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Charles Danson

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
October 1936
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Karl Erich Danielsohn was born in 1920 in Berlin. His father was a well-known physician and his mother was a pianist. He was introduced to music early on in his life and the family attended the synagogue at Fasanenstrasse.


In 1936 Karl was taken by his mother to the UK, where he went to a Quaker school in Middlesbrough. He then moved in with his sister and her husband in Belsize Park and attended the Royal College of Music in 1938. He studied singing with Herman Gruenebaum, originally from Frankfurt.


In 1940 he joined the Pioneer Corps, where he stayed for three years. As soon as it became possible he joined the Royal Tank Regiment as a gunner and wireless operator. He was sent to the front (near Arnheim) and his tank was hit in 1944. He was injured, captured by German soldiers and taken to a hospital where he had an eye operation and then was sent to Fallingbostel prisoner of war camp, near the Lueneburg Heath.


Karl was liberated by the British Army in April 1945. After the war he worked as an opera singer for the Imperial Opera Company and Glyndebourne. He married Ruth Danson, a fellow refugee.


Full Interview


I went to Sadler’s Wells, where I met Clive Carey, whom I knew from College… he produced operas. I was in the opera class there and he said, “Oh, this is Lawrence Collingwood, this is Charles Danson. Charlie boy, would you like to sing something for us, from the stage?” I went on stage and sang Ricordita harmonia from Tosca. I came down again from the stage… And Collingwood said “… Give him the part!” And the part was… an opera by Vaughan Williams, Sir John in Love … I was given the part of Master Slender…and of course Vaughan Williams came to all the rehearsals. I’ve got the programme here… And one day he said to me, “Would you like to do Messiah for me, at my Dorking Festival?” I said, “I’d love to.” So I think it was after the - we did about fifteen or twenty performances of it…

And the Pinkerton was Tudor Davis, a very well-known tenor. He said, “Charlie-boy, don’t you worry, I’ve seen this opera perhaps 250 times and I know every part. If you should feel that you are going to dry up, turn your back to the audience- No, I will turn my back to the audience, and I’ll sing it for you.” But I went through it alright, and that was the beginning of me doing the Goro. And from that then I later graduated to the main role. I did Pinkerton, and Rodolfo in Bohème, Camillo ...

The tank was hit, there were huge flames. I remember jumping out. The gunner who hadn’t wanted to change with me was killed outright. If we'd changed it would have been me. The commander was killed outright, the driver was also injured. As soon as we jumped out the tank went up in flames, & I felt something sort of streaming down here & could see a bit of blood, but you are of course in shock so I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then we sat somewhere for half an hour. The firing had really died down. I said to my comrade in arms–he had not died, but he was either asleep or fainted or something– ‘I will see if I can find our tanks, so that we can rejoin the company’. So I started crawling forward. Suddenly, the little bush in front of me opened & 2 German officers emerged holding their pistol at me. There’s no use being a hero in situations like that. I put my hands up & was taken prisoner. I had had a terrible headache I said to one of the officers, in English of course ‘I’ve got a terrible headache, so I’d like an aspirin’. So he said to his fellow officer ‘Have you got an aspirin?’ He said ‘No, I haven’t got an aspirin, I’ve got a peppermint’, in German ‘Give him that, he won’t know the difference’, but of course I heard every word. Then they put me in the sidecar & started driving away.

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