In the summer of 1944, Glenn Miller and his Army Air Force band travelled to England to play over 800 performances for service men involved in the war effort. After the U.K. tour, they were scheduled to head to France to begin a six week tour of American air force bases and field hospitals.
That tour never happened. On December 15th, three days after his last performance, Glenn Miller’s aircraft disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel. He was not missed until his band landed in Orly on December 18th.
Glenn Miller’s last performance before his dissapearance was at the Queensbury All-Services Club in London on December 12th, 1944, and the man from the suitcase was there.
The Queensbury All Services Club was located in Soho, London. The building is now known as the Prince Edward Theater, which was it’s original name at the beginning of this venue’s interesting history. The Prince Edward was originally opened in 1930. By 1936, the venue had changed hands and was known as the London Casino, functioning as a cabaret restaurant. The new format was a hit, and the London Casino became the hot place to take in a revue, such as Foiles Parisiennes which opened in April of 1936.
An expert from the history of the Prince Edward Theater, provided by the current owners, Delmont Mackintosh Theatres, at the theater’s website describes one of the most popular number of Foiles Parisiennes, titled ‘Ladies and Their Dogs’
“The models matched their dogs – a lady wearing a chic spotted dress would be accompanied by a Dalmation and another wearing tartan trotted on with a Scottie”
Between 7 September 1940 and 21 May 1941, London was attacked by the German Luftwaffe 71 times during a period know as The Blitz. One year into the war, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights. More than one million London houses were destroyed or damaged and more than 40,000 civilians were killed, almost half of them in London.
The Blitz put a temporary stop to the good times at the London Casino. The theater was dark until it reopened in 1942 as the Queensbury All-Services Club.
After the war, the Prince Edward was converted to a large screen Cinerama (The London Cinarama Theater, 1956-1974) and finally restored to it’s theatrical roots and original name in 1978. It’s continues to operate today.
The Queensbury All-Services Club invited artists such as Vera Lynn, Petula Clark, Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller and produced over 2500 live broadcasts to servicemen and women across the globe.
In 1942, at the peak of his career, Glenn Miller volunteered to join the U.S. Army. At age 38, he implored the Army to make use of his talents and allow him to form a modern military band. His proposal was accepted and he formed a 50-piece Army Air Force band, which became immensely popular thanks to a weekly global radio broadcast. In addition to performing over 800 concerts in the U.K., Miller and his band visited the Abbey Road recording studio where they recorded propaganda broadcasts for the Office of War Information. Glenn Miller was very popular in Germany and the recordings featured songs sung in German, as well as Miller himself speaking about the war effort auf Deutsch.
“next to a letter from home, [Miller’s military career] was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations” – Gen. Jimmy Dolittle
Due to his global popularity, Miller’s involvement in the military was a huge morale booster to the troops on the ground and the lucky service men who were fortunate enough to see him conduct in person.
Which brings us back to the suitcase.
This program was one of three entertainment playbills that were in the suitcase. I had initially set this artifact aside after a quick scan. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had missed an important fact about the program for the week of December 11th, 1944.
Popping on my Glenn Miller Best of the Big Bands vinyl for inspiration, I started researching Miller’s brief military career. Although I’ve always been a fan of his music (and be honest, who doesn’t start to swing when In The Mood comes on?) I somehow wasn’t familiar with his mysterious disappearance.
The circumstances are as follows: On December 15, 1944, Maj. Glenn Miller left Bedford, UK from a military airfield in single-engine Norseman aircraft. He and his band were due to start a 6 week engagement for the Allied troops stationed in France. The full band flew separately, landing in Orly on December 18th where they discovered that Miller had not arrived as scheduled.
From that point on, the conspiracy theories started to fly. There are three main theories about Miller’s disappearance, each now generally thought to have been de-bunked, presented below in order from most logical to the absurd.
Plane Downed by Friendly Bombs
A Royal Air Force bombing run, abandoned mid-flight due to bad weather, jettisoned their weapons package prior to landing (a full payload of bombs makes landing very risky due to extra weight and, you know, explosives). They happened to dump all those bombs over a designated area of the English Channel where a certain single-engine aircraft was also flying.
This theory was suggested by Fred Shaw, a navigator with the 149th Squadron who participated in the abandoned bombing run. Shaw remembers looking out the window and identified a Norseman flying below them squad. The plane went into a tailspin as the bombs dropped. After hearing the news about Miller’s disappearance, Shaw checked his log book and saw that both incidents occurred on the same night, although the timeline didn’t quite align.
Overexertion in a House of Ill Repute
Suffered a fatal heart attack in Paris, while in the arms of a prostitute. This theory is widely thought to be propaganda, slipped into the ears of the German press by Nazi intelligent officers.
Assassinated by the Nazis
Miller was an Allied spy involved in a secret mission, and under Eisenhower’s direct instruction was required to leave for France before his band members and rendezvous with intelligence officers to disrupt Hitler’s war plans.
This theory was proposed by Hunton Downs, a Pulitzer Prize nominee for his reporting during the Vietnam War and recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Citation for “Excellence in Reporting”, for his daily broadcasts from the Berlin Wall as News Editor of Voice of America. Downs published a book in 2009 that detailed his research: The Glenn Miller Conspiracy: The Never-Before-Told Story of His Life — and Death.
All these theories and more are detailed in an episode of History Detectives, a PBS show that “asks probing questions behind a single iconic mystery from America’s past”. They produced an episode about the mystery: The Disappearance of Glenn Miller.
So What Really Happened?
The History Detectives episode includes Dennis Spragg’s now widely accepted theory about Miller’s untimely end: Miller attempted the journey in a class of aircraft which had been recalled due to defective carburetor heaters. They had a tendency to freeze up and stop working. You can read more about Spragg’s research here.
Glenn Miller’s Last Performance
“This is Major Glenn Miller closin’ the show and openin’ the door for our next one. You’re always welcome, so, keep an eye on the papers and an ear on the radio for the time and place. Until we meet again, then, it’s good luck and goodbye.”
Christopher Popa, of Big Band Library, provided me with the following information about Miller’s last performance”
“At 10 o’clock on the morning of the 12th, his musicians traveled from Bedford, England to London, for their appearance at the Queensbury All-Services Club. There, Miller rehearsed them and that afternoon they recorded a broadcast (which would not air until Friday the 15th).
Later on the night of the 12th, from 8:30 to 9 pm, Miller and his band did a live broadcast from the Club over the Armed Forces Network, and he wound it up by saying, “This is Major Glenn Miller closin’ the show and openin’ the door for our next one. You’re always welcome, so, keep an eye on the papers and an ear on the radio for the time and place. Until we meet again, then, it’s good luck and goodbye.”
The band then did a half-hour concert for the 2500 people in attendance in-person at the Queensbury All-Services Club. It was the final time the musicians would perform under Miller’s direction, and the very last tune they played that evening was “Tuxedo Junction,” one of his most famous hits.
Afterwards, the Marquess of Queensbury gave Major Miller and his entire band a farewell party at Kettner’s Restaurant on Romily Street in London.”
Did our Man from the Suitcase attend Glenn Miller’s final broadcast on December 12th, 1944? We can’t know for sure, but he kept the Queensbury All-Services Club program alongside two other playbills from his trip to London. Maybe he attended one of the other programs that week and chose to keep the program as a memento, unaware that he coincidently saved an incredible artifact from the last performance of one of America’s most beloved band leaders. Either way, it’s a remarkable find and just one of the many surprising artifacts John Paul Jones left behind.
Have you ever attended a historical performance? Let us know in the comments!
Richards, Denis (1974) . Royal Air Force 1939–1945: The Fight At Odds p. 217.
Roberts, Andrew (2011). “Chapter 3: Last Hope Island”. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War
Bruce Robinson (30 March 2011). “The Blitz”. BBC. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
Revealed: What really happened when Glenn Miller disappeared in 1944 – University of Colorado, Boulder – College of Music’s American Music Research Center