The ukulele — an instrument for serious musicians … behind bars.

Army News (Darwin, NT) reported on 28 February 1944 that the Red Cross had supplied some 8500 ukuleles to Australian prisoners of war in Europe over a three-year period.

The spokesman said that the Red Cross took ‘every care to look after the interests of prisoners’ who were serious about music.

In comparison to the ukulele, other instruments were not thought to be in as great demand by serious musicians.  Other prisoners (79 of them) received bagpipes, and several hundred of them got violins and other (lesser) stringed instruments.

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Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ukulele packs troubles off to Leavenworth

The St. Joseph Observer of 22 June 1918 reported the following heart-warming story:

Eleven men in Khaki marched from an incoming train into the Union Station. One carried a ukulele and played as they marched, and only a few of those watching noticed that they were under guard. When they were seated the man with the instrument struck up a tune and four others formed a quartet and began to sing. In clear mellow tones they sang “Over There.” and people from all over the waiting room left their seats and moved forward. “Singing as they go to war,” remarked a man. The audience grew. A man started to talk to one who was not singing, but three husky sergeants stepped forward and ordered the crowd to keep back. They were not men singing on their way to war, but prisoners from Camp Wheeler, Ga., on the way to the federal prison at Leavenworth to serve sentences ranging from one to twenty-five years, but they had not forgotten the spirit of the army of which they had been a part and left the station singing “Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile.”

It might be that they were singing because they were not going to war. It’s a sad thought that there was only one ukulele among the eleven prisoners.