Tom Boardman’s Ukulele

Below, a photo I took at this fantastic conference in Liverpool June 5-8. The folks here were prisoners of war or civilian internees in the Pacific during World War II.

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The gentleman in front, second from right, is Tom Boardman. He was captured in Singapore and worked on the Thai-Burma Railway. During the war he built two ukuleles nearly from scratch. I say ‘nearly’ because some bits of a Chinese mandolin got incorporated, but most of the material came from a packing crate, wire, parts of a toothbrush, and other odds and ends. Mr. Boardman upgraded from the first (smaller) uke to the second (larger) one because his musical turns were so popular that he needed more sound – audiences could include 2,000 or more men.

This is Mr. Boardman’s second ukulele, now in the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. The photo is terrible because the display has pride of place in a very reflective metal-lined corridor.

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In this audio clip made by Prof. Sears Eldredge, Mr. Boardman plays his uke and sings a bit of a popular song.

This still-hilarious George Formby classic is another number he often performed.

Here’s Mr. Boardman heading home at war’s end, with a huge smile and his ukulele.

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