The above article appeared in the Montgomery Advertiser on
November 9, 1949, announcing that Hank would be touring Europe
with an Opry Cast later that month. In the account following, you’ll discover that some of the information in the article was incorrect.
European Tour, November 1949
by Manfred A. Reinhardt and Brian Turpen
".. There ain’t nothing strange about them likin’ our kind of singing.."
- (Hank Williams, about the Germans, 1949)
On Sunday, November 13th, 1949 at 8:45 a.m., a four-engine C-54 "Skymaster" of the U.S. Air Force took off from Berry Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Aircraft like the "Skymaster" were used to supply the citizens of Berlin during the Soviet blockade of the divided city. This particular comfortable aircraft, #9089, was fitted out with luxurious seats, and was once the official plane of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and later the 34th President of the United States.
On this airplane were 29 passengers, all well known stars and top management staff of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. The passenger list included, beside Hiram "Hank" Williams, names like Clyde "Red" Foley, Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys, James C. "Little" Jimmy Dickens, the harmonica and piano player James L. "Jimmie" Riddle, the comedians Rodney "Rod" Brasfield and Ophelia C. Cannon, better known as Cousin Minnie Pearl, the announcer Grant Turner, the manager and producer of "The Biggest Country Music Show On Earth", Jim Denny, whose official designation was Artist Service Bureau Manager for the Opry (he used to be their stage bouncer), and the Opry’s Vice President and General Manager Harry Stone. The artists and musicians were given permission to bring their wives along because the tour would extend throughout the Thanksgiving weekend. Thus, Hank Williams was accompanied by his wife Audrey, "Red" by Eva Foley and Roy Acuff by his wife Mildred as well as their teenage daughter Thelma, whose dream was to become a famous tap-dancer one day. Minnie Pearl’s husband Henry Cannon, a pilot, was also part of the group and in later years on a few occasions took Hank Williams to different gigs with his Beechcraft "Bonanza". Another participant was Thomas D. (Tom) Luckenbill, advertising agent for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. R.J. Reynolds was the sponsor of the "Prince Albert" portion of the Grand Ole Opry. Also admitted on board were two young and attractive ladies, Dolly Dearman and Helen Bremer, (introduced as Helen Harris on stage). Dolly appeared in dancing acts, while Helen’s talent for yodelling secured her a seat on the aircraft. Hank’s own band "The Drifting Cowboys" could not join him on that trip for lack of aircraft space. The decision was very much to their disappointment as later expressed by Hank’s fiddler Jerry Rivers in his book "From Life to Legend". Hank was not a big fan of flying. His first flight was on March 19, 1949 when he flew up to Nashville from Shreveport for a recording session scheduled for the following day when he recorded "Wedding Bells" and "I’ve Just Told Mama Goodbye". At this point, he was by no means a "frequent flyer".
The purpose of this trip was "Entertaining Personnel of USAFE (United States Air Force Europe) Installations" which meant performing before U.S. servicemen in Germany and neighbouring Austria. The itinerary of the tour did not include any public performances for a growing number of German country music fans, who only had the possibility to catch a glimpse of the stars as onlookers from the outside. One must bear in mind that at this point in time - four years after World War II - the U.S. military were still occupying forces and years away from becoming military allies with Germany. Back in 1949 the Germans were still going through a process of re-education after the fall of the Nazi regime. Precautions were still in place so that the former enemies did not pose any security risk for the U.S. military. Those few who had the opportunity to watch the shows, like the German stage hands in Wiesbaden, Berlin and Heidelberg, listened with amazement and some even with excitement to a kind of music, they had never heard before.
The trip required a refuelling stop in Washington, D.C. (most probably at either Bolling-Anacostia AFB or at Andrews AFB), and another at the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Gander, Newfoundland. Billy Robinson remembers, "We flew in what had been General Eisenhower’s plane. We stopped in Newfoundland, Canada on the way over. God, I’d never been so cold. Didn’t play there, just refuelled …"
RCAF Gander, Newfoundland C-54 #9089 refuelling in Newfoundland
After a night time trans-Atlantic flight, the first airport of call in Europe was Orly AFB in Paris, France, where they saw the Eiffel Tower while on approach. Orly was then home to the 1630th Air Base Squadron that operated on the Eastside of the airport. The troupe was taken on a short sightseeing tour to the French capital.
Sleeping on the Trans-Atlantic flight Orly Airport in Paris, France
Hank’s passport photo, 1949 Hank and Audrey in Paris
From Paris, they flew to (photo below) Wiesbaden Air Base, home
of the 7110 Air Base Group. At the evening arrival the Opry troupe experienced an overwhelming welcome where they received a key to the city of Wiesbaden, along with a German "Ooom-Pah-Pah Band" that played Dixie, the unofficial hymn of the South. The band also greeted the visitors with George Morgan’s hit Candy Kisses, a tune that Red Foley also held in his repertoire. Hank was quoted as saying he hated George Morgan because Candy Kisses was number one and kept some of his tunes out of the top spot. The arrival was covered by Bob Norwood of the American Forces Network and by the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
The caravan was accommodated at the Hotel Schwarzer Bock for the next few nights. The hotel, founded in 1486, is and was one of the oldest in Germany. It was - and still is - one of the first and finest addresses in Wiesbaden. The hotel provided them with meal vouchers, but sometimes they had to queue up for their food.
Schwarzer Bock Hotel Rehearsal in Hotel
The following day they started on their rigorous schedule visiting US military hospitals, sightseeing and show dates. Grant Turner is quoted in the book "Still In Love With You" which was written by Hank’s step-daughter Lycrecia Williams-Hoover and Dale Vinicur: "They worked us to death. They’d have us up in the morning early and there was usually some kind of morning activity. At 11:30, no matter where we were, we went to the bar and then to lunch. In the afternoon, we’d have a hospital tour. Then it’d be back to the bar about 5:00, followed by dinner and the show that night. That was our routine. We were going all the time. Finally the husbands and wives all got mad at each other. We had some really knockdowns and drag-outs."
This description emphasizes the strict regimen imposed by the U.S. forces, which expected a high measure of discipline from every member of the group. It left little room for individual interestsand personal activities. So it’s no wonder that Hank Williams, with his periodic dependency on alcohol, stayed sober most of the time under this rigorous pressure. Remarkably not one single drinking bout was reported during the whole trip. Participants of the tour later told in interviews that Hank always sniffed the glasses first while they took their meals to make sure that it was really filled with water and not with wine. Billy Robinson, however, remembers (contrary to what the others said):"We had alcohol available every night at a party somewhere, and many times the musicians were half drunk when they performed – and that included Hank". In the book, Lost Highway, Robinson was later quoted as saying, "Hank was stone cold sober every day."
The few interviews, pictures and concert cuts are like pieces of a mosaic which, when fitted together, give a fair overview about these days. The tour started in Wiesbaden on November 15th with a rehearsal in the afternoon, followed by the show in the evening at the noble State Opera House. A picture taken of the packed concert hall while Red Foley performs has survived in a 1951 "Little" Jimmy Dickens songbook.
State Opera House in Wiesbaden Red Foley performing at Opera House
The next morning, November 16, the group travelled to the Rhein-Main AFB, home of the 469th Air Base Group, where they visited troops and patients at the 97th General Hospital.
Rhein-Main AFB near Frankfurt
97th General Hospital in Frankfurt
That evening they performed two shows at the Rhein-Main AFB’s Gateway Theatre. Although not all facts and stories about the 14-day tour through Germany have survived, we are blessed that there are two mainly unreleased cuts of two separate shows of the tour. These AFRS-Transcriptions were found in the archives of the U.S. Forces. These cuts were relayed after the shows to the WSM Radio Station in Nashville, Tennessee, for their radio broadcast at the usual Grand Ole Opry time on Saturday night, which aired all over the American South and beyond.
Following are photos from the show at the Gateway Theatre:
Of the two recordings that survived from the tour, one was taken at this show at the Rhein-Main Gateway Theatre. It is a recording of a partial portion of one of the 30-minute segments. The recording reveals the following format that was used on at least one of the shows:
- Introduction -, Grant Turner 0:26
Take An Old Cold Tater Wait, Little Jimmy Dickens 1:52
I Want A Girl, Red Foley and Cast 2:20
- Commercial -, Grant Turner 0:38
Lovesick Blues, Hank Williams 2:50
- Comedy -, Minnie Pearl 3:10
I’m Throwing Rice At The Girl I Love, Red Foley 1:30
Commercial, Grant Turner and Rod Brasfield 0:34
- Square Dance -, Roy Acuff 1:31
This recording features only one Hank Williams title, his Grand Ole Opry debut Lovesick Blues, that had climbed to the highest positions on the country music charts that year. Remarkable on this version of Lovesick Blues is the impressive electric guitar play of then nineteen-year-old Billy Robinson, one of the few surviving members of the tour.
On November 17th the group travelled by bus to Heidelberg where they took a two-hour sightseeing tour of the historic city. Billy Robinson remembers their visit to famous Heidelberg Castle. Inside the castle they admired the world’s largest wooden wine barrel and a historic clock that surprised visitors with a foxtail hitting their face when they could not restrain their curiosity and pulled a string.
The famous Heidelberg Castle
There are two photographs of Hank taken in the town of Heidelberg, both of which appeared in one of his songbooks. One is a picture that showed him leaning against the rail of one of the Neckar River bridges, and another one together with a German peasant in front of an ox-drawn cart said to be taken in a rural area outside Heidelberg.
That evening, they gave a performance at the Heidelberg Municipal Theatre, now called the Staedtische Buehne. There is no recording of this show, however during a comedy interlude in Berlin the following day, Cousin Minnie Pearl stated: "In Heidelberg last night, the girls’ dressing room caught on fire. It took two hours to put out the fire – and three hours to put out the firemen". A snapshot of Minnie Pearl appeared on stage taken inside the crammed Heidelberg concert hall can be found in Dickens’ 1951 song book.
Heidelberg Theatre (StaedtischeBuehne) Minnie Pearl on stage
After returning to Wiesbaden that evening, the next morning, November 18th, the group flew to the Tempelhof Air Force Base inside of Berlin, home to the 7350th Air Base Group.
Tempelhof Air Force Base - Berlin Columbia House
In Berlin, they were accommodated at the Columbia House just outside in the American sector of the city. Columbia house had served as a gruesome prison for the Secret State Police (GESTAPO) during Nazi Rule and was changed into a hostel after the war. Later it became a hotel. The troupe was also taken on a half day tour to the four sectors of the divided city. At that point in time Berlin was still jointly ruled by the Americans, British, French and Soviets. Following is a copy of the actual itinerary program for the tour. It was provided by Billy Robinson. The list was prepared by the Berlin Military Post Special Services, and it notes many of the points of interest the Opry gang were taken to see. The tour was conducted by the military services and the troupe was bused around the city as a group, making occasional stops at the below noted locations. However, they probably did not stop at every point.
Fuerstenhof HotelA city Divided
The damaged Haus Vaterland Berlin City Hall
Emperor Willhelm I Memorial Church Berlin Cathedral Dome
Berlin Castle Berlin Museum
After the tour the Opry cast performed their only show in Berlin . The U.S. Forces had booked the Titania Palast (Palace), which was, with a capacity of 2071 seats, the biggest concert hall in the still badly destroyed former German capital.
Titania Palast (Palace) – Outside Inside
The other recorded AFRS transcription show is this Berlin engagement. On November 18th, the hall was packed to the last seat when Red Foley opened the show with his Freight Train Boogie, followed by Hank’s 1947 hit Move It On Over, which was accompanied by an enthusiastic audience singing along with the refrain. On the recordings of the show, Hank can be heard calling "Allright Billy" for a steel break on songs. Hank was in his best form with Move It On Over and none of the other artists received such an enthusiastic storm of applause. This live version was first released on the 1998 Grammy Award winning, "The Complete Hank Williams" box set from Mercury. Many people see in Move It On Over the ‘Big Bang’ in the history of Rock’n’Roll, as it is widely claimed that the tune served as an inspiration for Bill Haley’s 1954 smash hit Rock Around The Clock.
The Berlin show used the following format for the 30-minute segment that was recorded:
- Introduction -, Grant Turner 0:22
Freight Train Boogie, Red Foley 1:39
Move It On Over, Hank Williams 2:46
- Commercial -, Grant Turner and Red Foley 2:24
Twelfth Street Rag, Jimmy Riddle 1:06
- Comedy -, Rod Brasfiled with Red Foley 3:42
He Taught Me To Yodel, Helen Harris (Bremer) 2:00
I’m A Plain Old Country Boy, Little Jimmy Dickens 2:51
- Commercial -, Grant Turner and Red Foley 0:33
This World Is Not My Home, Red Foley 2:55
- Comedy -, Minnie Pearl and Rod Brasfield 3:10
I Saw The Light, Roy Acuff 2:30
Every Step Of The Way, Red Foley 3:00
- Square Dance -, Roy Acuff 3:00
On this recording Rod Brasfield amuses himself about the name Wiesbaden sounding it out in his Southern drawl as "Wishbottom". He also complained about the fact that no buttermilk was available in German restaurants and all drinks and beverages are served in steins.
The transcriptions give no proof that during either of the two recorded shows, that Hank played Lovesick Blues more than once. However, various other sources claimed that the enthusiastic crowd always demanded more encores. "With ’Lovesick Blues’ alone he practically destroyed those people in the Military" recalls Little Jimmie Dickens. "They screamed and hollered at him, the women especially. When he’d start singing, they’d give out a long, drawn-out sigh" said Cousin Minnie Pearl.
Reports are that Hank Williams played the same repertoire during each show, which was divided up into 30-minute portions. Hank’s repertoire included not more than three songs. Two of these were always Move It On Over and Lovesick Blues, with the other was most probably either Wedding Bells or Honky Tonkin’. On the tape of the Frankfurt and Berlin shows, only the first two songs can be heard.
The number one star in the cast still remained Red Foley who had his worldwide success with Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy. Although Hank got such an overwhelming applause, he only performed his songs and then left the stage without any small talk or the introduction of the following artist, as he used to do in later Opry shows. Between the performances, Hank, "Little" Jimmy Dickens and other members of the tour were shooting dice backstage, which also can be seen in photographs.
An indication of Hank’s still fledgling popularity in November 1949 was that his well known gospel song I Saw The Light was performed by Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys, without Hank’s participation.
Roy Acuff as the most senior of the Stars seemed unhappy with Red Foley’s role as "Head of the Show." Billy Robinson believes that Foley’s smoother and more restrained personality overruled Acuff’s popularity and his long-standing place in country music, on determining who was to be the leading artist on the tour. On several occasions, Acuff entered into heated arguments with Tom Luckenbill when the latter hung the banner for Prince Albert Tobacco on top of the Grand Ole Opry’s backdrop on stage. Luckenbill’s action enraged Acuff so much that both even got involved in scuffles. The following observation by a Hank expert needs no further comment: Acuff's personality really shows with his antics and jealousy of Red Foley. I saw him once on the Ralph Emery TV Show and he went into a jealous tirade against Jimmie Rodgers. Saying he shouldn't be considered "The Father of Country Music" since he was "such a rounder.... drinking and he even carried a gun." I couldn't believe it but I guess he wanted the spotlight as the REAL Father of CM!
After their Berlin show the troupe flew to Southern Germany where they had several performances in and around Munich and neighbouring bases in Bavaria.
On November 19th, the troupe landed at Erding Air Depot, home to the 7485th Air Depot Wing, where they were given accommodations at the Officer’s Club.
Erding AFB, north of Munich
That afternoon they were given a tour of the nearby Bavarian countryside and were taken to Dachau concentration camp, just a few miles north of Munich. The horrors of Germany’s Nazi past became evident to the visitors at the camp’s execution chamber, located inside the crematorium, with the hanging nooses still there and faded blood all over the walls. That evening was a scheduled performance at the Aero Theatre on the base at Erding.
Dachau’s Main gate Cast on stage at the Erding performance
In the early morning of November 20th, the group flew 300 miles east to Tulln AFB just outside the Austrian capital Vienna. One of the few tokens of memory left of their visit to Vienna is a picture of Hank and Red Foley on top of an aircraft gangway bearing the inscription "Tulln Air Force Base, Vienna Austria."
In an interview given to Bob McKinnon in March 1950, Hank explicitly mentions Vienna (in Austria) as a stop on the tour, besides those in Germany such as Berlin and Wiesbaden:
McKinnon: How was this overseas trip you took here a while back?
Hank: Aw, that was a fine deal. We went to … we went to Berlin, we went
to Vienna, we went to Wiesbaden, we strictly went to Wiesbaden.
We went all over the occupied zone over there. Where we had any
boys at all we went to see ‘em.
Billy Robinson remembers when taking a walk on his own, he lost his sense of direction. A taxi driver picked him up and drove with him to a shady area in town that raised in him fears for his safety. So he jumped out of the taxi and ran away. Another taxi then brought him safely back to his hotel. Vienna was, like Berlin, divided into four sectors, one of them under Soviet control. For their protection, the group was issued with instructions in the languages of the four occupying forces. Robinson and others have stated that when Hank saw the letters printed in Russian script, he is quoted as saying: "Hell, they ain’t never gonna win the next war. They can’t even spell?" On a sightseeing tour through Vienna they watched a Russian soldier on guard who impressed them as he did not even blink when they came close to him.
Robinson also remembers that while in Vienna the troupe stayed at two separate hotels, the Atlanta and the Bristol for their two-night stay.
Bristol Hotel Atlanta Hotel
There was one show held at the Sports Arena of the Air Force Base in Vienna on the evening of the 21st. It had been preceded by an afternoon visit to the 110th Station General Hospital.
110th Hospital in Vienna Group photo, location unknown
Early the next morning, November 22nd, they all flew to the home of the 86th Fighter Wing, Neubiberg AFB which was about 9 kilometres south of Munich.
Some of the well known pictures taken in Germany is one where Hank and a few other stars can be seen with two German children, who were wearing the traditional Bavarian dresses, a little boy in leather trousers and a little girl with a felt coat, both wearing Tyrolian hats. In the most popular of these photos, Hank squats between them and looks into the camera. In the background of some of the other photos can be seen a welcome banner which reads "Bavaria’s Grand Ole Opry Welcomes WSM’s Grand Ole Opry at Neubiberg Air Base."
Little Jimmy Dickens and Hank in Neubiberg Excelsior Hotel in Munich
For the Neubiberg leg of the trip, the troupe was housed at the exquisite Hotel Excelsior near the Central Railway Station in Munich. After lunch at the Officers club, a visit was made to the 98th Hospital.
98th General Hospital near Munich
Later that evening, a show was held at one a Neubiberg’s large hangars.
Opry touring cast photographs taken in Munich
On November 23rd, the Opry cast were given another tour of the city of Munich before departing by plane for Fuerstenfeldbruck AFB, home to the 36th Fighter Wing group, located west of the city.
Fuerstenfeldbruck AFB, west of Munich
At Fuerstenfeldbruck AFB, they performed two shows at the Paramount Theatre, and stayed the night at the Officer’s Club.
November 24th was celebrated with a noon-time Thanksgiving Day feast at the Fuerstenfeldbruck’s Officer’s Club.
They then travelled some 80 miles by bus to the Headquarters of the 2nd Air Division, Landsberg AFB.
Landsberg AFB, west of Munich
Some hours later they had the traditional Thanksgiving evening dinner at the Landsberg’s Headquarters.
There Hank and Audrey are seen in pictures gathering around the turkey dinner buffet together with Rod Brasfield, Cousin Minnie Pearl, Red and Mrs. Foley and "Little" Jimmy Dickens. They all seemed to be in a cheerful mood, joking and laughing and making the best out of travelling in a foreign country with its gloomy past, far away from home on such a special family holiday. An 8:00 show was held at the Liberty Theatre in Landsberg, after which the group returned by bus back to the Fuerstenfeldbruck AFB.
Location of Thanksgiving meal Somewhere near Frankfurt or Wiesbaden
On their last day of the tour, November 25th, the troupe returned to Wiesbaden for another busy schedule in the afternoon and night. They gave a short show at the Wiesbaden Military Police Hospital Theatre at 2:00 p.m. and then proceeded to the Hotel Schwarzer Bock for check-in. They were back on stage at 8:00 p.m. for their final show at the Commander Theatre, located inside of one of the US-garrisons.
Snapshots taken reveal that sometime during the tour, Audrey Williams and Eva Foley appeared with their husbands at least in some of the shows. Southern ‘Belle’ Dolly Dearman can be seen wearing shorts for her dancing acts, designed much like the modern day hot pants. They suited her well although they might have been considered in 1949 as rather daring – something service men watching the show certainly enjoyed – or did not mind at all.
With dollars in their pockets, the American visitors lived like kings in post war Europe. At an exchange rate of five Deutschmarks against the dollar, they could afford almost everything at true bargain prices. The musician Grady Martin, for example, bought a violin for twenty bucks which later was valued at well above one thousand dollars.
Billy Robinson remembers an episode (was not sure of which city), as to how "Little" Jimmie Dickens and Jimmie Riddle almost got in trouble with the law in Germany. After both had a few drinks at their hotel, they went out for a walk at night. Jimmy Dickens talked about the loss of relatives or friends in WW II, and apparently out of frustration and grief, suddenly started throwing rocks at a streetlight. A German policeman on his bicycle came by asking them what was going on. Instead of answering, Dickens, within a split-second, snatched the policeman’s bike leaning against the wall and rode off. The officer became furious. When returning the bike, Dickens pulled a candy bar out of his pocket and gave it to the policeman, whose anger immediately turned into a big smile.
The Opry gang returned to Wiesbaden AFB on the morning of November 26th, as they prepared to head back to the United States.
This map shows the occupation areas in post war Germany. They are marked by the flags of the respective nations. The Grand Ole Opry troupe visited the following places within the American controlled zone: (1) Wiesbaden, (2) Frankfurt Rhein-Main Air Base,
(3) Heidelberg, (4) Berlin, (5) Munich and Erding, (6) Vienna (Austria)
(7) Fuerstenfeldbruck and Landsberg (west of Munich), (8) Neubiberg (south of Munich).
As for Hank during the tour, Billy Robinson noticed Hank was "anaemic looking and just skin and bones," Cousin Minnie Pearl remembered a relaxed and happy Hank in Germany. Audrey looked beautiful, six months after she had given birth to their son Randall Hank (Jr.). She had long soft hair and a lovely complexion. Like many pictures give proof, Hank and Audrey always tried to get in contact with German people. Hank’s friend Vic McAlpin tells that Hank was particularly impressed by the German "Frauleins", even though his wife Audrey kept a sharp eye on him. McAlpin says Hank stated," I wouldn’t mind it a damn bit if I went back tomorrow. Those Frauleins, I’ve never seen nothing like it, the way they, uh, appreciate you, you know?" When asked if the Germans liked his music, Alphine says Hank stated," Like it? Hell, they’re more Hillbilly’n I am. We oughta move over there and open a damn record store." Hank also is quoted as telling a reporter for the Nation’s Business magazine, "It’s liable to teach them more about what everyday Americans are really like than anything else."
It’s been stated that Hank was less enthusiasm concerning the food in German restaurants. Hank generally had problems eating unfamiliar food and it was even more difficult for him in the foreign country, so he outright refused some food while on the tour. Hank reportedly put ketchup on everything he ate. One time he was quoted shouting to a waiter: "Hey Hermann, bring me the Ketchup!" They had no ketchup in Germany in the late forties, and Hank, according to some, liked to have wrecked the joint for that, although the role of the "ugly American" attributed to Hank was never confirmed by members of the German tour. Another Opry member recalled that the comedian Whitey Ford, also known as "The Duke Of Paducah", used this rather funny exclaim by Hank to cause laughter in the audience at one of his shows.
On the morning of November 26th, the Opry troupe departed Wiesbaden AFB on the start of their trek back across the Atlantic to the United States. The C-54 Skymaster made a refuelling stop at Lajes Field, (also known as Air Base 4) in the Azore Islands. Air Base 4, is a Portuguese Air Force facility, which the U.S. military did, and still does, reside at Lajes under a tenancy status.
Lajes Field, Terceira Island, The Azores, Portugal
After a short stay, the plane took off destined for Kindley AFB in Bermuda. Approaching the island, the aircraft came into strong turbulences when it hit an air pocket. Many members of the group had bought some original Black Forest cuckoo clocks somewhere in Southern Germany (most likely in Fuerstenfeldbruck). When the plane hit the air pocket, all the cuckoo clocks fell out of the luggage racks. Upon impact some of them started making the typical cuckoo noises which might have caused some amusement and laughter among the passengers. Hank’s stepdaughter Lycrecia does not remember that her parents had bought a cuckoo clock while on their trip to Germany.
It isn’t thought that the group stayed overnight in Bermuda but Billy Robinson’s statement does allude to the possibility when he stated, "On the way back, we stopped in Bermuda to refuel … We didn’t stay long in Bermuda. Just a few hours, maybe overnight. It was a British Colony and we’d never seen anybody drive on the wrong side of the road before."
It appears more likely however that after some sightseeing in Bermuda, later that same afternoon, the plane departed Kindley AFB and arrived at Berry Field in Nashville on the evening of November 26th. Haunted by the psychological impact of a country badly destroyed by war, Hank promised to kiss the American ground in gratitude upon their return. Right after the group left the aircraft in Nashville, Tennessee, it was the first thing he did. Meanwhile, Hank’s eight year old stepdaughter Lycrecia anxiously awaited her mother’s and stepfather’s safe return from their trip to Europe. She describes her fears for their safety in one of the interviews she gave: "I thought they’d never come back. These were the longest two weeks of my life."
The tour consisted of 14 very busy days, in which the group travelled through six countries; Canada-France-Germany-Austria-Portugal-Bermuda (a British Colony), and performed in at least 12 shows in the occupied zone (all of which were in Germany, except for the one show in Vienna, Austria). When not performing, they were kept busy visiting troops, hospitals, and were taken on group sightseeing tours. For the most part, it was definitely not much of a rest-and-relaxation vacation for the stars involved.
What were the memories that the members of the group brought home with them to the US? "Little" Jimmy Dickens talked about his impressions of their visit to post-war Germany in a 1997 interview: "It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was a great, great show and we worked for some wonderful military audiences. We appeared in big theatres in Berlin and all those cities. It was a little depressing to see those beautiful cities bombed and flattened out, equating it to a city the size of Detroit lying in rubble. But they were building it back even then."
Many of the cuts taken during the German Tour were regularly broadcast over the AFN (American Forces Network Radio) at the radio station’s popular Hillbilly Guesthouse hour and the Berlin version of Move It On Over was a long-running success for years. Hank Williams titles conveying a spiritual message like The Old Country Church and Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine were well known to the German radio listeners because AFN played them regularly. They were officially released on vinyl by MGM only years after Hank’s death.
Hank Williams’ road to worldwide stardom started in that year 1949. His two-week trip to Europe was his one and only overseas tour and remained up to this date an only sketchily researched episode of his biography. Hank died a little more than three years later on January 1, 1953, in the backseat of his blue Cadillac convertible en route to a show in Canton, Ohio, under still highly controversial circumstances. Fifty years after his death there remain still more surprises for his fans held in store, such as the 18 hours of his Mother’s Best Radio Shows with as many as 40 "new" songs. After a long legal battle the rights of ownership were awarded by an American court to his heirs, who hopefully will give permission for the release of this material soon.
Listed under Hank’s collection with BMI records appears a German title called Getraeumtes Glueck (Geträumtes Glück) which translates as Dreamed Happiness. Did Hank write that song while he was in Germany or was he inspired by his visit to write a song with a German title, like Elvis Presley had done while on military duty in Germany ten years later? There is no answer to this question yet, even for the versed Hank Williams scholars this song title remains a mystery. Nobody knows the words and the melody, but maybe an answer will be given some time in the near future, when still locked vaults will open up.
The undiminished interest in Hank Williams ‘The Man’, more than half a century after his death, is living testimony to his lasting contribution to the music of our time. This fact is continually brought out by the fascination of generations of fans around the world under the spell of his immortal songs.
Photos #: 2, 3, 5, 6, 8-12, 14, 16, 19-31, 33, 34, 36, 48, 49, 52, 53, 58, 60-64, 67, 68, 70-75, 77, 78, 80, 83-87, are all photos during the tour (not counting the new-sclipping, Berlin itenerary, Berlin map and map of Germany).
Itinerary of the Tour to Germany and Austria
Day One – Sunday, November 13, 1949
08:45 AM Departure from Berry Field in Nashville aboard the "Eisenhower" C-54 plane, with technical stops in Washington D.C. and Gander, Newfoundland, Canada
Day Two – Monday, November 14, 1949
Morning Arrival at Orly AB in Paris, France, with a short sightseeing tour of the city, then departure for Germany
Evening Night time welcome at Wiesbaden AFB,
Accommodations at the Hotel Schwarzer Bock.
Day Three – Tuesday, November 15, 1949
Afternoon Rehearsal at Commander Theatre in Wiesbaden
08:00 PM Show at Wiesbaden State Opera House
10:15 PM Reception at Stardust Club, Camp Lindsey
Day Four – Wednesday, November 16, 1949
Early morning Departure for Frankfurt Rhein-Main AFB
9:45-11:00 AM Visit to 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt
02:30 and 8:00 PM Two shows at Rhein-Main’s Gateway Theatre
Midnight Return to Hotel
Day Five – Thursday, November 17, 1949
Noon Departure from Wiesbaden to Heidelberg by bus
03:00 – 05:00 PM Tour of Heidelberg
08:00 PM Show at Heidelberg’s Municipal Theatre
11:30 PM Left for return to Wiesbaden by bus
Day Six – Friday, November 18, 1949
01:15 AM Arrive back at Schwarzer Bock
Early morning Departure from Wiesbaden AFB to Berlin by plane
11:00 AM Arrive at Tempelhof AFB in Berlin
Accommodations at Columbia House
Afternoon Tour of city by bus including Soviet sector
08:00 PM Show at Titania Palast
Day Seven – Saturday, November 19, 1949
Early morning Departure from Tempelhof AFB by plane
12:30 PM Arrive at Erding AFB near Munich
Accommodations at Officer’s Club
Afternoon Tour of Munich and Dachau Concentration Camp
08:00 PM Show at Erding Air Depot’s Aero Theatre
Day Eight – Sunday, November 20, 1949
Early morning Departure from Erding AFB to Vienna, Austria
10:15 AM Arrival at Tulln AFB outside Vienna.
The group split up for accommodations at Bristol Hotel and Atlanta Hotel. It is thought that Hank and Audrey stayed at the Bristol Hotel.
Rest of Day Tour of Vienna
Day Nine – Monday, November 21, 1949
02:00-03:00 PM Visit to 110th Station General Hospital
08:00 PM Show at Sports Arena
Day Ten – Tuesday, November 22, 1949
Early morning Departure from Tulln AFB by plane
10:15 AM Arrive at Neubiberg AFB south of Munich
Accommodations at Excelsior Hotel near Railway Station
Noon Lunch at Officer’s Club
02:00-03:00 PM Visit to 98th General Hospital
08:00 PM Show at Neubiberg AFB’s hanger
Day Eleven – Wednesday, November 23, 1949
08:30-10:00 AM Tour of Munich, then departure from Neubiberg AFB
Noon Arrive at Fuerstenfeldbruck AFB
Accommodations at Fuerstenfeldbruck Officer’s Club
02:30 and 8:00 PM Two shows at Paramount Theatre
Day Twelve – Thursday, November 24, 1949 (Thanksgiving Day)
Noon Thanksgiving lunch at Fuerstenfeldbruck AFB
02:00 PM Departure from Fuerstenfeldbruck AFB by bus
03:00 PM Arrive at Landsberg AFB
06:00 PM Second Thanksgiving dinner at Landsberg AFB
08:00 PM Show at Liberty Theatre
11:00 PM Return to Fuerstenfeldbruck AFB by bus
Day Thirteen – Friday, November 25, 1949
Early morning Return to Wiesbaden AFB by plane
Accommodations at Hotel Schwarzer Bock
02:00 PM Short performance at Wiesbaden Military Hospital
08:00 PM Show at Commander’s Theatre in Wiesbaden
Day Fourteen – Saturday, November 26, 1949
Morning Departure from Wiesbaden AFB with technical stop at Camp Lajes, Azores
Afternoon Arrive at Kindley AFB in Bermuda
Tour of the Island
Late afternoon Departure from Kindley AFB
Evening Arrive back at Berry Field in Nashville, Tennessee
Special thanks to: Billy Robinson, George Merritt, Robert Ackerman, Jim Murphy, Ed Guy,
Dale Vinicur, Jonathan Jarrett, Dr. Reinhard Matthes and Ralph Braband.