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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Contemporary songs of The Great War.


Guest KingGeorge1988

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Guest KingGeorge1988

Hello,

I work in local radio and I've been looking for contemporary songs written about the First World War, and there doesn't seem to be a great deal around, or perhaps I'm not looking hard enough. I thought I'd post here and see if anybody knows any or has any idea where I might want to look.

I did find one or two, including this one which is my favourite:

Any input or help would be greatly appreciated,

Thank you.

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Have you got a copy of The Long Trail - Soldiers songs and slang 1914 -1918 by John Brophy and Eric Partridge?

What do you mean by contemporary - songs written then or songs written now about it?

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Oh, if modern songs then Coope Boyes and Simpson / Vredeconcerten Passendaele et al. http://www.coopeboyesandsimpson.co.uk/the_first_world_war.htm

Can't play the inserted video through the firewall or I might have cottoned on sooner...

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To me the most moving of all contemporary songs about WWI will always be Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", written in 1971, first heard in a pub in Pompey in 1979, and never since forgotten - although he does get some of the locations wrong. But having heard from our next-door neighbour when I was a 9 year old how at Gallipoli he was staring and shooting at Turks across the width of a road, the song becomes so real - especially this part:

"But the band played Waltzing Matilda

As we stopped to bury our slain
And we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then started all over again"

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To me the most moving of all contemporary songs about WWI will always be Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", written in 1971, first heard in a pub in Pompey in 1979, and never since forgotten - although he does get some of the locations wrong. But having heard from our next-door neighbour when I was a 9 year old how at Gallipoli he was staring and shooting at Turks across the width of a road, the song becomes so real - especially this part:

Actually, I think it was written a year later and, would you believe, originally came SECOND in an Aussie song-writing competition (I wonder what happened to the winner).

Of course, the other famous EB song is "Green Fields of France" or, to give it its original title, "No-Man's Land". This is less subtle than TBPWM, but still powerful in parts, and has been variously attributed to others (by Tony Blair to a soldier in the trenches, and I've heard it quoted as written by the Pogues). I had occasion to write to Mr. Bogle some years ago, and in passing mentioned this loss of credit. He very generously replied that he didn't really mind if it meant that his songs were being sung. What a gent - he probably would also laugh at the very funny (and rather wicked) parodies of both songs which surface occasionally (on one occasion sung by me, I have to admit).

There is another FWW-related song of his called "The Gift of Years", telling the story of an old soldier going to visit the grave of an old mate who didn't make it - not quite in the class of the other two, but moving, nonetheless.

Melvin

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Oral history: my Grandmother often used to sing to herself:

Fire! Fire!

F stands for France

I for Italee

R stands for Russia

But what about the E?

E stands for little England

And together there's no doubt

That marching all together

Fighting hell-for-leather

We'll help to put the fire out!

Her brother served in the Royal Garrison Artillery. She also would sing a song, ending

And when we get to Berlin [emphasis on first syllable]

The Kaiser he will say

"Hoch Hoch Mein Gott

What a bloody fine lot

Are the Devon RGA!"

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... Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda", written in 1971...

.... Actually, I think it was written a year later and, would you believe, originally came SECOND in an Aussie song-writing competition (I wonder what happened to the winner)....

Well, that piece of information puts Eric Bogle in the same category as the ancient Greek poet Euripedes! His Troades was first performed in 415 BC at the Festival of Dionysos in Athens that year, and came second to a play by another local playwright named Xenocles, none of whose works have survived, unlike the Troades, which is periodically revived on stage and on screen. It was generally believed by later Roman writers that "the jury were either intellectually incapable of a proper decision or else they were bribed”...!

Trajan

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Dancing At Whitsun by Austin John Marshall

Written in the sixties, so the 50 long springtimes no longer really works, but one of my favourites. Recorded by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior, The Yetties, and the Dubliners, among others.

It’s fifty long springtimes since she was a bride,
But still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
In a dress of white linen with ribbons of green,
As green as her memories of loving.

The feet that were nimble tread carefully now,
As gentle a measure as age will allow,
Through groves of white blossoms, by fields of young corn,
Where once she was pledged to her true-love.

The fields they stand empty, the hedges grow free—
No young men to trim them or pastures o'ersee

They are gone where the forest of oak trees before
Have gone, to be wasted in battle.

Down from the green farmlands and from their loved ones
Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and sons.
There’s a fine roll of honour where the Maypole once stood,
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.

There’s a straight row of houses in these latter days
All covering the downs where the sheep used to graze.
There’s a field of red poppies (a gift from the Queen)
But the ladies remember at Whitsun,
And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun.

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I love that one Tootrock. Lovely tune too.

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