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Dancing to keep spirits up during the Blitz: Islander recounts tales of bombing raids

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AN ISLANDER has retold how she entertained people 70 years ago in Manchester by dancing in underground shelters during the Blitz.

Muriel Herrick (87) would put on a dancing costume beneath her 'siren suit' - the boiler suit style all-in-one famously worn by Prime Minister Winston Churchill - and performed a routine to keep the crowd's spirits up as German planes carried out bombing raids.

She went on to have a career as a professional entertainer, at one stage performing at the Empress London Hall in front of Mr Churchill and Field Marshal Montgomery.

Her chance encounters with Britain's most famous leader continued later in life and she went on to run into the politician several times in the UK and in the south of France.

Muriel Herrick (far right) had a career as a dancer

'My mother had a siren suit made for me out of a Royal Navy blanket. I remember it cost ten shillings and was very itchy.

'I would put my dance costume under the siren suit so I was always the last in line to the shelter.'

Years later in 1949 Mrs Herrick led the dance group the 'Famous 14 Zio Angels', who performed for Mr Churchill at an El Alamein - an Egyptian town and site of two Second World War Battles - reunion event in London's Empress Hall.

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She recalled how the former Prime Minister talked throughout the group's performance, but said that he thanked all performers personally at the end of the show.

Mrs Herrick went on to work with famous comedians of the era.

'Staying at the Savoy Hotel while I was working at the Adelphi Theatre with famous north country comedian Frank Randle, I saw Mr Churchill a few times in the "Grill Room" of the Savoy,' Mrs Herrick added.

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PRIME Minister Winston Churchill popularised the all-in-one utility outfit, which came to be known as a siren suit.

It was designed to be an easy garment to put on over nightwear during air raids.

The suits were similar in style to those used by manual workers such as bricklayers, mechanics and tank crews.

They were made of a variety of fabrics – most commonly wool.

They could be bought ready-made or as a template so they could be handmade at home from available material.

Most were loose fitting with zippers or buttons and large pockets.

There are dozens of pictures of Mr Churchill, who famously had a pinstripe version of the outfit, wearing siren suits.

One of his suits was sold in 2002 for £29,875.

'I was leading the "Famous 14 Zio Angels" with many famous stars on the bill.

'Many military and dance bands were performing on the same bill.

'The Right Honourable Winston Churchill and Field Marshall (later general) Montgomery were attending and I remember they were talking all through our routines and that Churchill's voice was very loud.

'At the end of the show they came and thanked us all.

'Staying at the Savoy Hotel while working at the Adelphi theatre with the famous north country comedian Frank Randle, I saw Churchill a few times in the "Grill Room" of the Savoy.

'He and his wife had a special table there and I am told they still keep Churchill's table today.

'The next time I saw him he was with his wife was in northern France leaving a restaurant.

'The next time I saw Churchill was when we had my partner's yacht in Monte Carlo.

'Churchill was on board alone. Some of the British crew used to come on our yacht until I kicked them off, for we had eight crew of our own and were overcrowded with more.

'The last holiday my late partner and I had together was a wonderful trip to Morocco, staying at the Beautiful Hotel La Mamounia in Marrakech, where Churchill used to stay and paint the wonderful snow-capped mountains from the swimming pool. With the Atlas Mountains so close, it was really wonderful.

'So I think I was very lucky to see this great man so many times in my life, and the honour he got from the world.

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