Appeal to rediscover last act of lost Shakespeare band

The Northern Echo: Frank Davison with the Shakespeare Temperance Trust's 1873 indenture Frank Davison with the Shakespeare Temperance Trust's 1873 indenture

AN ANNIVERSARY appeal has been made to trace a silver band which disappeared without trace three decades after abandoning its instruments, music and uniforms at Dunkirk.

The Shakespeare Silver Prize Band, which dates back to at least 1926, was sent to France to entertain war-weary British troops on the continent in 1939.

But the musicians were ambushed by the Nazi onslaught and became part of what Winston Churchill called the “miracle of Dunkirk” – the May 1940 evacuation back across the English Channel of more than 300,000 men in 900 boats of all sizes.

The band’s instruments, music and uniforms had were left behind, along with masses of military equipment and supplies. But it is thought all the musicians survived.

Rehearsals returned to Shakespeare Hall, Durham City, until 1973, when the band vacated the North Road venue after which it was named.

But now, to mark the 140th anniversary of Shakespeare Hall’s opening on March 12, 1874, an appeal is being made to rediscover the band’s story.

The hall was opened and is still owned by the Shakepeare Temperance Trust (STT), founded in the 1870s to combat increasing drunkenness through the creation of an alcohol-free pub.

Its founding statement, signed by eight men including future Darlington MP Arthur Pease, colliery owner Joseph Love and Durham mayor James Fowler, outlined its intention.

It says: “A public house without drink, Where men may sit, read and think, Then safely home return; A stepping stone this place you’ll find, Consent to leave your beer behind, And truer pleasures learn.”

Among the STT’s records, now held by current chairman Frank Davison, is a note indicating the War Office sent the band £154 compensation for its Dunkirk losses.

Mr Davison, a retired forgemaster from Durham City, said: “The band left the hall in 1973. They may have moved to County Hall.

“I’d be interested in collating any information.”

Shakespeare Hall’s ground floor is now occupied by a hairdresser’s, a money exchange and a clothing shop.

Upstairs, Durham Community Association, its occupants since 1947, hires out space for meetings, groups and clubs.

Anyone with information on the Shakespeare Silver Prize Band should email: adavison148@yahoo.co.uk

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