By Tony McPhillips
As it is VE day I would like to contribute a heart-warming true story that involved my father, Major JJ McPhillips KCSS (Jimmy). He was an officer in the Royal Inniskilin Fusiliers (the Skins), reputedly one of the toughest infantry regiments in the British Army during the Second World War. He was a brilliant pianist with a photographic memory for music and could, literally, play anything from memory or by ear. Before the war he was a church choir master and organist at St Senan’s in Kilrush and had a pretty good voice too. He used to enjoy playing the piano and singing – typical wartime cabaret stuff.
I understand that during the Sicily and Monte Cassino campaign (brilliantly chronicled by a young wartime journalist named Alan Whicker who followed the Skins through Sicily) in which he fought there was a concert arranged for the troops for a bit of R&R. The performing act was a certain Noel Coward. Mr Coward was delayed getting to the concert and the troops started becoming restless. The Skins were notorious Irish brawlers and were often given leave when there was no other regiments about to avoid trouble. They were as likely to fight their own than the Germans. No word of a lie.
Organisers, concerned that things were getting a bit tasty in the audience, asked Jimmy if he would play a few numbers. He duly obliged and performed a set. Part way through his set Noel Coward arrived and as the organisers moved to get Jimmy off stage Coward stopped them and told them to let him finish his set. Supposedly he was very good .
After the concert he met Noel Coward who told him he enjoyed the performance. He said to Jimmy that the war was coming to an end and if they survived would he consider joining him after the war as a double act.
True story – and I remember hearing it many times as a child. My father would have been 110 years old last week.