The mere mention of Glenn Miller conjures up images of big-band swing and 1940s glamour. The USAF Captain became one of the most famous musicians of his time. The music from that golden era remains ever associated with World War Two and the American GIs.
By 1941, ‘Chatanooga Choo-Choo’ had sold over 1 million copies. Later singles like ‘American Patrol’ and ‘I’ve Got A Girl In Kalamazoo’ caught the wartime zeitgeist. Miller wrote both songs in mid-1942 before joining the US Air Corps. Some claimed his ‘Moonlight Serenade’ became America’s second national anthem during the conflict.
From band leader to Air Force Captain
He enlisted in late 1942 and received a Captain’s commission. He impressed his own style on the armed services and his battalion was one of the first to parade to swing tunes. Other military bands stuck to the more traditional 2/4 marching beat.
As well as contributing music, he also raised over $4 million in war bonds over the course of two rallies in 1943.
The USAF posted Captain Glenn Miller overseas in 1944. He left for England with 62 musicians. Between June and November, the band played 71 concerts around the United Kingdom. Miller himself wasn’t present at every show but toured most of the country with his musicians.
Glenn Miller in Northern Ireland
On his way to England, Glen Miller made a stop at RAF Langford Lodge just outside Crumlin, Co. Antrim. While there, on 13th August 1943, he visited Gartree Church of Ireland and played the pipe organ. In 1942, the church was within the bounds of Langford Lodge Station 587. Today, you can visit the church and still see the organ played by the famous American songwriter.
The organ itself was a gift to the congregation from the US 8th Army Air Force. Their Chaplain Rev Norman Nygaard preached in the Co. Antrim church on 7th February 1943. It’s also suggested that Miller paid a visit to St Catherine’s Church of Ireland in Killead, Co. Antrim. This church building is still inside the security cordon of the old RAF Aldergrove.
Miller visits RAF Langford Lodge
The swagger and swing of the American GIs was evident throughout Northern Ireland. Tens of thousands of them called Ulster home for a short while but their impact on the entertainment scene was huge.
Performers like Carol Landis, Francis Langford, Bob Hope and Al Jolson all passed through Northern Ireland. Yet, it’s the visit of Glenn Miller that’s lasted longest in the memories.
The USAF renamed the Langford Lodge base theatre “The Project Magnet Hall”. It was there Glenn Miller played on 13th August 1944. Earlier the same day he played Belfast’s Plaza Ballroom, home of the American Red Cross Club.
‘Glenn Miller in Britain Then and Now’ by Chris Way lists the Plaza performance. This extensive collection details every performance of the British trip in 1944. The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band played in many forms across the UK. They notched many shows that year with several broadcast to millions of radio listeners.
The disappearance of Captain Glenn Miller remains one of the enduring mysteries of the Second World War. On 15th December 1944, he boarded a transport plane bound for France. We may never know what happened that plane over the English Channel or what happened to the enigmatic Captain and big-band leader.