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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

What the Officers Sang


PhilB

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We`ve had a good supply of postings on Soldiers` Songs, many of them new to me and typical of the "common soldiery". I suspect that the men and the officers had largely different sets of songs. The officers` songs (sung in the mess?) would probably be related to the music hall songs of the time. I suspect the ORs less so. Which songs do you consider to have been officers` and which ORs`? Or do you think there may have been songs common to both? Phil B

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I think that music halls were working class entertainment Phil. Officers generally make reference to West End Shows. They would have sung the hits from them and played the records from them. Bit of overlap in both directions of course.

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You`re right, Tom, I should have said West End shows, not music halls for the officers. The commissioned ranker would probably have to learn a new set of songs! Phil B

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I don't think this is necessarily so (to paraphrase a song). Music halls and theatres (West End or anywhere else) were patronised by all sections of society. The difference was then, as now, ticket prices which dictated whether you sat in the comfy dress circle, or the hard benches of the gallery.

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I don't think this is necessarily so (to paraphrase a song). Music halls and theatres (West End or anywhere else) were patronised by all sections of society. The difference was then, as now, ticket prices which dictated whether you sat in the comfy dress circle, or the hard benches of the gallery.

I am loth to disagree with someone who knows a lot more about this than I do, but I think that the average Londoner even today, reserves a trip ' up west', for special occasions. I suspect that prices in a West End theatre would have been higher, at all areas, than a Hackney or Stepney music hall.

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In fact, the Music Hall had a long history of attracting all social classes. They had their roots in the 18th century coffee shops, that only the wealthy could afford patronize. Whilst it is true that some of them, originally , were little more than drinking dens and bawdy houses, this had changed by the mid-nineteeth century, and the Halls became places of genuine entertainment for all classes. I have a small collection of music hall song sheets, and I can say that non of them are bawdy, even taking into account the difference in meaning between then and now. I also have numerous recordings of music hall artists. Some of the songs might be regarded as a little risque, but that was, and is, part of British comedic tradition anyway. Nevertheless, by the late 19th century, there were many music halls around the country that were first class entertainment establishments, patronised by a cross-section of the social strata.

Just a brief comment on West End shows. Songs from these productions transcended class barriers. Just one example will suffice: "If you were the only girl in the world" composed by Nat Ayer and Clifford Grey. It came from the show "The Bing Boys are Here" which opened in London on the 19th of April 1916. George Robey and Violet Lloraine's duet was the smash hit of the day, and was hugely popular amongst the troops of all ranks.

Terry (Stars in Your Eyes) Reeves

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It`s mainly that there are certain songs you can`t imagine being sung in the mess and others you can`t imagine being sung in a draughty barn or on the march. The songs of the subalterns would have to meet with the approval of the old majors! Phil B

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With respect, the WW1 literati, whilst interesting enough in their own right, only represent their own personal view and focussing on the relative few of them, only serves to distort the wider WW1 picture. What we are talking about here is popular culture in WW1. Trying to turn this into a class based argument is fraught with problems. Whilst the pre-war army was predominantly the preserve of the middling classes, that started to change in WW1, through force of circumstance. What we are really being asked to do here, is to view it from a class perspective, which is fine, but you need to be able to define what the class system was, did it change or stay the same before and/or during the war, and how did that have an effect, if any, on the popular culture of the period.

TR

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With respect, the WW1 literati, whilst interesting enough in their own right, only represent their own personal view and focussing on the relative few of them, only serves to distort the wider WW1 picture. What we are talking about here is popular culture in WW1. Trying to turn this into a class based argument is fraught with problems. Whilst the pre-war army was predominantly the preserve of the middling classes, that started to change in WW1, through force of circumstance. What we are really being asked to do here, is to view it from a class perspective, which is fine, but you need to be able to define what the class system was, did it change or stay the same before and/or during the war, and how did that have an effect, if any, on the popular culture of the period.

TR

As I understood Phil's query, it was along the lines of , 'would the officers be humming and singing the same songs as the ORs.' My reply was that there would be a difference, being influenced by a class and financial bias. I do not believe the question required the in depth analysis you suggest. Some of the threads on the forum require deep thought and thorough analysis before making a contribution. I do not believe that this is one of those.

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I think that music halls were working class entertainment Phil. Officers generally make reference to West End Shows. They would have sung the hits from them and played the records from them. Bit of overlap in both directions of course.

West End shows are often mentioned in memoirs because, as you say Tom, going to one was a notable event, but attending was not the preserve of the commissioned ranks. Certainly in the early months of the war, men in uniform were admitted at a special lower price, and irrespective of concessionary rates, a night at the theatre remained a popular leisure pursuit throughout the war. Think, for instance, of the runaway success of shows such as Chu Chin Chow and the Bing Boys. I doubt their runs would have been so long and successful had they been the exclusive preserve of the officer class. Provincial theatres too were equally well-patronised by all ranks.

Back on duty, all ranks mostly relied on Army and Navy concert parties for a night's entertainment. These contained all ranks, but the great majority of members were NCOs and men. A few had professional connections with the stage, but all that amateur talent and ability to perform must have been honed by regular theatre-going before the war. The inclusion of songs from the shows for fellow Tommies while at the Front proves they were well abreast of the latest hits.

The difference, I think, was that officers could afford a gramophone, and to buy records of the songs everyone had enjoyed back home.

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As rankers were promoted up to Officer Status,i feel sure that their Songs would have gone with them,i have some accounts of Officers going Home to England on leave and Dressing as Private Soldiers and visiting Music Halls in the East End of London,and feeling slightly uncomfortable when recognised by rank and File from their Parent Units.The O/Rs never gave the game away though.

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As rankers were promoted up to Officer Status,i feel sure that their Songs would have gone with them,

I doubt that, PBI. I intended this to be a light thread, not a class discussion, but I can`t see the officers` mess resounding to the same refrains as the estaminet! I don`t recall ORs` memoirs saying "We sung a song from Chu Chin Chow as we swung along with rifle and pack"! Phil B

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As rankers were promoted up to Officer Status,i feel sure that their Songs would have gone with them,i have some accounts of Officers going Home to England on leave and Dressing as Private Soldiers and visiting Music Halls in the East End of London,and feeling slightly uncomfortable when recognised by rank and File from their Parent Units.The O/Rs never gave the game away though.

I agree with this post. At least from a colonial point of view since ours were mostly promoted from within. Even Britain promoted from within but to other units. We just put them up within the unit because they deserved it and everyone knew it.

Chris

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A story I can recall reading many years ago, so forgive me if the details aren't spot on, but...

I believe it was Douglas Haig was working in his office one day, when he heard a unit passing by, singing. Shocked at what he heard, he called for his horse, and chased after them.

He eventually caught up with them, tunics open, very untidy, etc. As Haig passed them by, they fell silent one by one, until their Major at the head (as untidily dressed as the rest of his men) was the only one still singing:

"Do your b*lls hang low,

do they wobble to and fro,

can you tie them in a knot,

can you tie them in a bow,

can you throw them over your shoulder,

like an English f*cking soldier,

do your b*lls hang low"!

Haig drew near on his horse - the Major, shocked, began to tidy himself up, and began to order his men to do the same. Haig then said "The men may march easy", and moved in closer to have a private word with the Major, which was luckily overheard by the Majors batman. Haig is supposed to have said:

"I like the tune, but the words are simply inexcusable", and ridden back!

So I am very much of the opinion that the Officers often shared exactly the same songs as the men they commanded, although the choice might be frowned on by some! ;)

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Even Britain promoted from within but to other units.

Chris

Even Britain? I'm no expert in this field, but I have come across men commissioned into their own units. Perhaps you are taking this generalisation too far. My husband's grandfather, for instance, was commissioned into another unit, simply because he had an engineering degree which was better utilised in the REs than as a privite in the Londons but we digress.

" I can`t see the officers` mess resounding to the same refrains as the estaminet!"

I can.

'Keep the Home Fires Burning'; 'There's a Long Long Trail a-Winding' 'Little Grey Home in the West'....

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" I can`t see the officers` mess resounding to the same refrains as the estaminet!"

I can.

'Keep the Home Fires Burning'; 'There's a Long Long Trail a-Winding' 'Little Grey Home in the West'....

Followed by a rousing chorus of "Do your b*lls hang low"? Hard to imagine. The major might sing it on the march to show solidarity with the men and raise morale, but in the mess - Hmmmm, I suspect not. . Phil B

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I agree with this post. At least from a colonial point of view since ours were mostly promoted from within. Even Britain promoted from within but to other units. We just put them up within the unit because they deserved it and everyone knew it.

Chris

Cannot let this go unchallenged: 2nd RWF had at least [off the top of my head] five SNCO/WO who were commissioned into the battalion. All were successful, several hugely so. I can probably double that number if I scratch around. There is, however, a good argument against promotion in situ and it has nothing to do with class. In all walks of life, it can be difficult [perhaps only temporarily] to have one's erstwhile equal [or even junior] suddenly made senior ....awkward for both. It was for this very reason that the lowest of the NCOs, who were unpaid LCpl [substantive rank Private] were forbidden to associate with Privates except on official business. In fact, it helped both the LCpl and the Private.

I am here describing the British Army, where the above worked. I do not advocate it for universal adoption!

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I expect times have changed. In a famous and very important RAF Group HQ Mess, we had an Officers' Mess Bawdy Song Book. At happy hour the AOC would order the fifty leather bound copies to be distributed, and female Officers [probably just the Queen Bee] were given the opportunity to leave or participate, and the AOC would take his seat at the piano.

Eskimo Nell, The Ball of Kirriemuir, The Man who ******* O'Reilly's Daughter, to name but a few.

Those were in fairly recent times, say 1982.

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Apr 14 2007, 10:11 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I doubt that, PBI. I intended this to be a light thread, not a class discussion, but I can`t see the officers` mess resounding to the same refrains as the estaminet! I don`t recall ORs` memoirs saying "We sung a song from Chu Chin Chow as we swung along with rifle and pack"! Phil B

Likewise, I can't imagine an officers' mess resounding to a hearty chorus of "I don't want to join the army", or "We're here because we're here because...."

Bruce

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Apr 14 2007, 03:10 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Followed by a rousing chorus of "Do your b*lls hang low"? Hard to imagine. The major might sing it on the march to show solidarity with the men and raise morale, but in the mess - Hmmmm, I suspect not. . Phil B

The officers possibly had a clean version?

Some twenty odd years ago I heard this song being sung by Shari Lewis and her puppet "Lamb Chop" on tv. I had to leave the room when my 4 year old niece started singing along. I couldn't keep a straight face.

The bowdlerised song seems to be very popular with American kids:

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and then of course the bowdlerised Old Man of Devizes, [who's ears were of different sizes, the one that was small was no use at all but the other won several prizes!]

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I feel sure that All Men who had shared Privations and Hardship together,would have bonded in one common thread,IE Music,My Officers were not much different from us "Toms",and would often call from the Ranks whilst on the March for the Most Vocal and Skilful Artistes to advance to the front of the column,At the End of a Really Long Trog,a Bawdy Song was always ensured to lift our Tails up and ensure that No Man Fell Out on the March.And i am Sure that no Ex Serviceman can forget the feeling of Marching back to Barracks or into a safe Bivvy weather he was Dog Tired or at the end of His Tether to the Strains of a really good Blasphemous or Anti Establisment Song.I hasten to add that MY Officers were a Commisioned Bunch of Ned Kelleys,if it wasnt nailed Down,we would "WIN" it.

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