Churchill Anecdotes: Epping, Woodford, “Lili Marlene,” Fitzroy Maclean

Churchill Anecdotes: Epping, Woodford, “Lili Marlene,” Fitzroy Maclean

Under­neath the lantern, By the bar­rack gate
Dar­ling I remem­ber, The way you used to wait.
‘Twas there that you whis­pered ten­der­ly, That you loved me, You’d always be
My Lili of the lamp­light, My own Lili Marlene. 

Epping and Woodford

Churchill rep­re­sent­ed the Essex con­stituen­cies of Epping and Wood­ford forty years, from 1924 to 1964. (In 1945 they were sub­di­vid­ed and he stood for Wood­ford.) Through his retire­ment in 1964, that was more than half his adult life. In about a year, we mark the cen­te­nary of his first elec­tion there. Richard Cohen, who lives in Loughton, is devel­op­ing a suit­able celebration—of which more anon.

Mr. Cohen kind­ly sends me a lec­ture by Allen Pack­wood, around the 90th anniver­sary of Churchill’s elec­tion. Many who labor in the Churchill vine­yard know Mr. Pack­wood as head of the Churchill Archives Cen­tre, Cam­bridge. Col­lec­tive­ly we are all in his debt for vast assis­tance in research­es large and small. Speak­ing in 2015, Allen explained how much the Essex seat had meant to WSC:

Churchill was nev­er real­ly a par­ty politi­cian. He always strove to be a nation­al fig­ure. He may not have been high­ly involved in local affairs, pre­fer­ring to leave such mat­ters to his effi­cient local team…. But he did bring nation­al issues to Epping and Wood­ford. If any­thing, even more to Wood­ford after the war, for when he came here it was as one of the most famous men of his age…

Wood­ford hand­i­ly elect­ed Churchill in 1945, but in the Gen­er­al Elec­tion his Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty was thrown out. Only tem­porar­i­ly side­tracked, he came back as a scin­til­lat­ing Leader of the Oppo­si­tion. Recall­ing his post­war appear­ances in Essex, Mr. Pack­wood remind­ed me of the wartime song Lili Mar­lene, and an anec­dote by Sir Fitzroy Maclean.

Lili Marlene
“My Lili of the lamp­light…” Ger­man Army pro­pa­gan­da post­card, Paris 1942, invok­ing “Mar­lene” before the British 8th Army “cap­tured” the tune. (Wiki­me­dia Commons)

Lili Marlene

Writ­ten 1915 by Hans Leip (1893–1983), but not well known until 1941, Lili Mar­lene was first record­ed in 1939 by Lale Ander­sen, a Swedish singer pop­u­lar in Berlin cabarets. Two years lat­er it was broad­cast as a filler between news pro­grams by the troop sta­tion Deutsche Sol­datensender in occu­pied Bel­grade. It was an instant sen­sa­tion among Ger­man troops from Nor­way to Africa. But that was just the beginning.

In 1942, sol­diers of the British 8th Army in North Africa heard Lili on the Ger­man wire­less. A 1944 BBC video takes up the sto­ry, relat­ed by Denis John­ston:

On 4 July 1942 the 8th Army held the line at El Alamein. There weren’t many radios up for­ward near the bat­tle area, except prob­a­bly the one in our record­ing truck. We used to turn on the news every night and lis­ten to it…. Chaps would come in from all over the desert, like birds com­ing in around a light­house. They’d sit and lis­ten. You’d see the glow from their cig­a­rettes and pipes, and the lit­tle glow from the radio dial. After the news was over, we’d switch over to the “Mes­sages Home” pro­gramme from Ger­many. And before long it would go Ompa, Ompa—and there was Mar­lene…. The 8th Army swept on, cap­tur­ing on its way 800 miles of desert, 75,000 pris­on­ers, 5000 tanks, 1000 guns, and the famous ene­my song of Lili Mar­lene.

The captured tune

Sud­den­ly a Ger­man war bal­lad became the 8th Army bat­tle song, copy­right El Alamein, 1942. The BBC wrote its own lyrics, sung by Jew­ish refugee Lucy Mannheim and beamed right at Berlin….

Your men is dead I hear it. It graves the Russ­ian snow,
Yes die you must I fear it, For Hitler wills it so.
Oh could we only meet once more, Our coun­try free of shame and war,
And stand beneath the lantern. We two— Lili Marlene

Führer I thank and greet you, For you are good and wise
Wid­ows and orphans meet you, With hol­low silent eyes,
Hitler, the man of blood and fear, Hang him up on the lantern here
Hang him up from the lantern! Oh Führer —Lili Marlene

Ger­man pro­pa­gan­da min­is­ter Josef Goebbels was incensed. After a lame attempt at a more mar­tial ver­sion, he banned Lili Mar­lene from the radio, order­ing Lale Ander­sen nev­er to sing it again. It didn’t mat­ter. Ger­man troops con­tin­ued to sing it, lis­ten­ing sur­rep­ti­tious­ly to BBC broad­casts. (Dame Vera Lynn record­ed a less grim ver­sion.)

“Pleasing to the ear…”

Churchill returned to speak in Essex in Octo­ber 1946. Allen Pack­wood relat­ed an appear­ance unrecord­ed in the Com­plete Speech­es. This was at a pri­vate din­ner at the King’s Head Pub­lic House in Chig­well. (On the menu was tri­fle “gar­nished with the out­line of a cig­ar.”) Mr. Pack­wood found this account in a local newspaper:

Whilst he was hav­ing his din­ner, the patrons in the bar below regaled him with many of the songs which became famous dur­ing the war years, includ­ing “Roll Out the Bar­rel,” “Hang­ing Out the Wash­ing on the Siegfried Line,” and last but not least “Lili Mar­lene.” The for­mer Ger­man army song was appar­ent­ly the most pleas­ing to the ear of Mr. Churchill, for he was heard to observe that its “cap­ture from the ene­my was one of the most sat­is­fac­to­ry fea­tures of our vic­to­ry in North Africa.”

Before he left, Churchill asked them to sing it one more time, and tapped along hearti­ly with his cane. “It is a won­der­ful image,” Mr. Pack­wood com­ment­ed. Indeed so. Lili Mar­lene was the war prize of His Majesty’s 8th Army.

For some rea­son, the sto­ry reminds me of anoth­er great leader and ene­my song—years before. After vic­to­ry in the Amer­i­can Civ­il War, to gen­er­al sur­prise and some grum­bling, Pres­i­dent Lin­coln ordered that Wash­ing­ton bands play Dix­ie. He said, “I always thought it was a dandy tune.” And, like Lili Mar­lene, Dix­ie too had a sep­a­rate set of lyrics on the Union side.

Fitzroy Maclean remembers Lili

Fight­ing in Yugoslavia with Tito’s par­ti­sans, Sir Fitzroy Maclean, Ran­dolph Churchill and Eve­lyn Waugh lis­tened to Lili Mar­lene every evening on Ger­man Radio Bel­grade. “One night,” he told me, “it just stopped. And that night we knew the Huns were clear­ing out of Yugoslavia.”
“Friends and home­land now say farewell to each oth­er, and the sen­tinel clos­es his log­book, and once more the strains of Lili Mar­lene float through the night.” —Deutsche Sol­datensender, Bel­grade, 1943


“The True Sto­ry of Lili Mar­lene,” BBC, 1944

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