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Banjo from 'D-Day dodgers' goes to regimental museum

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

  • A banjo used by troops from the Eighth Army has been donated to Cornwall's Regimental Museum in Bodmin

  • Lady Astor surveys the battered city of Plymouth

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It's a testament to the humour and fighting spirit of Britain's forgotten heroes and has now gone on display for the first time since it was used in the Second World War.

The beautifully decorated Second World War banjo was used by troops from the Eighth Army to perform one of the most famous songs of the war.

D-Day Dodgers was written as a sarcastic riposte to a remark allegedly made by Lady Astor, MP for Plymouth Sutton and the first female MP in the House of Commons.

She was reputed to have called the men D-Day Dodgers and said that they should wear yellow armbands on their return, implying that they were avoiding the real war in France. She always denied it.

However, the Eighth Army had in fact been fighting in Italy since 1943, several months prior to the famous D-Day landings and replied that they had served many of their own D-Days.

In response to Lady Astor's alleged slur, in true squaddie style, they adopted the nickname and composed a witty song which depicts how easy they thought life was in Italy.

The banjo carries the names of almost 70 Italian towns through which the original owner, a soldier of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, passed through during some of the fiercest fighting in Europe. Lyrical variations were composed by different troops fighting the Italian campaign to a song sung to the tune of Lili Marlene and some of the lyrics used were:

We landed in Salerno, a holiday with pay,

Jerry brought the band out to cheer us on our way.

Showed us the sights and gave us tea,

We all sang songs, the beer was free,

To welcome D-Day Dodgers

To sunny Italy

The banjo has been donated to Cornwall's Regimental Museum in Bodmin.

Lydia Hall, who researched the story of D-Day Dodgers for the regimental museum, said: "In truth the Italian campaign was fought as bitterly as all other military campaigns but has possibly become overshadowed in history by the events in Normandy.

"The song and banjo trace all the major events leading up to the victory in Italy in 1945, mentioning places like Sicily, Monte Cassino and Florence."

The old-fashioned banjo is decorated not only by the place names but also shows the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry cap badge and 4 Infantry Division symbol.

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