D-Day Darlings Keep the Magic Alive

The D-Day Darlings. Photo: Roland Turner - CC BY-SA 2.0

The D-Day Darlings were formed ten years ago by Katie Ashbury and have been immensely successful performing at numerous military events, including The Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at Royal Hospital Chelsea.  They also performed on the Normandy Beaches for over 250 veterans.

The group began as a duo and later expanded to a trio and then leaped in size to include six other members, and made a huge impact on Britain’s Got Talent after their performance on the popular show netted them a standing ovation.

The group’s specialty is performing songs from the end of the Second World War, and they raise funds for The Royal British Legion.  To date, they have raised over $53,000.  The Darlings are happy to support the Legion, which they call the original veteran’s charity.  They wanted to create a show to commemorate the wars, honor and remember the fallen heroes, and celebrate the veterans who fought and continue to fight for us and carry that spirit forward into the next generation.

“They are just so thankful and proud of us. It’s unbelievable what this music does to them, you can see it on their faces. Some of the songs, like ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ or ‘We’ll Meet again’ got them through the dark days, and it takes them back to a time that we can’t begin to understand,” Ashbury said.

The D-Day Darlings during VE Day 70th Anniversary celebrations in Birmingham. Photo: Roland Turner – CC BY-SA 2.0
The D-Day Darlings during VE Day 70th Anniversary celebrations in Birmingham. Photo: Roland Turner – CC BY-SA 2.0

Ashbury continued to highlight the number of stories she’s heard, saying that she could easily write a book from everything she’s been told.  She receives hundreds of e-mails from veterans and from the families of veterans offering gratitude and praise for what they do.  But it’s come easy for Ashbury and her other D-Day Darlings because of their personal, special connection to both the First and Second World War.

They each learned a lot more about their heritage and family histories through research required for the role.  For example, Ashbury’s step-grandfather served in the RAF as a flight navigator in a Lancaster bomber, and her grandfather-in-law served in the British Army.  Another member of the group, Emily Louise Brown, has an aunt who is presently serving as a flight sergeant in the RAF.

The D-Day Darlings during VE Day 70th Anniversary celebrations in Birmingham. Photo: Roland Turner – CC BY-SA 2.0
The D-Day Darlings during VE Day 70th Anniversary celebrations in Birmingham. Photo: Roland Turner – CC BY-SA 2.0

The D-Day Darlings performance usually features a backdrop of original 1940s film footage, but on Britain’s Got Talent, the backdrop to their performance included their own family members.  Their inspiration comes from many sources, but none are more prominent than Dame Vera Lynn.  Dubbed “The Forces’ Sweetheart”, she endorses the good work done by the group and shares their passion for empowering a new generation of women.

Lynn sings at a munitions factory in 1941.
Lynn sings at a munitions factory in 1941.

Vera Lynn’s position in history was cemented by the fact that she kept up morale in the wars, giving up her voice and talent as the soundtrack for the lives of the soldiers serving in WWII, which is why the D-Day Darlings believe it is so important for them to keep her music alive.  And it sounds like they’re doing a wonderful job.  The audiences have been really receptive, learning all the words and following along with the routines.  Women and girls even show up with their hair in victory rolls.

During the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, the D-Day Darlings received a standing ovation after playing a medley of ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.  Ashbury says it is the biggest moment of their lives, and as always they would like to dedicate their performances to the heroes who served and fought and died for their country and never made it home.

Next up for the D-Day Darlings is the construction of a junior group to carry the flag and keep the memories and spirit of wartime music alive for the edification and enjoyment of the next generation.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE