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Remembered Today:

"We'll never tell them..."


Tom Kilkenny

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Watching 'Oh! What a Lovely War' again recently and being more moved than ever by the closing shot of the field of crosses, I started to wonder whether the song that plays over it was one that would have been known to many Tommies at the time. The line "...and when they ask us (and they're definitely going to ask us)..." seems so poignant, as if they knew that it would be pointless trying to explain the reality of what they experienced to someone who hadn't been there.

Does anyone know its background?

Tom

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It's a parody of "They Didn't Believe Me" by Jerome Kern.

And when I told them

How beautiful you are

They didn't believe me.

They didn't believe me.

Your lips, you eyes, your curly hair

Are in a class beyond compare

You're the loveliest girl

That one could see.

And when I tell them,

(And I certainly am going to tell them)

That I'm the man

Who's wife one day you'll be,

They'll never believe me,

They'll never believe me,

That from this great big world

You've chosen me.

Tom

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My understanding has always been that the songs are either those of the period or paradies of songs of the period.

And When They Ask Us used the tune 'They wouldn't believe me'

Dave

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Thanks all.

Now, to what extent do you think the lyrics reflected some kind of generally held attitude among those returning home that they would not speak about what they had experienced? More difficult to answer, perhaps, is the question: was this refusal to speak to protect those they cared for from the awful truth or was it because the people who hadn't experienced it were "definitely going to ask" and they (the returning troops) felt they had no right to do so?

Tom

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I've always taken it at face value - that is, the life of a serving soldier was more mundane than the people, spoon-fed tales of glorious victories and heroic stands, understood ("why we didn't win the croix du guerre" - a reference to the newspaper headlines) . I'm sure that when on leave the majority of questions they were asked were concerning fighting and life in the Front Line.

I know my take is more the 'obvious' one...but to me, it fits the soldiers humour that you so often get from various accounts.

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Interesting that in 'Oh what a lovely War..' and most other films, documentaries etc about the Great War they almost always feature rows of white stone crosses even when evoking British Cemeteries. It must be a shock to the producers of these films when they discover that CWGC sites actually have rectangular headstones!

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Ah, but as I say they don't use rows of wooden crosses, they use stone ones filmed at French or American cemeteries. The fact that CWGC headstones aren't crosses is, of course, very significant.

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It's not listed in John Brophy and Eric Partridge's superb 1965 "The Long Trail: soldier's songs and slang 1914-18". Whilst I am suer it can't ever be complete, that's as near to a bible of army songs of the period as you can get. I much prefer

Oh what a life, living in a trench

Under Johnny French in an old French trench

We haven't got a wife or a nice little wench

But we're still alive in the old French trench.

That's the stuff to give 'em!

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In the director's commentary, Attenborough says that the producers were appalled when he asked for however many crosses to be made and planted on the South Downs for the shot. He reveals that they did think it was wonderfully effective (and affective) however!

Tom

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  • 12 years later...

The following is from the BBC site https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-25776836
"Like any war, it all comes down to luck. You may witness unimaginable horrors that leave you mentally and physically incapacitated for life, or you might get away without a scrape. It could be the best of times, or the worst of times.

Many soldiers enjoyed WW1. If they were lucky they would avoid a big offensive, and much of the time conditions might be better than at home.

For the British there was meat every day - a rare luxury back home - cigarettes, tea and rum, part of a daily diet of more than 4,000 calories.

Remarkably, absentee rates due to sickness, an important barometer of a unit's morale, were hardly above those of peacetime. Many young men enjoyed the guaranteed pay, the intense comradeship, the responsibility and a much greater sexual freedom than in peacetime Britain."

To support this watch this scene about the end of WWI from the movie "They shall not grow old". It is 102 year old actual movie footage selected and colorised by Peter Jackson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3D0Uw-y9mrk

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I think in the Jackson DVD interview part he says that men returning home found a public that had enough of the war and didn't want to hear anymore.

 

Not quoting word for word but the poor public had had to endure 4 years of reading casualty lists, newspaper accounts of failures, seeing the wounded on the street etc. Once Armistice came along that should have been the end if it.

 

I can imagine soldiers coming home full of stories to tell only to find an apathetic eye rolling public. I wonder if this is partly the background to the he never spoke about it generation.

TEW

 

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12 hours ago, jesnz said:


To support this watch this scene about the end of WWI from the movie "They shall not grow old". It is 102 year old actual movie footage selected and colorised by Peter Jackson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3D0Uw-y9mrk

 

your link seems to direct me to the memoirs of a guy who lived in Germany before and during WWII ... 

 

M;

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