"In the evening I attended a Pierrot show which was most enjoyable, all the artists were professional, it was a treat to hear some music."
Stretcher-bearer Langford Colley-Priest
“The Anzac Coves
Dispensers of joy and jollity
Fun and frivolity”
They were a respite from mud, fear and death. The Anzac Coves entertainment troupe performed with a lively sense of humour which satirised military life and the soldiers loved it. They set up their theatres in barns and sheds, just back from the trenches and their shows were always packed. They were so popular they toured Britain during 1918 and even performed at Buckingham Palace in front of the King, Queen and Princess Mary.
All of the Coves had seen active service as soldiers. Some had been at Gallipoli, others at the Western Front. There were singers, comedians, female impersonators, a monologist who was James Brunton Gibb (who recited poems and monologues, singers, dancers and musicians. There was also burlesque.
They were a Pierrot troupe, a part of the musical hall tradition. Pierrots were originally a French entertainment that had spread across the channel to Britain. Pierrots would sing, dance, juggle and make jokes at seaside venues in Britain up until the 1950s.
The Coves had 23 performers and an orchestra and performed for over 250,000 soldiers, writing much of their own material including their 1917 Christmas pantomime, Dick Whittington and his cat. They rehearsed their pantomime in the Ypres area with shells and bombs falling nearby.
The painted scenery and props were all built by the Coves themselves. The theatres they played in were usually large barns or sheds converted into a theatre with a stage, a cinema and electric lights, all carried and installed by the Coves.