World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Non Armed Organisations

Entertainments National Services Association (ENSA)

From Wikipedia

The Entertainments National Service Association, or ENSA was an organisation set up in 1939 by impresario Basil Dean and the British Government to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War 2. ENSA operated as part of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI). It was superseded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) which now operates as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC). SSVC is a British registered charity set up to "entertain and inform Britain's Armed Forces around the world".


ENSA Cap Badge

Despite many extremely talented entertainers and movie stars, past and future, working for ENSA the organisation was necessarily spread thin over the vast area it had to cover. Thus many entertainments were substandard and the popular translation of the acronym ENSA was "Every Night Something Awful".

With thousands of groups entertaining troops in almost every theatre of war, the quality of the shows was bound to vary considerably and was inclined to get worse in proportion to how far from Britain the troops were stationed. The squaddies' interpretation of those initials was, in some cases, pretty near the mark.

Famous stars such as Vera Lynn, Tommy Trinder, Arthur Askey and "Stinker" Murdoch, George Formby and Gracie Fields all joined ENSA to aid the war effort. All the major stars visited every theatre of war to put on a show to entertain the troops. ENSA itself, with Geraldo supervising the musical side, gave many post-war stars their first experience - among these, Tommy Cooper, Jimmy Edwards, Frankie Howerd and the lesser lights who made a steady living in show business owed much to the organisation.

The television sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum concerned the misadventures of a group of soldiers providing entertainment for an army barracks in India and Burma. These were known as the Concert Party and were not ENSA members per se but the ideals and enthusiasm were presented very well.

ENSA was responsible for the organisation, control and finance of the artistes. There were many entertainers to whom ENSA was a lifeline as it provided them with a fixed salary of £10 per week for artistes [quite a lot in those days!] and £4 per week for chorus. Some were therefore earning more from ENSA than they ever did as performers pre war.

The first ENSA concert was held at Old Dene Camp, Camberley (Surrey) on September 10th 1939. The last ENSA concert was held in India on 18 August 1946. All told, there were 2,500,000 performances with audiences totalling in excess of 500,000,000. Statistically, four out of five members of the entertainments profession worked for ENSA at some time.

Uniforms were introduced at Basil Dean's behest as he was worried that if the artistes were captured they could be shot as spies (a very real posibility). The uniforms consisted of standard pattern battle dress and any standard war theatre uniforms such as Jungle Green bush jackets or Airtex. The only insignia allowed on the uniforms was the standard ENSA shoulder titles. Although not having any rank, all ENSA performers were granted officer status so that they could use the mess facilities. The only artiste never to wear uniform was Tommy Trinder who, when it was put to him, said "if I get captured, I deserve to be shot!"

ENSA used all kinds of vehicles from rickshaw to Sherman tank. Some performance convoys included the following: sleeping coaches, mobile cinemas and workshops, rediffusion vans, generator trucks and carriage trucks for the mobile stages, pianos and records. All vehicles bore the ENSA insignia and the white star identification (post D-Day) of the Allied Invasion Forces.

ENSA artistes were assembled in secret in Hindhead prior to the invasion, they were driven around country lanes to confuse them as to their final destination. From Hindhead the convoy made its way to Southampton for embarkation.

George Fomby was in the first wave ashore and gave an impromptu performance within three hours of landing to the men of the US 6th Airborne Division.

Only 8 days after D-Day 1944 the "Stars in Battledress" crossed the channel, although venues to actually entertain the troops were few. The 144 artistes made their way there in 130 vehicles. More ENSA parties landed in France from 24th July and Gertrude Lawrence and Margaret Rutherford were amongst the early performers. The different groups of entertainers followed the armies closely through France, Belgium, Holland, and into Germany. According to Basil Dean an Old Vic Company with Sybil Thorndike, Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson played in the Schauspielhaus in Hamburg two weeks after the German surrender.

ENSA performed throughout the war years - there was a sister organisation called MESA which stood for Middle East Services Association.

Some of the ENSA acts
Organisers: Basil Dean, Leslie Henson, Godfrey Tearle and Owen Nares.

Angers, Avril : comedienne - served in West Africa
Askey, "Big Hearted" Arthur : comedian, actor, BBC radio star
Byng, Douggie : comedian (considered to be too blue)
Chester, "Genial" Charlie : actor, comedian
Cheverton, Una : violinist
Cooper, Tommy : comedian magician
Cotton, Billy : musician and band leader
Coward, Noel : actor, writer, singer, impresario
Davies, Lydia : pianist
Edwards, Jimmy : comedian
Evans, Nancy : opera singer
Fields, Gracie : actress and comedienne
Forbes, Bryan : actor
Formby, George & Beryl : Ukelele performer and his manager
Fyffe, Will : comedian - served in Egypt
Geraldo : musician, dance band leader
Gielgud, John : actor
Grant Anderson, James : actor (cf. Lovatt, B; Cheverton, Una and Davies, Lydia)
Grant Anderson, Lena : actress (cf. Lovatt, B; Cheverton, Una and Davies, Lydia)
Hackforth, Norman : pianist (to Noel Coward) and BBC "Voice"
Hawkins, Jack (Captain) : actor
Henson, Leslie : producer
Howerd, Frankie : comedian
La Rue, Danny : comedian / drag artiste: White Cargo
Lang, Mattheson :
Lawrence, Doreen (Mrs Jack Hawkins) : actress - served in India
Lawrence, Gertrude : actress
Lawrence, Syd : musician
Loss, Joe : musician, band leader
Lovatt, Basil G : Director
Lynn, Vera : singer

Matthews, Jessie : actress, singer
Murdoch, Richard "Stinker" : actor, BBC radio star
Novello, Ivor : pianist, singer, songwriter
Olivier, Lawrence : actor
Pounder, Betty : dancer, choreographer - served in France
Richardson, Ralph : actor
Rutherford, Margaret : actress
Schofield, Paul : actor, 1940/41
Shelton, Anne : singer - RAF
Sinden, Donald : actor - served with MESA

Tauber, Richard : musician
Thorndyke, Sybil : actress
Trinder, Tommy : comedian
Wells, Catherine : dancer - served in Gibraltar and Mediterranean
Whyte, Mavis : impressionist / commedienne - served in North Africa


GCHQ  Government Communications Headquarters

GCHQ is a Civil Service Department under the Ministerial responsibility of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. GCHQ provides Government Departments and Military Commands with signals intelligence (Sigint) in accordance with requirements laid upon it by the JIC (as for SIS) in support of HMG's security, defence, foreign and economic policies.

GCHQ was established in 1946 as the post-War successor of the Government Code and Cipher School which had been the central Sigint organisation since 1919 and had made an outstanding contribution to the War effort at Bletchley Park, for example by decrypting German messages enciphered by the ENIGMA machine. 

In 1953 GCHQ moved to two sites on the outskirts of Cheltenham. In 2003, it is in the process of moving to a new, consolidated building known as the Doughnut. The Director of GCHQ is responsible to the Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary for all aspects of its work.