On 15 October, the RAF officially retired the last Lancaster bomber. Along with the Spitfire, the plane was synonymous with World War 2. Yet another sign that the country was moving on from the war. You wouldn’t think that by looking at the number one single of the time, however.
Lay Down Your Arms was a Swedish song, originally called Anne-Caroline, by Åke Gerhard and Leon Landgren, but the English lyrics were from Paddy Roberts, who had written Softly, Softly, a 1955 number 1 for Ruby Murray. It was a boisterous military march-themed love song, in which the protagonist is telling her soldier boyfriend that the conflict is over, so he needs to get himself home, lay down his arms and surrender to hers. Clever, eh?
The perfect person to sing a throwback to the war songs of the 40s was Forces Sweetheart Anne Shelton. Born Patricia Jacqueline Sibley in Dulwich, South London on 10 November 1923, she had begun singing on BBC radio show Monday Night at Eight at the age of 12. She had a recording contract at 15, and avoided being evacuated during World War Two by performing with dance-band leader Albert Ambrose.
Changing her name to Anne Shelton, she performed at military bases during the war, and had possibly avoided death when she was forced to turn down the opportunity to work with Glenn Miller due to prior commitments (this was the tour in which Miller died in a plane crash). She had been the first British artist to record one of the most famous songs of the war, Lili Marlene.
After the conflict ended, she became the first Brit to tour the entire US, coast to coast, which took a year. As the years passed she found it difficult to maintain her success with the songs of the 40s, and looked to war-themed material instead, such as Lay Down Your Arms.
It’s hard to fathom why this got to number 1 as far as the timing goes, let alone the quality. A month later, after the embarrassment of the Suez Crisis, would be more understandable. I can only imagine the older generation were going out in droves and buying this because they preferred it to the new rock’n’roll sounds that were loved by the youth. It’s not terrible, the melody is memorable and I’ve had it swimming round my head since listening to it, but it’s no Rock Island Line or Why Do Fools Fall in Love.
Shelton’s vocal is overbearing – I feel sorry for her soldier boy as she sounds like a terrifying lover. He’d probably be safer back on the beach at Normandy.
The most noteworthy element of the song is the fact troubled genius Joe Meek was the engineer, learning his trade before becoming a famous producer a few years later.
Shelton had a few more hits, including Sailor, which went into the top 10 in 1961 but couldn’t beat Petula Clark‘s number 1 version. She also made two attempts at entering Eurovision.
As the decades went by she was often brought out for war anniversaries and ceremonies, much like Vera Lynn. She died on 31 July 1994 of a heart attack, aged 70.
Written by: Åke Gerhard & Leon Landgren/Paddy Roberts (English lyrics)
Producer: Johnny Franz
Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 September-18 October)
Athlete Sebastian Coe – 29 September
Scientist Frederick Soddy – 22 September