I found this picture in the memoir of Major General Beauvoir De Lisle at the Liddell Hart Archives. I assumed it was a woman who had been entertaining the troops as all that was written on the back was “W Threlfall – Queenie”. Thinking that she might have been semi famous I had a quick look and found out that I was partially right.
This is Private William Threlfall part of the Diamond Troupe from De Lisle’s 29th Division. Most divisions had a concert party of musicians and performers. They served as an important entertainment outlet for the troops out of the line when they put on performances.
Threlfall was indeed well known. He was a very popular female-impersonator and became famous within the army for his performances as Queenie, particularly duets.
Many members of the Diamond Troupe continued performing after the war with Threlfall going on to become a cruise ship performer and famous White Star and Cunard liners.
The Diamond Troupe with Threlfall centre stage in black.
“October 12 1918 – Found an old organ in the church & had a
little music — But it suddenly went heavenward! Tough luck! Will try fixing the organ in the morning. Must have music! How strange it seemed to play the Lost Chord & the Doxology in the church — a ruin in the
battleline. It was twilight too…”
Diary of H. Andrew Wallhauser, a first lieutenant ambulance driver in the 165th Ambulance
Company in Exermont, Meuse-Argonne sector, France –
The New Jersey Historical Society
“The long twilight offers great openings for songsters
and we reel off all the songs we know – very college-fashion.”
June 1918, France, American ambulance driver – In a letter to his father, he writes that singing brings back memories of college days – Text and photo from the beautiful new book “The Black Cats of Amherst”— Also, here, the fun & smart Black Cats’ Twitter feed
April 26 1918 — “Musicians
in khaki leading the boys through France”
said to the officer “I’m glad to see those bands;
but why have you so much music?” He said “Can’t you understand what an effect
music has on the troops? First, there is the attitude of mind. A pleased mind
bends more readily to discipline; and look at those men marching. Can’t you see that they
instinctively keep step better, and that makes for discipline. Our men are all
right, but they are independent in feeling and habit, and we have to treat them
like intelligent human beings.”
February 12, 1918, in Nantes, the Harlem Hellfighters’ band led by James Reese Europe gave one of the first ever jazz concerts in
‘The drummers hit their stride with shoulders shaking in syncopated time, and Europe turned to the trombones “patiently waiting for their cue to have a jazz
spasm. The audience could stand it no longer, the jazz germ’ hit them and
it seemed to find the vital spot loosening all muscles and causing what is
known in America as an eagle rocking it.’
now, we brought this band over here and started ragtimitis in France; ain’t this
an awful thing to do to a nation with so many burdens? But when the
band had finished and the people were roaring with laughter, their faces
wreathed in smiles, I was forced to say that this is just what France needs at
this critical moment.’Noble Sissle