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Glenn Miller Declassified

Dennis M Spragg
The book is a detailed study of Glenn Miller’s life as a musician from the late 1930s until his entry into the US Military in 1942 and up until his death in the English Channel on the 15th of December 1944.

Miller was famous before his service and worked with such people as Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosbie, the Gershwins, Gene Kruppa, Benny Goodman and All Jolson. His records were making 50 cents a time, he was selling 750,000 a year. Miller was rich and content with his lot until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, that changed him overnight, and he enlisted within days.

People spoke of ‘Glenn Miller and his Band,’ however the Bands were more like orchestras, they were never less than 70 strong, at times 150 strong. He took his own music style into the Military, this upset many traditionalists in the US Army in particular, his worst offence was to Jazz up military parades, his biggest offense was to Jazz up ‘Sousa’s Military marches.’ After seeing a parade one senior officer shouted. “God Damn it! Those boys are swinging their asses, not their legs!”

Miller wanted to get to Europe, this he did, and on arrival started his Big Band Concerts, visiting nearly all the 440 USAF and RAF airfields in the UK. He played mostly in Large Hangers with audiences of up to 2000. He broadcast to the people, also the British and US forces via the BBC, his music became infectious, apparently also to the Wehrmacht. Bing Crosbie was billed to sing in a concert that was to use German airwaves to be heard by the German forces; to which Bob Hope remarked; “What the Hell have the Germans done to deserve that?”

Glenn Miller died on the 15th of December 1944 on a flight to Paris, he was due to fly a few days later, but had accepted a lift in a single engine ten seater USAF aircraft which was used a few times a week to do a ‘milk Run’ for mail and dispatches from the uk to Paris and back. The USAF pilot had done 75 previous trips. The flight passenger list had one official passenger, a Lt Col Norman Baessell, also on board was a ‘casual’ passenger Major Glenn Miller. The Band was to follow four days later. Miller had ‘bummed a lift.’

There followed much speculation about the aircrafts disappearance over the English Channel, The speculation that followed his death was typical of the more recent ‘ J F Kennedy and the Lady Diana stuff.’

On the 15th of December just after midday when the flight took off, it was freezing fog with some light rain. The air was clear of Luftwaffe aircraft. Returning Bombers flew at 25000 feet and the single engine light aircraft at 2000 feet. The flight was routed via Beachyhead to Calais, it was later spotted by observers at Beachyhead and on route.

It is interesting to note that Miller worked with his British Counterpart Lt Col David Niven and Niven’s chauffer Peter Ustinov. Two men whom he got on famously with

The aircraft was not reported missing until four days later, mainly because the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ started at midnight on the day of the aircraft’s disappearance, the military had other things to occupy them. It only became apparent that Miller was missing when his Band got off their aircraft in Paris and were not met by Maj Miller. ‘It is not like him not to be here’ was the feeling. His disappearance was kept secret for two weeks. When announced the speculation became rife, Miller was supposed to be: Captured and a POW, He had Committed suicide; He was in Russia as a spy. It all got to the ears of Joseph Goebbels; who declared to the German public and the Wehrmacht that “Major Miller has been found dead in a Paris Brothel”

Glenn Miller’s music was most certainly very popular, it brightened the mood in ‘Blackout England’ and raised the spirit of servicemen and civilians alike. Music such as, ‘In the mood’ ‘Pennsylvania 65000’, ‘Sunset Serenade.’ Very recently, I attended a Royal Air Force charity Band Concert, They played superbly, however the only music that got 100% audience participation was the Glenn Miller pieces mentioned here.

In February 1945 a USAF Board of Enquiry was convened with a General Officer at its head. It found that the aircraft was mechanically sound on take-off, and that it had a fully qualified pilot on board, It concluded that the aircraft went into the sea either because of a frozen carburettor, or that the pilot had become disorientated. The board also confirmed that Lt Col Baessell, should he be alive, that he should be Court Martialled, and that Maj Miller should be reprimanded. The aircraft was then officially ‘ Struck off the ledger’

A good average read, interesting and certainly well documented, it illustrates the fast pace of life in wartime England with its mixture of servicemen and civilian population, there was certainly a lot going on. I award the book four stars.
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