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A Nightingale Sang - or did it?

By Stan Scislowski

   Those of us who are aficinados of old World War II songs know how A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.  

   Well, now that the Lights have gone on All Over the World, maybe this will shed some light on just who did that singing.

                A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square

      If you're an old Vet like myself, or were in the prime of life back then during World War Two, you will sure as heck  remember this song. What you don't know, though, is that a bird did sing there one night that could very well have inspired someone to write the lyrics of that song. But it just so happened, it wasn't a ightingale, but someone's faultless imitation of a Whippoorwill.
      Here's what happened, as gleaned from a book of war stories written by the famous author, newspaper columnist, a veteran of the Ist war and a war Correspondent in the 2nd war, the one and only Gregory Clark,(now deceased) a Canadian, of course, and it goes like this:
      Along with his love of fishing, hunting, hijinks, and writing delightful and humorous homespun stories for his  newspaper columns in one of the big Toronto dailies before and after the 2nd World war,Greg Clark developed a remarkable ability to imitate bird-songs. Some of his calls were absolutely uncanny in their precise tones and warblings.
      While in company of a WARCO friend on their way back to the hotel in London after a night out on the town, they came to Berkeley Square made famous by that nostalgic song 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square. The Square, dotted with trees, was smack in the middle of many American Service offices and billets, so, when the pubs and cinemas closed for the night, the streets were filled with raucous, high-spirited Yanks on their way to their billets. As Greg and his buddy reached the Square, and remembering that a Nightingale once was supposed to have sung there, he got the idea he'd impress his sidekick with his imitation of bird-calls.
       He didn't know the Nightingale's song, so he put his hands to his mouth anyway to do the  song of the Whippoorwill which he had mastered. And no sooner did the melodic warbles and chirrups rise into the night air, the echoing shouts and laughter of the  Yanks abruptly came to a stop. Not a so much as whisper in the Square. Then came the nearer to the source of the bird-song. To them, they were sure they were hearing a Nightingale singing in Berkeley Square. They couldn't believe  their ears.  One group came up with great excitement to Greg away with the magical moment and were looking up into the trees trying to spot the bird that was the inspiration for the popular song. Naturally the bird didn't sing another note. Away went the Yanks back to their quarters, no doubt talking about what they had heard, and Greg and his buddy went to theirs smiling to themselves at pulling off a stunt on the Yanks.  
       The next day, you would have to believe that there had to be more than a few letters  written home to loved ones remarking how they actually were there in Berkeley Square when a Nightingale sang its sweet melody.
                                   Stan Scislowski


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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