Blitz and Peaces
WWII Live Music and Living History
My own interest in
militaria and the British Home Front started when I was a small boy
playing in the streets of Exeter. I would talk to the war veterans
of two world wars, who lived in the prefabs opposite our house. They
had been erected post-war because of the devastation of the Exeter
blitz of May 1942.
One day, one of
these veterans gave me his old Fire Guard helmet, which he used
during WWII. I loved the fact that this Helmet had been used during
the blitz by someone I knew, it was dated 1941 and that it had its
own smell of damp canvas, which I still associate with things from
the war years today. This really gave me the bug for collecting
things from the war years and encouraged me to question both my
Grandfathers and my Father about their life during this period of
In 1985, aged 25 I
organised an event on Exeter Quay involving military Historians,
Living History Groups, vehicles music and displays, when it became
clear that the city council itself didn’t want to organise and event
to commemorate 40 years had passed since the end of WW II. The
veterans and residents of the city really got behind the event and
it was well attended and a great success, raising a considerable
amount of money for the Royal British Legion funds.
importance of the effect of bringing together veterans, historians,
equipment and families and sharing memories of Britain’s Heritage, I
continued organising similar fund raising events over the years.
Blitz and Peaces
was formed by Lesley and I in 2005 in Exmouth, Devon. Our aim is to
provide quality, experiential entertainment tailored to the needs of
WW II living history events. We provide live music using period
instruments, static displays of WW II Home Front equipment and also
help with aesthetic decoration at events
Arthur as an
E.N.S.A. Entertainer and Lesley as an A.T.S Sergeant in Tropical
dress. Jane and Lesley as Women’s Land Army and Paul as a spiv.
As time has moved
on our ranks have been steadily growing, with four people in the
main vocal group and our photographer and I.T. specialist John, now
becoming more involved at the events, John’s own particular interest
is in photographing modern day living historians and scenarios at
events, to make them look as realistic as possible. He manages to
create a real feeling of being there in some of his remarkable
shots. He is also responsible for the overall design of the Blitz
and Peaces website, which is updated weekly and encourages other
living history groups to link in to the site, to provide a
comprehensive contact hub for living historians and the general
‘I’ve known Arthur
for many years. When he first approached me about a website, I
thought a couple of pages about the band and some pictures would be
the kind of thing that he would want. I hadn’t reckoned on Arthur’s
enormous collection of memorabilia to feature in his ambitions for
‘We initially had
some discussion for the look and feel of the site and we both agreed
that we didn’t want to go down the corporate road, I was
particularly keen for it to have a unique feel.’
‘After a few months
of work, it became very apparent that it was not going to become a
“short term” project and having been swept away with Arthur’s
enthusiasm and intensely positive approach, I was hooked not only on
the building of the website, but on my true passion for photography.
We started photographing every piece of equipment as it was sourced,
mended if needed, cleaned and researched and this is still on-going,
a project we plan to complete sometime this millennium,’
‘I also started
visiting and photographing some of the Living History Events, both
in terms of photographing the re-enactors, and the veterans and
visitors to them. What became apparent very quickly was the
overwhelming sense of enjoyment that the veterans showed and talking
to them about their experiences became a real interest for me. By
talking to them and using the camera to record the events, free from
any hint of the present in the background of the shots, I like to
get them as realistic as possible. I get a great deal of pleasure
from the veterans and the publices reactions and comments to the
‘It was at an event
that I realised that I didn’t fit in with the backgrounds either! I
had no uniform and would clearly be in the background of other
people’s shots too. Arthur lent me an American paratroopers uniform,
with hundreds of pockets for lenses and other items. Shortly
afterwards I purchased my own uniform and equipment and dress as a
U.S. Army War Photographer, which reflects my modern day role and
remembers the role of the photographers on the front line in real
combat situations during WW II. I have looked at many period
photographs and have tried to get every detail as accurate as
possible, with the exception of one, my Nikon D300, but I could
never sacrifice that!’
‘I find myself
attending more and more events these days. The spirit of camaraderie
between veterans, vehicle owners and the public always makes for a
memorable day out. I have ridden in jeeps, tanks and
aircraft to get the shots, which has been an incredible opportunity
for me. I have photographed the inside and outside of everything I
possibly could, but most of all enjoy photographing the people. From
veterans, who are busy re-living their first hand experiences, to
the families who bring three generations along, usually dressed up
to get the full experience. Of all these things though, watching the
veterans talking to the young children is the most rewarding
experience, as they know that the children will remember them and
their comrades and will never be forgotten. I wouldn’t
miss it for the world.’
John Dyer (Alias
Flash Thunder) Living History Photographer
We have mounted an
on-line museum at our website www.blitzandpeaces.co.uk. We started
this 5 years ago and although time consuming, have had great fun
putting the various sections together. This is a free facility
designed by photographer John and is used by schools and enthusiasts
all over the world, who are either, studying or researching WW II.
There are now specialist sections for militaria, vehicles and
military modellers on the site. With over 2,500 high quality
photographs of wartime items in the museum section alone, it’s
growing all the time.
We have supplied
photographs to many periodicals and publications from all over the
world. On the website are also mounted selected photographs of
events which we have performed at over the last six years.
We work with many
Living History Events and groups, the M.V.T., Museums, the National
Trust, Schools, Age Concern and many residential care homes all over
Jane Hindle as a
W.R.N.S. Second Officer
‘Blitz and Peaces
is more to me than just singing the wonderful songs from the 1930’s
and 40’s. We also spend many hours talking with members of our
audiences and listening to them recalling their memories, brought
about by familiar songs, uniforms and objects we take with us. On
occasions it can be a very emotional and humbling experience.’
performing the songs from the period we help to keep their memories
alive and we can also ensure that future generations, remember and
respect with sensitivity, the price that was paid by others for our
‘I have two
children of my own and like any other parent would wish for them a
happy and peaceful lifetime. Having served in the W.R.N.S. myself
during the Falklands conflict, I saw how some lives were adversely
affected by the horrors of war and I also understand the
responsibilities faced by the Armed Forces in serving their Queen
‘Through Blitz and
Peaces I feel that we remember the hope and spirit of a nation at
war, whilst celebrating the importance of peace in our lifetime and
for future generations.’
We take home front
talks with music and songs into schools and this is a very rewarding
experience. By exploring the meaning of the lyrics in the popular
song of the time, reflecting the school curriculum at Key Stage 2
we help children
learn about the short and long term effects of war. This also
stimulates them to understand the principles of the re-cycling
drives, healthy eating, fuel conservation and make do and mend, all
schemes which were in place during WW II – and are being
rediscovered again as an everyday necessity now.
In line with
Government recommendations, Blitz and Peaces members have current
enhanced C.R.B. checks. We are also sponsored by Britain’s leading
living history event insurers Graham Sykes insurance. They insure
some of the largest military events in the world including the War
and Peace show which is held annually In July at the Hop Farm,
Beltring in Kent. Public liability insurance cover of 2 million
pounds (sterling) is the minimum cover required now by schools,
local councils and the National Trust these days and it is a large
outlay for most living historians, but we feel it is important to
meet with present professional standards of Health and Safety and
liability and so are very fortunate to have this sponsorship.
Our four piece band
supply sit down cabaret concerts, or sing-a-long, living history
walk-a-bouts at events. We entertain people with history, humour and
harmony vocals, using restored period instruments and wearing period
dress. We perform at events and venues all over Britain and have a
Williamson Square Liverpool Blitz 70
Currently Blitz and
Peaces consists of 5 members.
Guitar, Ukulele, Banjolele, Vocals.
Vocals and Percussion.
Vocals and Percussion.
Bass, Bass Ukulele, Guitar, Vocals.
Drums, Web design, I.T. and photography.
Arthur and Paul at the Party in the Park
We encourage all
generations within families, children, parents and grandparents, to
get together to celebrate Britain’s Heritage through song and light
hearted humour. We also carry WW II artefacts with us on our
journeys through the crowds at events and offer them for discussion
and comment to the public. This enables them to look closely at
suitable equipment and musical instruments (under supervision) with
hands-on question and answer sessions about life and music in the
war. It allows them to relate to how life in wartime Britain did, or
would have affected their lives. By making these experiential
comparisons between then and now, children especially, can learn so
much about their own history and how it contributes to their future.
It also creates photo opportunities for people to take away as
memories of a fun family day out.
Arthur and Paul Liverpool Blitz 70
own love affair with the songs from the era started around the same
time as my interest in militaria. We had a large garage at home
filled with ex-military radio equipment and other delights such as
magic lanterns and wind up record players. My Grandfather’s and
father’s early Shellac 78 records were stored in this Aladdin’s cave
of a garage, I used to go out on hot summer days and put on records
by the Merry Macs, Glen Miller, George Formby, the Mills Brothers
and a host of other well known artists from the 1930’s and 40’s. I
still have the record player and records now and it still works!’
‘It was around this
time that I started investigating how mechanical things worked and
developing repairing skills. I have subsequently, spent years
finding abandoned old instruments, repairing them to bring them back
to their former glory and I use these during our performances.
‘I have also spent
many enjoyable hours working on of the songs I heard in my youth,
giving them unique musical arrangements, with the most sympathetic
treatment to the original tunes.
‘It gives me great
pleasure at performances seeing the veterans and older generations
singing along with songs, of the war years bringing back memories of
their own youth.’
Arthur as Wilf
Stubbs Home Guardsman and an
Developing WW II
characters is a more recent thing that we’ve branched out into. Paul
has recently joined us and been creating his character Chester
Drawers, the local “spiv”. He has been studying how these “black
market boundahs!” created smoking clubs for children, who, in return
for a supply of smokes would be sent into bombed houses to loot the
premises. The spivs knew that looting was a capital offence for an
adult in wartime Britain, but was merely a cautioning, or at most a
“birching” offence for a child.
Chester Flogging Rationed Goods
He has also looked
at the role of the “Fence” and the “Pram Raider” and has a lot of
fun with families as he tries to encourage them to buy Black-Market
goods from his dodgy, vulcanised fibre suitcase.
Paul as Chester
Drawers and Bernie Bridges
‘One of my
favourite characters I perform as, is Chester Drawers, the Spiv. I
talk to the children at events about how many sweets they could get
with their sweet ration coupons and also give away war time sweets
such as Kit-Kats with the wartime blue wrappers. I tell them about
the old money too and how it it compares with today’s money, usually
giving them an old wartime dated penny or threppeny bit as a
‘The other main
character I appear as, is Captain Bernie Bridges of the Royal
Engineers. The uniform i wear is really comfortable and in
incredibly good condition for something that is over 70 years old,
it makes me look like I’m someone in authority. The audience
sometimes gets quite a shock when they then see me dressed like this
before a performance, then, when talking about egg rationing and
keeping chickens during WW II whilst playing a ukulele bass, I’m
making chicken noises!’
Blitz and Peaces
with John Butler from “On Parade” Living History Group
that we’ve been working on recently are Winston Churchill and his
most famous wartime speeches. I have been teased for years by the
rest of the members about my resemblance to him, not least for my
portliness and love of mimicking his voice.
Arthur as Winston
Lesley in Dressed
in A.T.S. Jungle Greens for the Burma Star Veterans
Lesley has been
working on the vamp look and performance style of Marlene Dietrich,
teasing the audiences with performances of Lili Marlene and Falling
in Love Again
will always be an interesting subject for many people. I think that
the 1940’s holds a particular fascination, as there are so many
facets to the period. Apart from the obvious fact that the Second
World War took place, things such as the music, the fashions, the
home front and the changing roles of women in particular all have a
resonance today. Furthermore, most families still have a connection
to this period via their parents or grandparents experiences.’
‘As a singer amd
historian with Blitz and Peaces, it is lovely to engage with people
through music, especially with families where the older members are
included and genuinely enjoy their trip down memory lane.’
Blitz and Peaces at
Lesley as an A.T.S.
Major and a W.A.A.F.
By allowing people
a hands-on, living history experience engaging them with the songs,
characters, and feel of the home front in WW II, we hope that our
audiences will enjoy the performances and share a greater
understanding of what life was like in Britain during the war years.
Even if they were not present during WW II, we hope to give them the
feeling that they have had a real opportunity to experience the
sights and sounds of the “Home Front”.
Museums and Living History
enjoy working with Living History Societies, and Museums as we can
work in conjunction with the staff and exhibits to bring a new
dimension to a special event.
We help publicise
and promote events for these organisations from our website and
occasionally with on-street leaflet distributions.
Blitz and Peaces on
the Watercress Line
Lesley with Brixham
Battery Living Historians
Over the years we
have met and performed for hundreds of veterans and people who were
struggling against the privations of the Home Front. They have
willingly shared tales of their own experiences during the war with
us, some horrific, some tragic and some highly amusing!
One of the things
that these people have always said to us is that; whatever their
experiences, they felt that the community spirit was stronger during
the war years and whatever hardships they faced they felt alive and
fulfilled, however small their part was in securing our future.
It must never be
forgotten that they also represent our diminishing first-hand,
primary sources from this period of our social history and as they
reach their twilight years, it is important to listen and learn from
their experiences. By encouraging them to share their memories with
us we can learn by past mistakes and facilitate generations to come.
We have worked with many veteran’s charities over the years
to help raise funds. D-Day Revisited, the Royal British Legion, the
Royal Marines Association and Help for Heroes are a few that we
regularly perform for.
Lesley and Jane
with Veterans at a Living
War Walks and Talks
Over the last two
years, we have been running War Walks in our home town of Exmouth in
Devon. These run on Wednesday and some Sunday’s, when we are not
performing. The talks last for an hour and a quarter follow a simple
route round the town looking at Exmouth’s role in WW II and also
looks at the changing face of the town then and now, as the town was
attacked and bombed many times during the war. It has been well
received by locals, schools and visitors to the town alike and is
now well established.
We also supply War Talks to clubs and
societies all over Britain. Titles include, The Home Guard, The Home
Front, Women’s Roles in WW II and Children and Evacuees Lives in
Wartime Britain. More titles can be found at our website
The “Perfect End to
a Perfect Day!”
interview willing participants about their lives and experiences in
the war and am now writing books for Halsgrove, Britain’s foremost
publisher for books on local history.
The books feature
restored period photographs, testimony from eyewitnesses to events,
anecdotal evidence and stunning technical studio photographs of
period equipment and artefacts taken by John.
Exmouth at War.
By Arthur Cook.
978 085704 071 8
History of the Home Guard.
By Arthur Cook.
978 0 85704 105 0
The A.R.P. and
Civil Defence (working title)
By Arthur Cook.
We have our own
Radio Show on Exmouth’s Bay F.M.(107.9 F.M.) community radio
station. We produce 3 x 2 hour war-time shows a year for them White
Christmas and Sentimental Journey. The shows feature live music and
interviews with war veterans, local history, menus and above all
These shows are
broadcast during Exmouth Festival and during Off Com test
broadcasts, which will become weekly shows when the station in
granted its full licence next year.
Information Please Contact.