If you watched ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent at the beginning of the month you can’t have missed the D-Day Darlings who got up at the London Palladium to perform wartime classics as pictures of their families who fought in WW1 and WW2 appeared in the background.
Britain's Got Talent, Saturdays, ITV
The group specialises in songs from the era of the Second World War and fundraises for The Royal British Legion, raising nearly £40,000 to date.
Founded 10 years ago by Katie Ashby, and after a huge amount of success performing at military events including The Legion’s Festival of Remembrance, at Royal Hospital Chelsea and for over 250 veterans on the Normandy Beaches, the group grew from a trio of three to a group of nine and are now through to the finals of Britain’s Got Talent, after receiving a standing ovation for their performance on Saturday night.
Katie explains, “We wanted to create a show that continues to commemorate the wars, remember the fallen heroes, and celebrate the veterans who fought for us. But we also want to continue to take the message forward, particularly to a new generation.”
“You can see the emotion in the veterans eyes as they sing along with us”
Reactions from veterans and their families inspires the D-Day Darlings performances.
“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.
“They do tell us some stories - we could write a book from everything we’ve heard. And we’ve had hundreds of emails from veterans and their families thanking us for what we do. I’m just so humbled that I have the opportunity to do this.”
Every one of the D-Day Darlings has a personal connection to both WWI and WWII and they credit their part in the Darlings for teaching them more about their family histories. Katie’s step-Grandfather was in the RAF as a Flight Navigator in a Lancaster Bomber and her Grandfather-in-Law was in the British Army. While Emily Louise Brown ’s Aunt is still a serving flight sergeant in the RAF.
While The D-Day Darlings often perform against a backdrop of original 1940's film footage, on Britain’s Got Talent, they chose to perform against a backdrop of their own family members.
“That was unbelievable. When we saw them on the big screen at the London Palladium, and being broadcast out to millions of viewers - well, to be able to honour them from such a platform has been amazing.”
“When we perform, you can sense how Vera Lynn would have felt bringing joy to the soldiers"
As well as their family and the veterans that they perform for, the group finds inspiration from Dame Vera Lynn, “the Forces’ Sweetheart”, who endorses the groups work, and they are passionate about educating and empowering a new generation of women.
“Vera Lynn’s music kept up morale in the wars, she was the soundtrack to their days and nights, which is why it is so important for us to keep the memories of her music alive. Modern music comes and goes - it’s different now. But we want to keep the heart and soul of her music alive.”
Katie continues: “The younger audiences love it. They know all the words, they learn the routines and come to events waving their flags. We’ve had some young girls turn up with their hair in victory rolls. It’s just music that they’re listening to, they don’t care if it’s not all new songs, they really do get behind it.”
“For us it is all about educating the younger generation. One of my goals and ambitions is to set up a D-Day Darlings Junior group, who can continue the message and take the lead on remembering the wartime spirit through music.”
Fundraising for The Legion
“The Legion is the original veterans charity. It’s just such an institution, so to have their support is amazing,” says Katie.
“We’re passionate about being able to give back and support the welfare work that the charity does”.
“People know how much this is needed for veterans’ welfare so to be able to raise money for the Legion is something that’s really important to us. We started bringing out the buckets and shaking tins and the money started coming in. We’re really passionate about it and go around after gigs, rallying people, getting stuck in and building camaraderie. We try to think of any way to making it fun, offering a kiss on the cheek for a pound and things like that. People are just so generous. That really moves us.”
After receiving a standing ovation at the semi-finals on Saturday night after performing a medley of 'Rule Britannia' and 'Land of Hope and Glory', The D-Day Darlings are through to the finals of Britain's Got Talent, which will air on Sunday 3 June.
“We are thrilled and honoured to be in the finals of Britain's Got Talent. This will be the biggest moment of our lives and we will as always dedicate our performances to our heroes who never made it home and to all who serve and have served for our country.
“Britain’s Got Talent’s has such a broad demographic, and we want to be able to inspire the young and old alike with our songs. We are honestly so grateful to have been given the platform to share our passion!”