The disappearance of Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller - Credit: Archant

Delving into the past with Chris Hallam.

Chris Hallam

Chris Hallam - Credit: Chris Hallam

Glenn Miller was one of the brightest musical stars of his age.

He had been the best-selling recording artist of all between 1939 and 1942.

By the time he was forty in 1944, songs like In The Mood, Moonlight Serenade and Chattanooga Choo Choo, Glenn were almost constantly on the radio.

In 1942, he had joined the Army under his actual name of Alton G. Miller, a few months after the United States had entered the Second World War.

By 1944, he had been promoted to Major and was heading a morale-boosting military band based in Europe.

He and his men had experienced a very narrow escape on their arrival in England when nearly 100 people were killed by a V-1 flying bomb attack on Sloane Court.

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Miller and his men had been staying there themselves but had moved out the day before.

“I have an awful feeling you guys are going to go home without me, and I’m going to get mine in some goddam beat-up old plane!” Miller reflected to a colleague.

In December 1944, he was keen to get to Paris to set things up before the arrival of the rest of the band. He was wary about the flight.

The plane – a UC-64A Norsemen – was small and would be operating outside normal military channels in foggy conditions.

The pilot John Morgan was experienced, however, and on December 15th they and a third man, Lt. Col. Norman F. Baessell set off for Paris. They never got there.

The plane’s disappearance was announced to the world in a sombre telegram on Christmas Eve.

Most people assumed the worst, but Helen, Glenn’s wife of sixteen years remained curiously upbeat.

“It was such a horrible shock to me but after I thought it all over it will take more than a ‘missing flight’ message to get me down,” she wrote from New Jersey to a friend.

“(I) Believe Glenn will turn up sometime, maybe not for months, maybe real soon, but if you hear from him tell him I’m fine and just waiting for him.”

Such optimism was admirable, but misplaced. In 1945, an official inquiry ruled that the three men had died when the plane crashed into the English Channel.

No wreckage or bodies have ever been found. Helen Miller herself went to her grave in 1966, apparently still at least partly convinced that her husband would one day return to her. It was not to be.

Conspiracy theories abounded. Perhaps Glenn had been captured and being held as a prisoner-of-war? Perhaps he hadn’t crashed at all and had died a sleazy death in a Paris brothel? Glenn’s brother, Herb was for some reason convinced Glenn had died of lung cancer. “I feel that we were fed a story and we were misled,” he said in 1980. There is no evidence to support any of these stories.

Then, in 1984, compelling evidence emerged that the Miller plane may well have been downed by his own side. Former RAF navigator Fred Shaw claimed he remembered seeing a C-64 Norseman plunging into the English Channel after Shaw’s squadron had jettisoned a surplus load of bombs following an aborted mission.

Shaw had first attempted to bring his story to the attention of the media in the 1950s.

For 27 years, Shaw’s story was recognised as the most likely explanation for what had happened.

In 2011, however, a new piece of evidence emerged which totally undermined Shaw’s account on, of all things, the BBC’s Antique’s Roadshow. It was logbook in which on 15th

December 1944, at around 2pm, a 17-year-old amateur plane-spotter named Richard Anderton, near Reading, identified a UC-64A Norsemen heading southeast towards Beachy Head, some way to his east.

Anderton would have had no idea the world-famous band leader was on board or that his log entry held any wider significance.

Thanks to him, however, we now know Miller’s plane was nowhere near where Shaw thought it was.

At least part of the mystery of Glenn Miller’s disappearance has been solved.