The "Meet the Navy" Show
Bonar A. (Sandy) Gow is Professor Emeritus of History, Concordia University College of Alberta, Edmonton. He is currently writing a book about life below decks, based on many years of research and extensive interviews. His research to date has involved interviews with 325 men and women who served in the Navy (RCN, RCNVR, and Wrens) in the lower deck.
He is still searching for those who, before 1970, were in the Sonar, Fire Control, Electrical and Electronics trades, and at the same time reading the publications on a wide range of topics concerning the RCN from 1910 until 1970.
The "Meet the Navy" Show
The Second World War was a total war, involving both citizens and service personnel. In order to carry the war effort forward, and to encourage recruitment, it was crucial to maintain the morale and support of both groups. With this in mind “Meet the Navy”, or more simply “The Navy Show”, came into being in early 1943.
This naval review, which comprised dance routines, songs and skits, began rehearsing in Toronto in June. Serving members of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service – the Wrens – were accepted, and civilians who were also interested in performing were enrolled in the WRCNS. Male performers followed the same path, as did the ratings that built the sets and operated the lighting.
When it went on tour the show consisted of a stage cast of 35 Wrens and 40 male ratings, a 25 piece orchestra, and 30 support staff. The headliners were all professionals, but the chorus was not, and many had never before been on the stage.
The first public performance was held in Toronto in September, and from there the show travelled in its own self-contained train across Canada to Victoria, performing for armed forces personnel for free and civilians for a modest fee. In Canadian cities the show was held in venues formerly used by vaudeville acts, while in smaller centres, it was broken up into three parts. Victoria, Ocean Falls, Prince Rupert and Whitehorse were among the far western venues.
In the course of 1943-1944 the show made its way back across Canada, performing several shows a day, and more than 500,000 Canadians were entertained. So successful were these performances that “Meet the Navy” was sent to the Great Britain in the fall of 1944. Civilians and Commonwealth personnel in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England were all able to enjoy the performances put on by these talented Canadian sailors.
The highlight of the British tour was London, where the cast played to audiences for over five months, and at a time when V-1 and V-2 rockets were falling on the city. A command performance was put on for the Royal family at the Hippodrome and King George VI gave the show a substantial gift. London was followed by Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Oldenburg, Germany.
Wherever it went “Meet the Navy” was well-received, and when it closed a profit exceeding $100,000.00 was turned over to the Government of Canada. A movie of the same name, but missing a number of the original performers and musicians who had already gone home on discharge, was made in 1945-1946. Unfortunately it did not enjoy the same acclaim.