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First World War: Popular Music

First World War: Popular Music

Thousands of songs were written about the First World War. Many were destined to disappear before or soon after the cessation of hostilities but others became big hits at the time.

The outbreak of war was no small inspiration for songwriters, lyricists, professional singers and musicians. You can sample here some of the huge body of work devoted to patriotic wartime themes.

When the War is Over, Mother Dear
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229823
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When the War is Over, Mother Dear was recorded at all is a testament to its popularity at the time. Prior to radio, songs were largely heard in music halls and people visited music shops mainly to buy the sheet music of tunes they liked. If a song was particularly popular, it would then be recorded by professional musicians. The song was composed by A.J. Mills, J.P. Long and Bennett Scott. In this 1915 recording, the singer is Stanley Kirkby (1878 - 1949), an English baritone and variety artist. He sang mostly in music halls and variety theatres and was a prolific recording artist. Kirkby has been credited with making the largest number of records in Britain from the 1900s to the 1930s. He recorded for every British record label of that time, under a variety of pseudonyms as well as his own name. Arthur J Mills was a prolific lyricist born in Surrey, who often teamed up with Bennett Scott. Their names appear with others on a large number of songs but it is difficult to determine each writer's actual contribution. Even less is known about J.P Long.

When the War is Over, Mother Dear - lyrics

Soldier laddie, somewhere in France
In the trenches at the close of day
Writes a letter to someone he loves
In the home town, far away
Cheer up, mother, you needn’t sigh
There’s a good time coming bye and bye
When the war is over, mother dear
When the bands all play and the people cheer
And the boys come marching through the dear home town <
The joy bells ringing gaily as the sun goes down
Though your heart is aching, mother dear
For your soldier boy never fear
I’ll come back some day, and kiss your tears away
When the war is over, mother dear
Soldier laddie, dreaming of home
Sees the light in mother's dear eyes shine
All in fancy he'll list to her prayer
'God protect you, son of mine'
How he longs for dear England's shore
And to clasp her in his arms once more
When the war is over, mother dear
When the bands all play and the people cheer
And the boys come marching through the dear home town
The joy bells ringing gaily as the sun goes down
Though your heart is aching, mother dear
For your soldier boy never fear
I’ll come back some day, and kiss your tears away
When the war is over, mother dear

Australia Will Be There
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1017722
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Of all the patriotic songs of WW1, Australia Will Be There is probably the one best known to Australians. It became the marching song of the Australian Expeditionary Forces and was used to rally the troops as they marched away from home. Australia Will Be There was written in 1915 by Walter Skipper Francis. The song quotes from Auld Lang Syne in its chorus and is often given its longer title, For Auld Land Syne - Australia Will Be There.

A Welshman by birth, Skipper Francis immigrated to Australia in 1913 due to ill-health. He was, however, very athletic, excelling at a number of sports and swam the Bristol Channel in 1912. Written in 1915, Australia Will Be There was immensely popular. The song celebrates the nation's freedom and declares Australia's commitment to fight. It references the defeat of the German light cruiser SMS Emden by HMAS Sydney on 9 November 1914.

 

Australia Will Be There - lyrics

There are lots and lots of arguments
Going on today
As to whether dear old England
Should be brought into the fray
But all right thinking people
Know well we had to fight
For the Kaiser’s funny business
It wants some putting right.
Rally 'round the banner of your country
Take the field with brothers o'er the foam
On land or sea
Wherever you be
Keep your eye on Germany
But England, home and beauty
Have no cause to fear
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
No, no, no, no, no!
Australia will be there
Australia will be there
You have heard about the Emden ship
Cruising all around
She was sinking British merchant men
Where'er they could be found
But one fine morning early
The Sydney hove in sight
She trained her guns upon them
And the German said ‘goodnight’
Rally 'round the banner of your country
Take the field with brothers o'er the foam
On land or sea
Wherever you be
Keep your eye on Germany
But England, home and beauty
Have no cause to fear
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
No, no, no, no, no!
Australia will be there
Australia will be there

 

 

Boys of the Dardanelles
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191092
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Boys of the Dardanelles, which commemorates the sacrifice made by Australians in the First World War, is the best-known composition by Marsh Little (1880 - 1958) and was particularly effective for encouraging recruitment. This version was performed by the prolific English singer and recording artist Stanley Kirkby.

 

Stanley Kirkby (1878 – 30 October 1949) was an English baritone singer and variety artist of the early 20th century. His repertoire came from a wide range of genres and included ballads and popular songs. He sang mostly in music halls and variety theatres and was a prolific recording artist. Kirkby has been credited with making the largest number of records in Britain from the 1900s to the 1930s, and recorded on every UK record label under a variety of pseudonyms as well as his own name.

 

Boys of the Dardanelles - lyrics

VERSE 1
Old England needs the men she breeds
There's fighting to be done.
Australians heard, and were prepared,
To help her every son.
From out the bay they sailed away,
Our pride, Australia's own,
And so to-day they're far away
And some in great unknown.

CHORUS
Boys of the Dardanelles,
They faced the shot and the shells,
Down in hist'ry their fame will go,
Our children's children their daring deeds will know
Australian lads in khaki and in blue <
Have shown the World what they can do.
How they fought and fell
The cables daily tell,
Boys of the Dardanelles.

VERSE 2

Neath foreign skies with eager eyes,

Those boys of the Dardanelles,
By the dear old flag with never a lag,
Have fought and served it well.
From scraping keel, with plunging steel,
They quickly got to work.
In khaki kit they did their bit,
And soon were upon the Turk.

CHORUS x 2

VERSE 3 (not on this recording)
When war is o'ver, and home once more,
Come Boys from the Dardanelles,
To them we'll raise our hats in praise,
And we'll hear the stories they'll tell.
It was their lot to get it hot,
Some quite new at the game.
Their gallant dash the foe to smash
Will live on the roll of fame.

The Landing of the Australian troops in Egypt
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229758
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This is a 30-second clip from a simulated recording of Australian troops docking in Egypt after their voyage from Australia to take part in the First World War. They are greeted by jovial ‘Tommies’ and a band that plays 'Advance Australia Fair’.

Summary by Paul Byrnes

If England wants a hand, well, here it is
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229910
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This 1915 recording of If England wants a Hand, Well, Here It Is is sung by Harrison Latimer. The lyrics were by Englishman Charles Vaude (1882 - 1942), a major figure in Australian vaudeville. He established arguably Australia's most popular patter act, Vaude and Verne, with Bill Verne (Will Warrington) during the 1910s and 1920s. The tune was written by Joe Slater (1872 - 1926), a music publisher and prolific songwriter who first established himself as a singer in Sydney during the early 1890s. He found his greatest musical success during WW I writing patriotic ballads like this one. If England Wants a Hand, Well, Here It Is was used on the soundtrack of the 1981 Australian feature film Gallipoli.

 

If England Wants a Hand, Well, Here it is - lyrics

The name and fame of old England
Is threatened by foes today
Our liberty, our destiny,
Is in danger, so they say
Comes a message o’er the ocean
A message to our sunny land
England calls Australia’s soldiers
We must answer her command
If England wants a Hand, well, here it is
If England wants a Hand, well, here it is
They’ll show the enemy they’re as hard as nails
The boys of Victoria and New South Wales
South Australia and the West, my lads
Queensland is passing over his
So, by the dear old Motherland
They will proudly take their stand
If England wants a Hand, well, here it is
The bugles are loudly calling
The drums they are calling too
So rally round the flag, my lads
Show the world we’re Britons too
Down with tyrants, now, forever
Keep our dear old flag unfurled
Show our foes the British Empire
Is a big thing in this world
If England wants a Hand, well, here it is
If England wants a Hand, well, here it is
They’ll show the enemy they’re as hard as nails
The boys of Victoria and New South Wales
South Australia and the West, my lads
Queensland is passing over his
So, by the dear old Motherland
They will proudly take their stand
If England wants a Hand, well, here it is

Heroes of the Dardanelles
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290701
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The Gallipoli campaign inspired a number of patriotic songs like this one, that helped to build the Anzac legend back home and give Australia an independent identity from Britain.

‘Heroes of the Dardanelles’ was written in 1915 by Australian composer Reginald Stoneham, The Sydney Morning Herald described it as ‘a patriotic song which possesses a good deal of character in the opening strain’. The song references other songs popular with Australian and British soldiers at the time - ‘Australia Will Be There’ and ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.’

The sheet music included the following note and additional lyrics: ‘Author’s Note - If England’s still at war with Germany, if Encore demanded, sing the following lines starting from (A) and also refrain – The lion and his fighting cubs are driving back the hun, the boys out there, they need you, and they wonder if you’ll come, go now, avenge the pals you knew, they’re calling for you there, your watchword, and one we all love well, Advance Australia Fair.’

This recording, made in the United Kingdom by English radio and concert singer Foster Richardson, was released on the Zonophone record label in 1917.

They Were There! There! There!
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172203
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Harley Cohan, from Mudgee, NSW, studied drama and elocution before enlisting in 1915. In August that year he was wounded at the Battle of Lone Pine, Gallipoli and returned to Australia, where he wrote the patriotic lyrics to ‘They Were There! There! There!’

Set to music by Bert Rache, the song first became a hit for singer Peter Dawson on the Tivoli Circuit. Cohen found success in concert appearances and advertising, and continued to write lyrics, with his last known works published in 1954. In 1916 he co-founded the Gallipoli Strollers, a variety troupe of wounded veterans who toured Australia until the early 1920s. This recording is performed by English radio and concert singer Foster Richardson and was released on the Zonophone label.

  

Only One of the Toys
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NFSA ID
229112

Only One of the Toys, described on its sheet music as a ‘pathetic soldier song’, was written by Mark Erickson and P. Clay-Bealer only a few months after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

The dismal lyrics suggest that the soldier in question is merely a toy with no authority. He eventually dies on the battlefield, fulfilling the destiny he predicted to his son before leaving for war. Despite its gloomy subject, this 1914 song was surprisingly popular in its day.

An extra verse and chorus were later added, supplying patriotic themes missing from the original version. The soldier’s son grows up and, ‘ans’ring the Old Country’s call,’ goes to war himself. ‘With our flag unfurl’d, we are going to show the world, what Australian soldiers can do.’

This recording is sung by Harrison Latimer.

 

Only One of the Toys lyrics:

A soldier was saying “Goodbye” to his wife

He was marching that day to the war

His little son played with a gallant toy brigade

Of brightly painted soldiers on the floor

The boy looked up from his scene of mimic strife

And he said, “Daddy when to war you go,

Will you have a reg’ment too, will you drill it like I do?”

But his father answered “No”

I’m only one of the toys, my boy,

I do what I’m told to do

Perhaps I’ll fall, be forgotten by all

All but your mammy and you

I do my best along with the rest

When I march with the Brave Old Boys

No command is mine, just a number in the line

For I’m only one of the toys

The battle was over and there on the ground

Lay a soldier in pain waiting death

His comrade bent his head just to hear the words he said

That came so slowly with his dying breath

“My dear old pal, you will soon be homeward bound

Tell my wife all that you have heard me say

And remind my little Jim of the words I said to him

On the day I marched away”

I’m only one of the toys, my boy,

I do what I’m told to do 

Perhaps I’ll fall, be forgotten by all 

All but your mammy and you 

I do my best along with the rest 

When I march with the Brave Old Boys 

No command is mine, just a number in the line

For I’m only one of the toys

The Fleet's Afloat
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229744
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Prior to radio, songs were largely heard performed in music halls. People would then visit music shops to purchase the sheet music of tunes they liked. Many homes had a piano, and at least one member of the family knew how to play it, providing a common form of entertainment and socialization. Music shop owners would often employ a pianist to perform during business hours so customers could hear the sheet music played live. If a song was particularly popular, it would then be recorded by professional musicians.

Stanley Kirkby (1878 –1949) was an English baritone singer and variety artist of the early 20th century. His repertoire came from a wide range of genres and included ballads and popular songs. He sang mostly in music halls and variety theatres and was a prolific recording artist. Kirkby has been credited with making the largest number of records in Britain from the 1900s to the 1930s for every record label under a variety of pseudonyms as well as his own name.

Sons of Australia
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230348
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Sons of Australia was written by prolific English music hall composer Felix McGlennon in 1900, during the Second Boer War. This was one year before Federation, and Australia’s colonial forces were fighting in South Africa as six separate colonies. The Sydney Stock and Station Journal wrote in May 1900 that the song, ‘bids fair to be as popular as any that has preceded it, for it is strong, martial, and musical…. The words are fiery and the music is suited to it, and the piece is likely to be exceedingly popular.’

During Australia’s participation in the First World War, ‘Sons of Australia’ became popular all over again. This recording, by English baritone singer Stanley Kirkby, was released on the Zonophone label in 1915.

 

Sons of Australia lyrics:

VERSE 1

Sons of Australia

Hear the Mother calling

Calling to her boys who’re

Scattered far and wide

Sons of Australia

Hear those insults galling

She who bore you wants her offspring

Standing by her side

Bred for fighting, built to stay

Never yielding, never knew the way

When they defied our Mother

Threatened with their guns

Did they think that such a grand Old Mother had no sons?

CHORUS

Did they think that England stood alone?

Have they heard how to her side we’ve flown?

Sons of Australia

Strike for your Empire Grand,

Fight as your Mother taught you to,

For the dear old land

VERSE 2

Sons of Australia

Are your pulses thrilling?

Thrilling at the chance to thrash

Your Empire’s foes

Sons of Australia

How your ranks are filling

As you think of Motherland

Your hearts’ blood quicker flows

Pluck and muscle, blood and brain

Born of heroes linked in Empire’s chain

Proud of your grand old birthright

Glorious and free

Mighty Monarch of the Nation’s ruler of the sea

CHORUS

Did they think that England stood alone?

Have they heard how to her side we’ve flown?

Sons of Australia

Strike for your Empire Grand,

Fight as your Mother taught you to,

For the dear old land

VERSE 3 (not included in this recording)

Sons of Australia

Read your Empire’s story

How your Father’s built it

Shall that Empire wane?

Sons of Australia

Ne’ver must fade their glory

Vow what gallant sires have fought for

Their sons will maintain

Heav’n hath willed it

Tis decreed world wide

Rulers we the grand old breed

We who have fought for freedom

Scorning all things base

Must fulfil our destiny

To be the ruling race

The Tanks that Broke the Ranks
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695346
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Written and composed by English music hall writers Harry Castling and Harry Carlton,The Tanks that Broke the Ranks, was a popular music hall song celebrating the first use of tanks on the battlefield. The sheet music was released in December 1916, just three months after the first use of tanks in war by the British, during the Battle of the Somme.

Although both sides regarded the tanks with interest and awe when first deployed, their success was mixed. Of the 49 tanks shipped to the Somme, only nine made it across ‘no man's land’ to the German lines.

The song references many prominent German military leaders of the day, including Kaiser Wilhelm, Alfred von Tirpitz, Paul von Hindenburg and Prince Wilhelm. It was very popular in music halls in 1917. This recording was sung by internationally acclaimed Australian performer and recording artist Peter Dawson under the pseudonym ‘Will Strong,’ which he used for music hall recordings.

 

The Tanks that Broke the Ranks - lyrics 

In No Man's Land one early morn at sixty in the shade 

From out the British lines there came the famous Tank Brigade  

The Huns began to strafe 'em, couldn't make it out at all  

Especially when the tanks began the Caterpillar crawl. 

And the tanks went on, and they strolled along with an independent air  

And their guns began to blare, and the Huns began to swear  

For they pulled the trees up by the roots, and they made the Huns look like galoots  

Did the tanks that broke the ranks out in Picardy. 

The Huns peeped through their trenches, for they couldn't understand.  

They cried "Here comes the British Navy, sailing on the land!"  

The Kaiser saw them also and, as through the trench he ran,  

He shouted out to Tirpitz "Hush! Here comes the bogey man!" 

And the tanks went on, and they strolled along with an independent air  

Said the Huns, "It isn't fair! You're not fighting on the square!"  

At the fortress then they made a call and started walking through the wall  

Did the tanks that broke the ranks out in Picardy. 

When Hindenburg first saw a tank he chaffed and made a fuss.  

He said to Little Willie "It's a motor omnibus!"  

Then Little Willie saw it and he made a rude remark  

Said he, "It's not a 'bus at all - it's Noah inside his Ark!" 

And the tanks went on, and they strolled along with an independent air  

And a German colonel there nearly lost his ginger hair  

From inside the tank there came a claw, and it pulled him through the early door  

And they took him for a joy-ride round Picardy. 

And they strolled along to the Bois Boulong with an independent air,  

Up and down each thoroughfare, and they didn't seem to care;  

Then the little bantam driver cried to all the Tommies,  

"Jump inside and it's tuppence all the way from here to Berlin".

Advance Australia Fair
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230344
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Written by Scottish-born composer Peter Dodds McCormick and first performed in1878, Advance Australia Fair was officially declared the national anthem by the Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, on 19 April 1984. This version is one of the earliest recordings, thought to be made in 1915, when Australian troops were landing in Egypt.

Despite it’s status as the official national anthem, Waltzing Matilda (1895), a more uplifting tune with lyrics by Banjo Paterson telling the story of a criminal stealing a sheep, is still widely regarded as Australia’s ‘unofficial’ national anthem.

 

Advance Australia Fair – lyrics (the original 1879 version) 

Verse 1 

Australia's sons let us rejoice, 

For we are young and free; 

We've golden soil and wealth for toil, 

Our home is girt by sea; 

Our land abounds in Nature's gifts 

Of beauty rich and rare; 

In hist'ry's page, let ev'ry stage 

Advance Australia fair. 

In joyful strains then let us sing, 

Advance Australia fair. 

Verse 2 

When gallant Cook from Albion sailed, 

To trace wide oceans o'er, 

True British courage bore him on, 

Til he landed on our shore. 

Then here he raised Old England's flag, 

The standard of the brave; 

"With all her faults we love her still" 

"Britannia rules the wave." 

In joyful strains then let us sing 

Advance Australia fair. 

Verse 3 

While other nations of the globe 

Behold us from afar, 

We'll rise to high renown and shine 

Like our glorious southern star; 

From England soil and Fatherland, 

Scotia and Erin fair, 

Let all combine with heart and hand 

To advance Australia fair. 

In joyful strains then let us sing 

Advance Australia fair. 

Verse 4 

Should foreign foe e'er sight our coast, 

Or dare a foot to land, 

We'll rouse to arms like sires of yore, 

To guard our native strand; 

Britannia then shall surely know, 

Though oceans roll between, 

Her sons in fair Australia's land 

Still keep their courage green. 

In joyful strains then let us sing 

Advance Australia fair.

All the Boys in Khaki Get the Nice Girls
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229599
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This light-hearted recruitment tune composed in 1915 by Tom Mellor and Harry Gifford was a British wartime hit and claimed a uniform was all it took to attract 'nice' girls

All the Boys in Khaki Get the Nice Girls was recorded in 1915 by F.W Ramsey, the pseudonym of Fred Douglas, who was also the lead singer in a comedy duo called the ‘Two Gilberts’. The song exemplifies what the great British lyricist Herman Darewski said about songwriting; ‘The opening sentence of the chorus should form a catchphrase…every word must be simple, childish in its simplicity in fact’. 

The lyrics are set to a distinct marching beat punctuated by an instantly recognizable military-sounding trumpet interlude.

 

All the Boys in Khaki Get the Nice Girls – lyrics

Little Johnny Brown was a dandy in the town

Wore a stuck up collar and spats and every latest tie

All the girls were crazy over Johnny for years and years

Until there came a day when all of them passed him by

He wondered why they passed him by

When they always used to give him a beautiful glad, glad eye

He stood on the corner in sweet meditation and looking so terribly sad

Till a lady recruitment sergeant said, ‘Look here, young fellow, my lad,

All the boys in khaki get the nice girls

And the boys in blue get the nice girls too

Maidens by the score

Flappers galore

Every time you give them a kiss they shout ‘Encore!’

All the boys in khaki get the nice girls

Eyes of grey, eyes of brown, eyes of blue

So John, John, John put a bit of khaki on

And you’ll get the nice girls too!’

She said, ‘Johnny Brown, say goodbye to the life in town

Get up, boy, at boy at five in the morning with the rising sun

All the little girls you know will follow you everywhere

When once they see you boy, shouldering up your gun

Twill be such fun, to use a gun

And your mother will be ever so proud of her great big son’

Johnny went off and he very soon came back with khaki and everything on

Kissed the lady recruiting sergeant shouting, ‘This is the life for John!

All the boys in khaki get the nice girls

And the boys in blue get the nice girls too

Maidens by the score

Flappers galore

Every time you give them a kiss they shout ‘Encore!’

All the boys in khaki get the nice girls

Eyes of grey, eyes of brown, eyes of blue

So John, John, John put a bit of khaki on

And you’ll get the nice girls too!’

Repeat chorus

Only a Sinner
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1001431
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Only a Sinner was written and recorded some years before the First World War. Despite its rather plodding and mournful tune it is easy to imagine that religious hymns like this became popular again once men found themselves confronted by the horrors of modern warfare.

A deeply religious man, James M. Gray was the author of about 20 books, as well as many tracts and pamphlets on Christianity. He wrote the lyrics to Only as Sinner in 1912, referencing the Gospel of Luke and Ephesians. The lyrics make it plain that nothing a person can do could ever make him or her acceptable to God. It is only God’s unmerited grace that redeems the sinner. 

 

Only a Sinner – lyrics  

Naught have I gotten but what I received; 

Grace hath bestowed it since I have believed; 

Boasting excluded, pride I abase; 

I’m only a sinner, saved by grace! 

Only a sinner, saved by grace! 

Only a sinner, saved by grace! 

This is my story, to God be the glory— 

I’m only a sinner, saved by grace! 

Once I was foolish, and sin ruled my heart, 

Causing my footsteps from God to depart; 

Jesus hath found me, happy my case; 

I now am a sinner, saved by grace! 

Tears unavailing, no merit had I; 

Mercy had saved me, or else I must die; 

Sin had alarmed me fearing God’s face; 

But now I’m a sinner saved by grace! 

Suffer a sinner whose heart overflows, 

Loving his Saviour to tell what he knows; 

Once more to tell it would I embrace— 

I’m only a sinner saved by grace!

Tell My Daddy To Come Home Again
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NFSA ID
229931
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The songs sung by music hall artists during the First World War were often filled with war fever and patriotism. Propaganda messages promoted through song could appeal both emotionally as well as rationally and had the added benefit of being easily remembered and repeated by the average citizen. Tell My Daddy to Come Home Again: The Evening News Lonely Soldiers Song, recorded by Stanely Kirkby in 1915, is one such song, with lyrics written from the perspective of a child lamenting their father who has gone off to war.

Stanley Kirkby was an English baritone who sang mostly in music halls but was also a popular recording artist. Joseph Tabrar was one of England’s most prolific music hall songwriters, more famous for his song, Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow (1892).

 

When We March Through Berlin Town
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230339
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When We March Through Berlin Town is a jaunty tune clearly aimed to lift the spirits the troops and encourage men to enlist. The soldier at the centre of the song says farewell to his sweetheart, Jeannie, because the King of England is needing ‘laddies big and broad’. He assures Jeannie that he will wear her sprig of heather in his old Scotch cap when they defeat the Germans and occupy Berlin. The tone of the song is one of supreme optimism.

In his early years Fred E. Cliffe toured the music halls as a lightning sketch artist. While he began writing for lyrics around the time of the First Wold War he really came to fame as a lyricist working with Harry Gifford in the 1930s and 40s, supplying material for George Formby Jr, one of the most popular entertainers in Britain during that time.

Lawrence Wright was a popular music composer and publisher and wrote, or co-wrote, over 600 songs including the well-known, Are We Downhearted? No! (1914), a line that is reprised in When We March Through Berlin Town.

Murray Johnson is possibly better known for his recording of Pack Up Your Troubles (1916), a song virtually synonymous with the First Wold War.

Brave Women Who Wait
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1216979
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For the war effort to be successful, it was not only men who needed to be recruited. The women on the home front also had to show their commitment, so they were also the target of propaganda campaigns. 'Brave Women Who Wait' reminds the general population that while the men may be dying on the battlefields, the women were also making sacrifices at home.

'Brave Women Who Wait' was recorded by Ernest Pike, an English tenor who became the ‘house vocalist’ for the HMV recording company. He recorded more than 500 records in a career that spanned over 20 years, and was known as ‘England’s most recorded tenor’. Like many singers of the day, Pike also recorded under numerous pseudonyms with other companies, in particular with Zonophone. 

For the war effort to be successful, it was not only men who needed to be recruited. The women on the home front also had to show their commitment, so they were also the target of propaganda campaigns. They were encouraged to farewell their husbands, sons, brothers and boyfriends off to war, but they also made to feel that they had a noble duty. 'Brave Women Who Wait' aims to remind the general population that while the men may be dying on the battlefields, the women were also making sacrifices at home. This is brought home in the second verse of the song: 

For the men there’s the danger and peril of war 
A shot may soon settle their fate 
But what of the anguish and sorrow and care 
That come to the women who wait? 

However, the women on the home front were doing far more than ‘waiting’. The song fails to acknowledge that women filled many roles previously undertaken by men in agriculture and manufacturing, including the manufacture of armaments.