Songs of the Great War
from the British Newsmagazine
T.P.'s Journal of
GREAT DEEDS OF THE GREAT WAR
JANUARY 9, 1915
MUSIC IN THE TRENCHES
In all the trials of an almost inhuman War fighting men refuse to lose their essential humanity. In the face of the monstrous mechanism of slaughter, they cling to their jokes, their football, their pets even; and certainly they cling to their music and their songs.
Music Fathoms Deep
The "long way to Tipperary" has sung on valour through a score of battlefields, and songs and concerts have reigned as royal things throughout the sufferings and torments of war. While submarine 8IT crouched at the bottom of the sea, waiting its chance to strike at the Turkish battleship Alessndiyeh, a gramophone and a set of lively airs filled the hours of waiting. The gramophone is in the trenches, too. There are innumerable references to the pleasure it gives.
Eye-Witness tells how one instrument not only gave a concert in itself in camp, but also played to the men many miles away in the rifle-pits, the melodies being passed to them by means of an electrophone. The Germans use gramophones, and the French have them too, though they sometimes make them an instrument of war. One was placed well away from a trench, fitted with a disc of the "Marseillaise," and started. Enraged, so the story goes, by the provocative air, a number of Germans who had been hidden blazed away at the instrument. That was what the Frenchmen desired. Having found their enemy's position by gramophone, they proceeded to exterminate that enemy by fire.
Song and the Bayonets
Song, too, has played an almost legendary part in this War. The Germans invariably come out singing "Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles." But our men can sing to good purpose too. Here is a wonderful picture of the way the Irish Guards met a charge of three German cavalry regiments:
Rising from the ranks of the Irish, just before the crash came, there reached them the strains of songs they had never heard before. A French soldier, hobbling along with a bandaged face and a bullet in his back, ventured to repeat from memory the beginnings of a tune which I made out to be that of "God Save Ireland," and I have gathered that Whistle to me, said I," was another of these strains.
Here is another story that tells of a Scots song-and the result its melody had upon a stiff little fight:
Men were falling thick on both sides, when one of our men played the tune of "Annie Laurie" to us on a cornet. The firing on both sides ceased, and everyone stopped to listen, and in the dark it sounded grand; and the minute he had finished on went the firing, and continued until we drove them out of their position.
Oftentimes the humorous note saunters into the musical side of trench life:
A French junior officer tells us that in the enemy's trenches, not more than thirty or forty yards away from his own sheltered post, the Germans try to prove which of them can sing the loudest. "On both sides," says the Subaltern, "we have excellent musicians. One is an accordionist, another is a flautist, and they accompany their own songs-that is, when they are not engaged in slanging one another across the intervening ground. As a matter of fact, our voices carry well on both sides, and we can often hear quite clearly the commands given in the German trenches. We also frequently chaff each other, and we play tricks upon one another when we can - without, of course, omitting to use our rifles."
The shells still whine over trench and "funk hole," the attack grows fierce and dies away, but the song remains a thread of beauty in the dark hours of war.
left : an illustration from a French magazine : a 'Duet Cordiale'
A List of Great War Songs
List of Songs
A French Minstrel
Link to a Site of Great War Songs and Lyrics : 'The Doughboy Café'
Back to Index