Guide to the Concert and Theatre Programs Collection, Second World War, 1939-1945. Collection number: Souvenirs 3




The Concert and Theatre Programs collection contains hand-drawn and commercially printed programs produced to complement or advertise concerts, plays, musical evenings, recitals, pantomimes and revues. These events were arranged to entertain troops, as well as to raise money, or to mark an occasion like Christmas or New Year. Most programs list the names of cast members. Some contain nominal rolls. The professionally produced programs contain advertising and editorial material. The earliest items are from 1939; the latest is dated 1995, but refers to a theatre production with a war theme. The programs were produced in many different countries, including England, Australia, Asia, Middle East and South West Pacific.

SERIES 1: Ships Concerts, 1939 - 1945. Description: This series contains programs for concerts, plays and revues performed at sea by concert parties or troops, or members of the ship's company, or on land by ship's bands or concert parties. The programs vary in size and quality, from one page typed sheets, some with hand done illustrations, to multi-page, professionally printed items. Some contain lists of names, many are autographed. A number of items are not dated.; SERIES 2: Theatre programs, 1939 - 1945. Description: This series contains programs for plays (tragedy and comedy) variety shows, concerts, operas and operettas performed in theatres which were, in most cases, commercially owned and operated. The performances were not done specifically for troops, but would have been attended by them.; SERIES 3: Broadcasts, 1939 - 1945. Description: This series contains programs and advertisements for broadcasts made to troops.; SERIES 4: Cinema, 1939-1945. Description: The items in this series are varied, and include programs, tickets and advertising material. Not all the items have dates on them, though they can be guessed at. The material comes from the middle east, Australia, the South West Pacific area and the United Kingdom.; Series 5: Concerts, non-theatrical venues,1939-1945. Description: This series contains programs for concerts performed in music halls as opposed to commercial theatres. The performances were not done specifically for troops, but would have been attended by them.; SERIES 6: Performances for and by troops, 1939 - 1945. Description: This series contains performances put on for the benefit of troops around the world. It includes amateur and professional productions, those done by or presented by groups like the Australian Army Amenities Service and the British Entertainers National Service Association (ENSA), as well as by divisional concert parties, and groups established within individual units. It has been divided up either by the group or organisation which was responsible for the show, or by the place where the show was held.; SERIES 7: Prisoner of war and internment camp entertainments, 1939 - 1945. Description: This series contains performances put on by Australian and allied prisoners of war interned in camps across Europe and Asia, particularly German and Japanese camps. The relative permanence of the camps enabled facilities which required systematic organisation, such as educational courses, sports, productions of camp newsletters and entertainments like concert and theatre programs.; SERIES 8: Scripts,1939 - 1945. Description: This series contains typescripts of songs, plays and skits. Subserries 1 consists of items that were donated to the producers of concert parties through the courtesy of organisations such as Tivoli Circuit Australia of the Tivoli Theatre in Melbourne. Some copies are incomplete and may consist of opening skits.; SERIES 9: Performances held after the war, 1946 - (on-going). Description: This series contains programs for performances held after the war on troopships and for theatre performances with a war theme.

Programs or play bills have long been produced to advertise productions and to serve as a reference for the audience during the show. As a class of document, they have survived in great numbers, as people are naturally inclined to collect mementoes of pleasurable occasions. Theatre programs in the Second World War: Programs in this collection include both amateur and professional productions, and give an indication of the shows and concerts a soldier may have attended for entertainment whilst on leave or at the front, in a prisoner of war camp or travelling on a troopship. They document the history of the performing arts, especially theatre, dance, opera, musical theatre, comedy and popular entertainments such as cinema, radio broadcasts, pantomime, ventriloquism, puppetry, juggling, female impersonation, acrobatics and music in the Second World War. Entertainment in the armed forces in the Second World War: Almost immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War the Australian Army Amenities Service hastily mobilised travelling Cinema Units to screen popular 'flicks' of the day to Australian troops wherever they were stationed. Soon after in November 1939, the first Concert Party, the 6th Division Concert Party was formed. Other Divisional and Unit Concert Parties soon followed providing entertainment for the troops under the control and guidance of the Australian Armies Amenities Service. It was almost the end of the war, 1945, before the official order came through designating them as the 1st Australian Entertainment Unit. By the end of the war over twenty Concert Parties of the 1st Australian Entertainment Unit had toured in Australia, Europe, the Middle East and New Guinea giving more than 12,000 performances to Australian and Allied Forces, relieving the tedium of hours off duty. Amongst the Australian talent which featured in their shows were George Wallace, Michael Pate, Gladys Moncrieff, Bebe Scott, Jenny Howard, and Colin Croft. Perhaps one of the most famous Second World War Concert Parties was the Changi Prisoner of War, 8th Division Concert Party, which was formed only two days after the POW's arrived at Selarang barracks. The first show was a simple variety show in which anyone who wanted could get up and perform. Soon after, the Japanese gave permission for a permanent Concert Party of 30 men to be set up. These men spent three years of their captivity putting on shows for their fellow POW's. There was a new show every two weeks, and over the years they included variety shows, musical dramas, pantomime and serious drama. On top of that, a 30-piece orchestra could be heard every Sunday evening. For three years it was the only entertainment on Singapore Island. Numerous other groups and organisations also provided organised entertainment for the troops during the Second World War including: 1 Mobile Entertainment Party, RAAF; Australian Army Education Service; and the British Entertainers National Service Association (ENSA).

Contact Senior Curator, Published & Digitised Collections, Australian War Memorial.

Open - Contact Senior Curator, Published & Digitised Collections, Australian War Memorial.

Selected additional and related material available at using the search terms described under 'subject _local'. Copies of many items from the Memorial's collections may also be purchased @


Anzac Day souvenirs; Books; Cinema; Concert parties; Concerts; Entertainers; Entertainment; Female impersonators; Greeting cards; Leaflets; Menus; Music; Official Records; Photographs; Postcards; Private Records; Second World War; Serials; Theatre; Troopship serials; Variety shows


Theatre tickets; Threatre programs

Coverage Temporal



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2012-05-30 23:40