I love records like this; time-capsules from another era. Back when this was released in 1957, the only way for a household to have such a recording was on a vinyl record. Television was still in its infancy, and video wouldn’t see mainstream acceptance for another twenty years.
It’s easy then to imagine the whole household gathering around the record player to listen to this recording. It’s nice to picture that kind of shared experience. One day, I might try and sit my daughters down and force them to listen to this. I’ll be lucky if they don’t roll their eyes and ask me to turn the boring talking off.
This record is full of famous moments, essentially the history of the Second World War, bookended by a couple of years either side. There isn’t a great deal of light relief, but it’s all fascinating stuff; some of it well-known, some of it new to my ears.
One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is Desert Island Discs, a slimmed-down version of the Radio 4 broadcast. It’s essentially the same as what is transmitted live, except that the songs are shortened quite drastically for copyright reasons. A couple of years ago, one of the “castaways”, the novelist Vikram Seth, chose as one of his discs a recording of a Nightingale singing as a wartime bombing raid passes overhead. It’s a fantastic recording, the purity of the birdsong contrasting completely with the ominous drones of the bombers. I was so happy to find that a short clip of the recording is included on this record.
The story behind the Nightingale and bombers is worth sharing also. Every May, the BBC would record birdsong for live transmission. On the day in question – May 19th, 1942 – a quick-thinking engineer pulled the plug on the transmission, believing that the sound of the bombers could potentially forewarn German forces of the impending attack. A full recording exists, with the 197 bombers recorded on their way to Mannheim, and only 186 recorded on their return.
Hit: “Oh the humanity…” – The giant airship Hindenburg bursts into flames at Lakehurst, New Jersey, May 6th, 1937
Hidden Gem: Nightingale in a Surrey wood matches its voice against the drone of a thousand bombers striking at Germany