Songs of the World War

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Popular song reflects the culture of the moment. In times of war, songs try to boost soldier morale, mourn losses, generate homefront support, or, as in so much of the music the of Vietnam War era, question the value of the conflict and call for its end. World War I resulted in the creation of a remarkably large body of popular songs devoted to wartime themes.

Thousands of songs were written about the war, some of which are still familiar nearly a century later. Songs such as " Over There " and " It's a Long Way to Tipperary " were hits in their day and are still known by many people today. The battery barks in the spinney, The howitzer plonks like the deuce, The big nine point two speaks like thunder And shatters the houses in Loos, Sharp chatters the little machine-gun, Oh!

Up the ladders! And carry on with it The guns all chant their chorus, the shells go whizzing o'er us: -- Forward, hearties! Forward to do our little bit! A sentinel on guard, my watch I keep And guard the dug-out where my comrades sleep. The moon looks down upon a ghost-like figure, Delving a furrow in the cold, damp sod. The grave is ready and the lonely digger Leaves the departed to their rest and God. I shape a little cross and plant it deep To mark the dug-out where my comrades sleep.

A candle stuck on the muddy floor Lights up the dug-out wall, And I see in its flame the prancing sea And the mountains straight and tall; For my heart is more than often back By the hills of Donegal. OFF DUTY THE night is full of magic, and the moonlit dewdrops glisten Where the blossoms close in slumber and the questing bullets pass -- Where the bullets hit the level I can hear them as I listen, Like a little cricket concert, chirping chorus in the grass. In the dug-out by the traverse there's a candle- flame a-winking And the fireflies on the sandbags have their torches all aflame.

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As I watch them in the moonlight, sure, I cannot keep from thinking, That the world I knew and this one carry on the very same. I use my pick and shovel To dig a little hole, And there I sit till morning -- A listening-patrol. A silly little sickle Of moon is hung above; Within a pond beside me The frogs are making love: I see the German sap-head; A cow is lying there, Its belly like a barrel, Its legs are in the air.

The big guns rip like thunder, The bullets whizz o'erhead, But o'er the sea in England Good people lie abed.

And over there in England May every honest soul Sleep sound while we sit watching On listening patrol. The guns speak loud: he hears them not; The night goes by: he does not know; A lone white cross stands on the spot, And tells of one who sleeps below. The brooding night is hushed and still, The crooning breeze draws quiet breath, A star-shell flares upon the hill And lights the lowly house of death.

Songs from the exhibition

Unknown, a soldier slumbers there, While mournful mists come dropping low, But oh! My wants are few, but what I need Ain't not so much of bully stew, Nor biscuits, that's a mongrel's feed, But, matey, just 'twixt me and you -- When winks the early evening star, And shadows o'er the trenches come -- I wish the sergeants brought a jar, And issued double tots of rum.

FOUR by four, in column of route, By roads that the poplars sentinel, Clank of rifle and crunch of boot -- All are marching and all is well. White, so white is the distant moon, Salmon-pink is the furnace glare And we hum, as we march, a ragtime tune, Khaki boys in the long platoon, Ready for anything -- anywhere.

Lonely and still the village lies, The houses sleep and the blinds are drawn, The road is straight as the bullet flies, And we go marching into the dawn; Salmon-pink is the furnace sheen. Where the coal stacks bulk in the ghostly air The long platoons on the move are seen, Little connecting files between, Moving and moving, anywhere. Now when the star-shells riot up In flares of red and green, Each fairy leaves her buttercup And goes to see her queen. Where little, ghostly moonbeams stray Through mushroom alleys white, The fairies carry on their way A glow-worm lamp for light. For them the journey's always short; They're happy as you please, A-riding to the Fairy Court On backs of bumble-bees.

The cricket and the grasshopper Are thridding in the grass, And making paths of gossamer For fairy feet to pass. I've lugged it from Bethune to Loos and back from Loos again, I've found it on the battlefield amidst the soldiers slain.

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Songs of the First World War - History - The Virtual Gramophone - Library and Archives Canada

A little battle souvenir for one across the foam That's if the French authorities will let me take it home. I've got a long, long sabre as sharp as any lance, 'Twas carried by a shepherd boy from some- where South in France Where grasses wave and poppy-flowers are red as blood is red, I took the shepherd's sabre for the shepherd boy lay dead. I'll take it back a souvenir to one across the foam. That's if the French authorities will let me take it home, That's if our own authorities will give me leave for home!!!

THE night is still and the air is keen, Tense with menace the time crawls by, In front is the town and its homes are seen, Blurred in outline against the sky. The dead leaves float in the sighing air, The darkness moves like a curtain drawn, A veil which the morning sun will tear From the face of death. WHEN stand-to hour is over we leave the parapet, And scamper to our dug-out to smoke a cigarette; The post has brought in parcels and letters for us all, And now we'll light a candle, a little penny candle, A tiny tallow candle, and stick it to the wall.

Dark shadows cringe and cower on roof and wall and floor, And little roving breezes come rustling through the door; We open up the letters of friends across the foam, And thoughts go back to London, again we dream of London -- We see the lights of London, of London and of home. We've parcels small and parcels of a quite gigantic size, We've Devon cream and butter and apples baked in pies, We'll make a night of feasting and all will have their fill -- See, cot-mate Bill has dainties, such dandy, dinky dainties, She's one to choose the dainties, the maid that's gone on Bill.

Oh: Kensington for neatness; it packs its parcels well, Though Bow is always bulky it isn't quite as swell, But here there's no distinction 'twixt Kensing- ton and Bow, We're comrades in the dug-out, all equals in the dug-out, We're comrades in the dug-out and fight a common foe. Here comes the ration party with tins of bully stew -- "Clear off your ration party, we have no need of you; "Maconachie for breakfast? It ain't no bloomin' use, We're faring far, far better, our gifts from home are better, Look here, we've something better than bully after Loos. We all have read our letters, but one's un- touched so far, An English maiden's letter to her sweetheart at the War, And when we write in answer to tell her how he fell, What can we say to cheer her?

Oh, what is now to cheer her? There's nothing left to cheer her except the news to tell. We'll write to her to-morrow and this is what we'll say, He breathed her name in dying; in peace he passed away -- No words about his moaning, his anguish and his pain, When slowly, slowly dying.

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Fifteen hours in dying He lay a maimed thing dying, alone upon the plain. We often write to mothers, to sweethearts and to wives, And tell how those who loved them have given up their lives; If we're not always truthful, our lies are always kind, Our letters lie to cheer them, to solace and to cheer them, Oh: anything to cheer them, -- the women left behind.

The Annotated Army Song Book Part 1

Empty hours in the empty days, And empty months crawl by, The brown battalions go their way, And here at the Base I lie! I dream of the grasses the dew-drops drench, And the earth with the soft rain wet, I dream of the curve of a winding trench, And a loop-holed parapet; The sister wraps my bandage again, Oh, gentle the sister's hand, But the smart of a restless longing, vain, She cannot understand. At night I can see the trench once more, And the dug-out candle lit, The shadows it throws on wall and floor Form and flutter and flit.

Over the trenches the night-shades fall And the questing bullet pings, And a brazier glows by the dug-out wall, Where the bubbling mess-tin sings. I dream of the long, white, sleepy night Where the fir-lined roadway runs Up to the shell-scarred fields of fight And the loud-voiced earnest guns; The rolling limber and jolting cart The khaki-clad platoon, The eager eye and the stout young heart, And the silver-sandalled moon. But here I'm kept to the narrow bed, A maimed and broken thing -- Never a long day's march ahead Where brown battalions swing. But though time drags bylike a wounded snake Where the young life's lure's denied, A good stiff lip for the old pal's sake, And the old battalion's pride!


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The ward-fire burns in a cheery way, A vision in every flame, There are books to read and games to play But oh! ALONG the road in the evening the brown battalions wind, With the trenches' threat of death before, the peaceful homes behind; And luck is with you or luck is not as the ticket of fate is drawn, The boys go up to the trench at dusk, but who will come back at dawn?

The winds come soft of an evening o'er the fields of golden grain, The good sharp scythes will cut the corn ere we come back again; The village girls will tend the grain and mill the Autumn yield While we go forth to other work upon another field. What I'm doing just now: Here on the first of November, Shivering mute on a bough.

Good watch we will keep if we don't fall asleep, As we huddle for warmth in a shell-shovelled hole. In the battle-lit night all the plain is alight, Where the grasshoppers chirp to the frogs in the pond, And the star-shells are seen bursting red, blue, and green, O'er the enemy's trench just a stone's-throw beyond. The grasses hang damp o'er each wee glow- worm lamp That is placed on the ground for a fairy camp-fire, And the night-breezes wheel where the mice squeak and squeal, Making sounds like the enemy cutting our wire.

Here are thousands of toads in their ancient abodes, Each toad on its stool and each stool in its place, And a robin sits by with a vigilant eye On a grim garden-spider's wife washing her face. Now Bill never sees any marvels like these, When I speak of the sights he looks up with amaze, And he smothers a yawn, saying, "Wake me at dawn," While the Dustman from Nod sprinkles dust in his eyes.

But these things you'll see if you come out with me, And sit by my side in a shell-shovelled hole, Where the fairy-bells croon to the ivory moon When the soldier is out on a listening-patrol. When the men stand still to their rifles, And the star-shells riot and flare, Flung from the sandbag alleys, Into the ghostly air. They see in the growing grasses That rise from the beaten zone Their poor unforgotten comrades Wasting in skin and bone, And the grass creeps silently o'er them Where comrade and foe are blent In God's own peaceful churchyard When the fire of their might is spent.

But the men who stand to their rifles See all the dead on the plain Rise at the hour of midnight To fight their battles again. Each to his place in the combat, All to the parts they played With bayonet, brisk to its purpose, Rifle and hand grenade. Shadow races with shadow, Steel comes quick on steel, Swords that are deadly silent And shadows that do not feel.

Popular Songs of World War I

And shades recoil and recover And fade away as they fall In the space between the trenches, And the watchers see it all. I strop my razor on the sling; the bayonet stand is made For me to hang my mirror on. I often use it, too, As handle for the dixie, sir, and lug around the stew. Penalty is seven days' C. THE TRENCH THE long trench, twisting, turning, wanders wayward as a rlver Through the poppy-flowers blooming in the grasses dewy wet, The buttercups sit shyly and the daisies nod and quiver, Where the bright defiant bayonets rim the sandbagged parapet, In the peaceful dawn the trenches hold a menace and a threat.

The last faint evening streamer touches heaven with its finger, The vast night's starry legion sends its first lone herald star, Around the bay and traverse little twilight colours linger And incense-laden breezes come in crooning from afar, To where above the sandbags gleam the steely fangs of war. All the night the frogs go chuckle, all the day the birds are singing In the pond beside the meadow, by the roadway poplar-lined, In the field between the trenches are a million blossoms springing 'Twixt the grass of silver bayonets where the lines of battle wind Where man has manned the trenches for the maiming of his kind.

The aeroplane above you may go droppin' bombs a bit, But lyin' in your dug-out you're unlucky if you're 'it. V'en the breezes fills your trenches with hasfixiatin' gas, You puts on your respirator an' allows the stuff to pass. W'en you're up against a feller with a bayonet long an' keen, Just 'ave purchase of your weapon an' you'll drill the beggar clean. W'en man and 'oss is chargin' you, upon your knees you kneel, An' catch the 'oss's breastbone with an inch or two of steel.

It's sure to end its canter, an' as the creature stops The rider pitches forward an' you catch 'im as 'e drops. It's w'en 'e sees 'is danger, an' 'e knows 'is way about That a bloke is damned unlucky if e's knocked completely out. But out on Active Service there are dangers everywhere, The shrapnel shell and bullet that comes on you unaware, The saucy little rifle is a perky little maid, An' w'en you've got 'er message you 'ave done your last parade.

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