THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GLENN MILLER
Posted February 18, 2015on:
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If the Beatles were the music of the 60s, and Elvis the music of the 50s, then Glenn Miller was the music of the 1940s. His legendary big-band hit tunes like ‘In The Mood’, and ‘Moonlight Serenade’ are synonymous with World War 2. And yet one of the 20th century’s most successful musicians disappeared in mysterious circumstances, never to be seen again. Over 70 years on from his disappearance, people still harbour passionate theories as to what may have happened.
In 1942 Miller at 38 was too considered too old for military service, even though he offered his services to the US Navy. Instead he gave up a comfortable income in the United States to come over to Britain to help with the war effort here. Miller’s ambition was to modernise military marching music, and with that he succeeded stupendously.
On 15 December 1944, Major Miller was to fly to the newly-liberated Paris to entertain the troops there. He departed in a single-engine Norseman aircraft, from an RAF airstrip, Twinwood, on the outskirts of Bedford, some 40 miles from London. He was accompanied in the aircraft by another passenger, Colonel Norman Baesell, and they were piloted by John Morgan. Miller hated flying, and was nervous about the aircraft. His fellow passenger, Colonel Baesell, had to josh with him that Charles Lindbergh had made it all the way across the Atlantic in a single-engined plane.
Miller’s fears were to be proved well-founded. The aircraft took off in thick fog, and disappeared over the English Channel. The news was kept from Miller’s wife, back home in New Jersey, until Christmas Eve, and there was no extensive search for the aircraft. It was assumed that the plane had crashed into the Channel, and written off as another tragedy of wartime.
Fans of Miller’s were never to be satisfied with that explanation though. Conspiracies abounded that the plane had been shot down by the Germans, or that Miller was lying, badly disfigured in a Parisian hospital, or that he had been killed in a brawl in a Paris brothel. The idea that the plane had iced over in low temperatures was contradicted by the fact that the weather that day had been 5 degrees Celsius, not cold enough for the wings to have iced over.
In 1983 Miller’s younger brother Herb announced that “Glenn Miller did not die in a plane crash over the Channel but from lung cancer in a hospital”. In the summer of 1944 Miller had written to Herb with the news that his chain-smoking habit was taking it’s toll. He was dying from lung cancer. “I am totally emaciated, although I am eating enough. I have trouble breathing. I think I am very ill”. This was verified by colleagues who said that Miller had lost a tremendous amount of weight, and that his uniforms hung on him. On one occasion he had confided to the director of his military radio shows, that it was pointless him making any post-war plans: “I don’t know why I make plans like this … I have an awful feeling you guys are going to go home without me”.
Herb’s theory was that the disappearance had been put about because his brother hadn’t wanted to die eaten up with cancer in a hospital bed, but to go in a hero’s death.
Another theory was put out by an RAF navigator, Fred Shaw, who had been returning from an aborted raid on Germany on 15 December. As he approached the English coast, Shaw jettisoned his payload, which included a 4,000-pound bomb. When he looked out of the window to see the explosion, he noticed a Norseman flying below. Shaw felt that shock waves from the explosion could have knocked the aircraft out of the sky.
Another theory on a military corruption website has it that Miller was on a secret peace mission for General Eisenhower, to encourage the Germans to surrender. At the back end of 1944 everyone knew that the war was on it’s last legs, it was only a matter of time. Miller was to fly to Versailles, and then on in another aircraft to German Army Headquarters near Krefeld. The website has it that Miller was betrayed though. He was interrogated by die-hard Nazi’s, beaten up and then left for dead on the doorstep of a Parisian brothel. The news that Miller had been frequenting a sleazy brothel would have been a propaganda coup for the Nazi’s. Miller after all summed up everything that was great about the Americans, and the Allied campaign.
Whatever the truth of the matter about Major Miller’s disappearance, I only know one thing …. I love his music.