By Sears Eldredge
During April, the Australian concert party continued to tour a different show every week to the outdoor stages in the Selarang Barracks Area as well as two matinees to their sick and wounded in Roberts Hospital.
There were separate wards for battle casualties, dysentery, TB, malaria and so on [wrote Jack Boardman].
I remember Happy Harry in his clown outfit on stilts singing and dancing in the dysentery ward. The blokes were really too sick to enjoy it but seemed to appreciate the efforts to entertain them.
In the earliest of these two concerts, I remember two patients who had battle wounds and were skeletal — one called Johnson weighing 42 pounds or three stones, who survived and came home, and his mate almost as gaunt. The smell of gangrene was strong in that ward.[i]
New songs and sketches were mixed in with previously performed materials to keep both the performers and the performances fresh. Boardman remembered one humorous incident that illustrates the hazards of performing on different stage heights:
It was funny, one time before we got our theatre going, one of our venues was around at the convalescent depot . . . And so Keith was doing this skit where little Jackie had played up, and he [Keith as the School Ma’am Teacher] was going to spank him, you see. So he pulled him onto his knees and hit him hearty. But he’d forgotten to put his underpants on — Keith . . . and when he sat down facing the audience with his legs apart, all was revealed. The audience was laughing and laughing. And Keith said, “Gee, I’m going over well tonight.”[ii]
But coming up with new material for a weekly change of program would soon prove to be a huge challenge for the Australian entertainers.
[i] Boardman, J. Letter, 18 August 02.
[ii] Boardman, J. Interview, Typed Notes.
Note that all the documents in this series of blogs reside in Sears A. Eldredge Archive in the De Witt Wallace Library at Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105
Sear’s book, Captive Audiences/Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway 1942-1945, was published by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2014, as an open-access e-book and is available here: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/thdabooks/22