Amy Elizabeth Ryan
Amy Elizabeth Ryan was born in July 1924 in Canning Town. As a child she suffered many illnesses, including rheumatic fever which left her with a weak heart. Despite this, she had an impressive voice, and singing helped to exercise her heart and prolong her life. Aged thirteen she sang for an audience at the Royal Albert Hall.
During World War II, Amy sang for the American Red Cross. She travelled with the US forces and performed with Vera Lynn. In a 1944 letter from Dwight Deere Wiman, Director of Entertainment for the Red Cross, he expressed his heartfelt thanks for her work and deepest regret that they had to discontinue performance services. He said she had behaved like a ‘trouper’ and began the letter with, ‘Dear Bobby,’ a nickname she was given because of her deep voice.
After the war Amy went back to Canning Town, where she sang in local pubs such as the Iron Bridge Tavern and the Royal Oak. Sometimes she would perform in the short cabaret shows before a cinema screening. She could sing in many different styles and possessed a range that allowed her to perform Shirley Bassey hits and even Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’. The pub would fall silent during her songs. She was very glamorous but rather than make money from her voice she sang as a favour to friends, often for no more than a glass of scotch. Amy died in 1973, at the young age of 47. Her daughter Josie was adamant that her mother would have a horse-drawn hearse regardless of the expense.
Amy’s life insurance only covered part of the costs, but it was the pubs she had performed for that provided the rest. They came to Josie one-by-one, donating as much as £50 or £60 each to the funeral. It was the first funeral in Canning Town to have a horse-drawn hearse since the war. The horses took Amy through the streets, passed the pubs she had sung in, and the local priest accompanied them on the walk down to the cemetery.