'Putting On a Show for the Troops'


Keeping Up Morale

A show for Belgian troops. Drawing by James Thiriar


As the initial fighting settled down into the routine of trench warfare and it became apparent that the war was not going to be over by Christmas (especially since Christmas had long since come and gone and would do so several times over) it became necessary to keep the troops occupied and busy. But as we know, 'All work and no play makes Tommy a dull soldier'.

Putting on theatricals and shows for the troops was an accepted method of providing entertainment that was considered not only harmless, but uplifting and even culturally educative. The following war would see famous artists like Bob Hope, The Andrews Sisters, Marlene Dietrich and many others offering their services and touring the battlefields. But during the Great War such was not the custom. Enrico Caruso and Douglas Fairbanks entertained crowds in New York far from the fighting and Sarah Bernhardt's heart was with the vaillant Poilus in the trenches fighting the Boche, but when it came down to putting on a show behind the battle lines or in a prisoner of war camp or hospital, the soldiers were mainly left to their own devices.

But from what we can see in photographs it appears that they did a fine and enthusiastic job of it, improvising admirably and having a jolly time.


* see also 'Boys Will be Boys' / Le Théâtre au Front

From a British news weekly : troops put on a show inspired by their location in the Near East
:'The Rose of Gaza', all parts being played by members of the Essex Regiment.

A poster advertising an amateur theatrical production by 'The Theater for the Armies of the Republic'

Left : Acrobatic show in an open-air theater.
Right : French soldiers put on a Punch and Judy show accompanied by a number of amateur musicians.

French soldiers at an open-air show

German soldiers at an open air show

The Allied armies were composed of troops from many nations and continents. Labor battalions were often composed of colonial subjects. Here is a photo of members of a Chinese labor battalion celebrating Chinese New Year somewhere behind the Western Front,