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Show for the Troops After D-Day, 1944
Caption from LIFE. "Acrobatic dancer performs for U.S. troops lounging in field at rest camp. Show featured girl dancers, also had two clowns, one of whom had once performed with Ringling Circus in New York. The girls heavily relied on dancing and pantomime because none of them spoke English."Ralph Morse—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Show for the Troops After D-Day, 1944
First organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
First organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
First organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
First organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
First organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
First organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
First organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
First organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
French performer in first organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
Scene at first organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
French performers in first organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
Scene at first organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
French performers in first organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
French performers in first organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
French performers in first organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
French performers in first organized show for American troops after D-Day, Normandy, July 1944.
French performers in first organized show for American troops after D-Day take a bow, Normandy, July 1944.
Caption from LIFE. "Acrobatic dancer performs for U.S. troops lounging in field at rest camp. Show featured girl dancers
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Ralph Morse—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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After D-Day: Rare Photos From the First Show for US Troops in Normandy

May 28, 2014

In late July 1944, LIFE magazine photographer Ralph Morse was on hand for what he called, in his typed notes from the scene, the "first organized entertainment in Normandy" after D-Day. In his photos of scantily clad women (and men) performing for hundreds of battle-weary troops, Morse chronicled a small, memorable reprieve in the midst of the Allied push south, toward Paris.

(See a scan, below, of the note that Morse sent to his editors along with his film.)

Lieut. Kelso C. Horne of the U.S. Airborne Infantry, whose unit took part in the invasion of France at Normandy, aka D-Day. Bob Landry—LIFE Magazine 

A handful of Morse's photos were published in the Aug. 14, 1944, issue of LIFE -- the famous cover of which, photographed by Morse's colleague Bob Landry, appears at left. Most of the pictures featured in this gallery, meanwhile, never appeared in LIFE.

In that Aug. '44 issue, LIFE described the scene Morse witnessed at a "rest camp" for the troops:

"While the great breakthrough boiled southward [from Normandy toward Paris] a few U.S. soldiers were taking it easy at rest camps behind the lines. At one of the camps the men were entertained by an eager troupe of French vaudevillians called Les Grandes Tournées d'André Fleury."

Les Grandes Tournées, it seems, had been organized in Paris three years before, while the French capital was under German control. In late May of 1944 the troupe set out for Cherbourg; on June 5, the day before the invasion, they set up in the ancient town of Carteret. When the Germans pulled in the face of the Allied onslaught, the performers were stranded, with little food or money.

So when a U.S. Army Special Service officer asked them to put on a show for American troops, they were happy to comply. "They were charging the Germans and French 30 to 60 francs," Morse wrote in his notes. "Now they get 25 francs a head from the Special Service funds for each soldier at the showings."

The money, by all accounts, was well-spent.

"The show is old-type vaudeville and plenty of legs," Morse went on. "A perfect show for the battle-tired troops resting a few days. The girls not understanding English and the troops not understanding French . . . the remarks and wisecracks are terrific. Its value as medicine for the boys is tops. They are completely relaxed . . . and yell and scream to their hearts' content."

[Buy the LIFE book, D-Day: Remembering the Battle that Won the War -- 70 Years Later]

Ralph Morse Captions from WWII France The LIFE Picture Collection 

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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