uniform intrigued them, they were allowed two weeks leave there to get back into normal (Normal?) living before going home. Playing the piano wins you the strangest friends.
I still play those songs and by special request from the grand children (play some of those ancient songs granddad) they get Lily Marlene, Angeline, Sorrento, Isle of Capri and many more with the occasional Aria thrown in.
Thanks for the Memory Tom we have more in common than I thought.
Regards Frank.


Message 2 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 01 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank -
it has been said that we are all brothers - sometimes I look back and think about all the wonderful people I have met, and, you know - they all seem to like GOOD music.

For the past year I have been giving monthly lectures on Music Appreciation as I found that over here - with the vast distances etc, Classical Music is not a very high priority. Oh sure, the High Schools have their bands - based on the American High Steppers - as I call them - but after school the music is forgotten for this infernal Diabolic cacophany. So I was asked by a number of people to tell them something about music - which pleased me no end as I can play anything I want to them and I can back it up with some history and a few anecdotes. It's fun to hear their reaction - just tonight as I was walking the dog and friend came up and announced that she was off to Vancouver to see and hear La Traviatta, and so we chatted a while about msic and I told her I would give her this story on Music in Italy - and so found your note ! We are not short of good music - in Vancouver 75 miles away - by the time we would get back here it would be way after 2.a.m. In the past few months we had Isaac Stern just before he died - YoYo Ma is a frequent visitor ,- Alfred Brendal has been here twice in six monthe - Cecilia Bartoli - is a constant visitor to the Italian "ghetto" and all sorts of people are getting to know Vancouver !Which is all to the good for good music and I hope it builds on this past few months !



Message 3 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 01 May 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Tomcan,
Classical music is far from dead over here, the Prom's from the Albert Hall prove that We have two weeks of televised programs followed by the last night at the Prom's and the audience numbers are unbelievable.
My car radio is tuned to classic FM and all my car CD's are classics. There is a surge of popularity and why not it is proper music compared with todays wall paper music.
My wife and I when first married would go to a small cinema that put on Opera Films and on one great occassion we had Gigli on stage at the local playhouse but the North East was a desert where top class music was concerned.
Learning Piano I learned to love the classics and my Father was into light opera so I got Richard Tauber and many other of those singers.
My fingers are not very subtle these days so the classics are the very simple ones. My piano allows me to add all kinds of instruments and beats so I can still beat out the other kind os classic like Glen Millar.
I do love all kinds of music and when in London we take in the shows about once a year now though.
I do find if my day has not gone well I can sit down and lose myself for anything up to two hours on the piano and come off with aching wrists and fingers, what the hell if you are enjoying doing something pain is nothing.
Glad to hear you are keeping busy doing something that you enjoy and educates people at the same time. Us older generations have plenty to teach the young if they would only stop and listen.
Regards Frank.


Message 4 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 01 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank - you are so right about our ability to teach the young - but they seldom listen !
Peter Ghiringhelli the researcher cut into one of my exchanges with a chap, whose Father had been in the same Tank Brigade, as I was extolling music one day to tell us about when he was Chief Immigration Officer at Heathrow - one of his subordinates came to him with a fact that he had detained a 'middle aged 'woman from Austria who didn't have a visa - new passport etc. Peter nearly died as it was Elisabeth Schwartzkopf !
If you are in a buying mood one day for a disc - try the EMI classic of Wilhelm Furtwangler's version of Beethoven's Ninth with Elizabeth Schwartzkopf - this is the famous concert when they re-opened the Festival Hall at Beyrueth in 1951!
When I play this - I'm gone for a hour ! I have a boxed set of Furtwangler conducting all of Beethoven's symphonies, I gave away my Von Karajan when I got Furtwangler - he is so far ahead !
We usually get the last night at the proms over here and now the Vancouver Sym Orch is trying it on over here as we now have an English conductor - who was trained by the Salvation Army. My 12 year old grandaughter is a amember of the Junior Bach Choir with a fair voice. We go down to hear her when they are in concert, she sometimes gets a solo part !


Message 5 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 01 May 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hi Tomcan,
That Peter he gets all the luck, meeting Elisabeth Schawtzkopf a truly wonderful singer.
Among a large collection of CD's I have Karajan and Furtwangler conducting and can only agree with you but I could not throw any music away.
In my car which my son in law says I drive like a tank, the shortest way to everywhere! I have Wagner for the agressive driving and Grieg in the speed limit zones. Coming down from Scotland last week we set off first and he expected to catch me at the border. When he rang on the mobile the wife told him we were through Newcastle and nearly home funny how the air turns blue but driving I know about and have not lost my edge yet.
I do have a penchant for Verdi and Dvorak throw in a Suppe and you have some idea of my range, Berlios through Elgar to Mozart plus a bit of Brubeck and Fats Domino. A musical tramp would best descibe it I think Tom but to each his own.
Keep well Regards Frank.


Message 6 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 03 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank - as you say - music solves many problems, I can leave Wagner alone - for years but I am inclined more to the mellow - Air on G String - Meditation - Intermezzo - Mozarts 21 piano concerto- Morning and Anitra's Dance ! and of course - ALL of Beethoven's works, not a bad one among them. I can listen to his 7th Symph - Piano 4 *& 5 - Violin Concerto ALL DAY LONG.Dvorak's "Song to the Moon" can always get me going as it is underrated, and of course anything by my five heroines of song.

Funny about driving as I have said Vancouver is 75 miles away and I do it regularly in 75 minutes - my eldest son can't do it under 2 hours ! Of course - he never drove a Tank ! I always did the Birmingham - Newcastle run in five hours - every sunday after spending the week -end at home when I was selling tools in the N.E. for Monks & Crane, and that was with an Austin A40.. it was a bomb ! Great days - I was on 10:oo per week and expenses ! Getting soaking wet walking from C.A.Parsons
to a ship repairer in Gateshead or Jarrow I've forgotten where they were now !


Message 7 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 03 May 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

I sat last night listening to a boy of 11 years playing Ravel's "D" and was amazed. It was young musician of the year and the standard is top class, I cannot see me touching my piano for some while after that. Saying that I could play Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto number one in "B" flat at around that age, it was all the rage at the time. I still play it only I give it the classical pop's treatment for fun.
There is no bad music Tom even todays wallpaper could be classic in twenty years like the Beatles.

You would be lost in "The Fog on the Tyne" now. There is nothing left apart from the odd workshop, it is all shopping centres. C.A.Parsons is long gone in takeovers it did become Rolls Royce at one time but goodness knows who now.
I learned to drive long distance by keeping to the speed limit exactly. That did not apply in the Middle East but on the Autobahn's 600 miles in a day was regular and I did many miles on those roads. In America I loved it those long roads with the speed control in and the discpline of the other drivers it was an eye opener after driving thousands of miles on our Motor Ways.
Dad who was a super driver said "do not change speed suddenly, ease up and ease down and be looking a mile ahead all the time" It worked I never had an accident.
I guess being battered and bruised in a tank made us careful as to how we did it.
Well Tom I am baking bread and it will have risen ready for the oven now so better go get it in there, I love fresh baked bread.
Keep Rolling Tom Regards,


Message 8 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 03 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank -
I have just been reading about the 16 y.o. Scots girl who won the contest with her playing of Szymanoski's Violin Concerto - such Polish melancholy - I heard Ida Haendel once play that in Bournemouth and have a been a fan ever since - this girl can do no better than follow Ida - her playing of Sibelius won a big thank you from Sibelius himself as he claimed she was the only one to play as he had written it.
Ida's playing of Beehoven would make you gasp as well !

All things change Frank as the desert on the lower bank of the Tyne will no doubt attest - there is this mad rush for retail sales completely forgetting that the wealth of the nation is in production. When I am walking the dog in our fairgrounds I am horrified to see train loads of goods coming past Agassiz heading for the Eastern Markets - all from Asia, and we wonder why we have so many craftsmen out of work ! A very big store here in Canada is a general merchandiser called Canadian Tyre - I have written to the Head Honcho asking him to rename the Store to that of the "Chinese Tyre"... funny I haven't heard from him ? Probably get a knock on the door at 3/a.m. !


Message 9 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 04 May 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

I watched that girl right through the heats knowing she would be among the winners. In one of the heats her chin rest kept coming off, they would fix it then she would be right back in only for it to come off again. It never fazed her she won the heat.
Being a piano man I did give more concentration to the young boy but that young lady will go far.
I am sitting here covered with wounds. opening the gate to my secret garden yesterday I was attacked by a "Pauls Scarlet Rambler" it whipped me across the face with a long whip that had fastened in the gate.
Out came the secateurs and a full frontal attack on the thing only it flanked me and my arms got it, they have more teeth than a shark.
Weigh up the situation, make a plan and then do what any good soldier knows, run like hell when outnumbered.
I came back with the heavy boys, the electric hedge trimmer and gave it the best of three falls. I get all artistic when playing with that trimmer and it ended up roughly in the shape of a Camel crapping in the desert.
Raking up debris it got me again on the leg so I reckon it was a draw in the end with plenty of blood on both sides.
There was a good documentary on channel five last nights (oops sorry BBC) it was "D" Day and some of the things they inovated for the attack on the beaches. They had some of the lads who were there and they made it sound so mundane.
They showed the Funnies that went up the beach, the "DD's" mine clearers road layers and bridgers. There were also some of the Flame Throwers and "TD's" most were on Churchill chassis but quite a few on the M4 and I did spot a Valentine chassis or two. The British "DD's" worked OK because they went into the sea much closer to the beach than the Americans who lost most of theirs. They dropped them three miles out in a stormy sea. A British Major who saw it happen said he screamed at them and called them idiots then said it was cowardly in front of the camera.
One of the old boys had working models of the mineclearer and the road layer and demonstrated on his carpet, dont know what the wife would say about that.
Well it is sunny again after the rain so a couple of trips to the tip and get rid of "Pauls Scarlet" or what is left of him, I will handle the bags with welding gloves though.
Regards Frank.


Message 10 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 04 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank -
I think you are right is saying that young girl will go far - I just hope that she isn't pushed into the "popular" music bit - like Charlotte Church and this other newer Mezzo -Soprano - Jenkins, the lure of big money is too grat I would have to assume.
Your encounter with the roses is something I no longer get involved with as I leave that to our local horticulturalist - who - it must be said does a better job than I ever did.
Last year I signed up for a 20' x 20' allotment from the Village and now comes the crunch as I now have to start planting,spuds, carrots, beets, peas, turnips with a bigger space for everbearing strawberry's. I managed to get a kind soul to roto-till the patch and I have been out levelling it all over. Hopefully to-day I can get some barriers to the ever creeping weeds which surround the field.
I could use a couple of Hobarts funnies on this task, or even a bangalore torpedo.
The Americans didn't see the point in the funnies until they hit the bocage then they re-invented everything.
One of the best 'modifications' we ever had was the welding of a phone hand set to the back of the Tank which enabled the Infantry to get through on our inter-com and advise us as to the wherebouts of various nasty surprises which were awaiting us. It saved a lot of lives !
A Canadian engineer came up with that one, as well as an Infantry bridge which two men could build.
Must be off as I note that it is now raining and so I shall be sloshing around in the brown sticky stuff ere long !


Message 11 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 05 May 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hi Tom,
I packed up on planting vegetables long ago and miss the taste very much.
The Jersey Royal potato's have just arrived here, they get earlier each year. A light boil in their skins and a large pat of butter are all I need on my plate, mind a kipper on there as well would not go amiss.
I hear what you say about those wonderful young musicians but at least they have the freedom to do it their own way. I shudder to think what it would be like now if people like you had not done what you did and bless you for it.
Have you thought of an electric wheelchair with tracks for your gardening. You could lower the seat as we did in the tanks for pushing the plants in the ground. Just a thought Tom we deserve it easy.
Regards Frank.


Message 12 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 05 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank -
a friend who lives in Washington State gave me some potatoes to plant and so yesterday I made the effort and was successful - without any undue trauma... so there is hope that I can do more planting again to-morrow as I have had the peas - carrot - beet - turnip seed in the fridge for a couple of days and they will be just dying to get into the warmer earth !

Had to go to funeral to-day - another Cancer victim at 61 ! Gets worse !


Message 13 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 05 January 2005 by ODYSSEY

Jan. 5'05
Dear Tom,I read your "talks" with Frank who is also a music lover after you and he appeared on the FRONTPAGE of WW2.
I discovered that we are neighbours:You live in Canada B.C. and I live in Western Washington across from Seattle:Small world.
I had added your name to :"fav. friends." After my "Christmasses Past",you enterd the discussions that eventuall fizzled I am sorry to say.
And just now I find out you live in Vancouver B.C.
I have been several times to Vancouver when my mother had to board a plane back to Holland. I loved that city, the beautifull Park,The shops at X-mas time with banks of red flowers.

I too love the operera's you write about.
I lived in Holland in a city close to the german border. I had an uncle nicknamed "God the Father" by people who were also members of the CLUB he was president of.
He had several daughters with beautifull voices. He himself was a "Bass-baritone" I still remeber him at home singing:"Im tiefen Kellar sitz ich hier..."
His daughters were members of the local Opera society and sang in the opera's produced ,
My aunt took my sister and me to Düsseldorf to the opera/and operetta's-she considered that part of the education; and how right she was!-I remember one dress I wore :it was seafoam green chiffon and the neckline was finished with what I called "diamonds' and I wore low heel black leather pumps . After the opera she took us to some fancy hotel diningroom for a "supper":We could order what we wanted even :Wienerschnitzel at 11 p.m.
But I grew up with beautiful music. When I finally ended up in Australia a friend and I went to the the concerts in Brisbane,When ever I hear Tchaichovsky's "Pathétique" I am back in Brisbane.

My granddaughter and I had a discussions:if you have to make choice now of either being blind or deaf What would you choose??
I said:blind. you can imagine in your mind what your eyes cannot see ,but never to be able to hear again, would be infinetly worse:no music,no birdsongs,no rustling of leaves no crunching of snow....

I think I'd prefer to be dead;or spend my very last penny on a hearing aid as to hear at least something.

I loved the dance music too that Frank writes about. I had a small Phillip's radio during the germean occupation. I managed to hide it from the Germans. I listened to the BBC,to all kind of dance music, There was an excellent dutch band:"The Ramblers" who must have listened to England and American dance music.
They knew the latest hits.
After the liberation and before my trip to the UK. we caught up with the latest songs. Vera Lynn was very popular,just to name one.

I married a dutchman who also fought in Indonesia, where I was a nurse, after spending most of the war in the underground.He was an excellent piano player. He could hear a song once or twice and could play it. He could improvise,syncopate, sing as Satchmo; could play organ,guitar. When we went on leave from the Dutch Indies to Holland he played on the mailship when the band quit.I was called the "pianowidow",but I did not care because he really enjoyed playing and so did the passengers listening to him.

You mention that a friend in this state gave you potatoes to plant . I used to plant veggies,but a year ago i was mauled by a dog on my daily walk:He broke my R.Femur, crushed 2 bones in my R. hand,took a bite out of my forehead that required 36 stitches to rapair.(Frank knows the whole story and I sent him a picture raken in the hospital.) I spent 5 weeks in Rehab to learn to walk again and use my L hand for feeding etc.. I still use a cane outside,don't dare to go walking in the neighboorhood: afraid of loose dogs* (This dog was not a loose dog,but was sicked on to me from his yard).The owner took me to court:she wanted to prove that it was my own fault.She lost that gloriously , consequently her insuranc Co., HAS to pay damages, cannot refuse to do so. I have an excelent laywer, but it will take a while before the insurance will pay. They keep hedging but he promised me to take them to court soon. My yard has gone to pot.I have to have somebody to mow my yard,I know I don't be able to have my yard in ship shape again and no vegetable garden. I have to adjust, but it won't be easy.

I better quit:this might be read by many people, there is no privacy like in personal e-mail,so be it.
my very best to you,I hope I will hear from you again?
Josephine,alias "Odyssee'.


Message 14 - Music of any kind.

Posted on: 05 January 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Josephine - it is great to hear from you and to know that you are close. We actually live in Agassiz which is 124 Kilos East from Vancouver. Strangely I have just finished writing about more musical memories for the BBC as an addendum to my initial tale of "Music in Wartime Italy" which you read on the Front Page.As you so rightly say - Blindness as opposed to Deafness - unfortunately when I was wounded in Italy I was deaf for a long time but recovered some of my hearing until 1961 when the left ear "blew Up" and I was operated on - in St.Pauls Hospital over the Christmas holiday but the Nuns - at that time made sure I did not miss out on anything including Midnight Mass ! The hearing has since deteriorated to a point where there is nothing left of the left ear and less than 35% in the right one which is augmented to 58% by a hearing aid - which are doubtful at best. The result being that I have to play my Beethoven at a level which is not acceptable to other members of the family and so it is only played when I am alone. But I can still whistle it silently and so the music is in my head at all times ! Many a time I wander through the Vienna Woods again humming the 6th Symphony
as I did in '46 ! His 5th piano is a bit more difficult though !
You already know that I was giving lectures of Music Appreciation last year to a group but I have not been asked this year - so far !
to-day the first seed catalogue has landed on my desk and I am looking at the potatoes for this coming year - my friend in Washington State gave me some of his last year and I must reciprocate with Canadian Yukon Golds ! That will shut him up for while !
Must go and tend to a loose tile which has come adrift in this 60 MPH gales we are having straight out of the Arctic !

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