Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Woody Guthrie in London, 1944

It's the centenary of the birth of the great American singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie, born on 14 July 1912. As far as I know, Guthrie only visited London once, in July 1944. Guthrie had been a merchant seaman on board the SS Sea Porpoise, a ship transporting American troops to Europe. It left Boston on 7 April 1944 and arrived at Newport, Wales on 17 April 1944 with about 3,000 men on board.

photo of Sea Porpoise from

The ship was torpedoed on 5 July after dropping troops at Normandy beach, and was towed back to England for repairs. Guthrie and fellow folk singer Cisco Houston, who was also on board, were dropped off and made their way by train from Southampton to Waterloo Station (as described in the book Woody, Cisco and Me by Jim Longhi). While in London Guthrie dropped into the offices of the BBC and secured himself a slot on BBC Children's Hour, where he sang two songs "Wabash Cannonball" and "900 Miles" - just a couple of days after being torpedoed at sea. After a brief stay in London, Guthrie got the train on to Glasgow to join transport home.

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