Songs of the First World War soldiers

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by Jeannie Swales

“These were the songs they sang. To these melodies they marched bravely, of times gaily, up the shell-pocked roads that led to the front line. Rest billets, hospital and home knew these tunes, and in them can be found a musical history of the Great War, so far away now in reality and yet always so near in our hearts.”

The writer may have considered the war to be far away, but that reference to it as the ‘Great’ rather than the ‘First World’ gives a clue as to the date of this giveaway booklet - 1935, just 17 years after the end of the First World War, and four years before the start of the Second.

The Songs Our Soldiers Sang was given away free with a publication called Answers in the week ending Saturday November 16, presumably to commemorate Armistice Day on the Monday of that week.

The songs include some still well known today - Keep The Home Fires Burning, Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag - and some less familiar - who now remembers Plum and Apple, or Farewell Isabelle?

Its introduction - from which my own introduction is drawn - is an odd mix of the pragmatic and the wildly romantic.

“The men who didn’t make the Great War, but who won it, sang these songs, and these simple tunes and simple words gave what little romance there was to a grim struggle and whatever romance remains from the ashes of that useless conflagration is to be found in their lasting lilt,” the writer tells us, sombrely.

Then, more light-heartedly: “Just as the exploits of Francis Drake came in laughing gusts across the Atlantic, so a laughing, singing, and unbeatable Army landed in France to the merry notes of ‘Here we are! Here we are!! Here we are again!!!’ and that immortal song ‘Tipperary’.” And: “Well for us as an Empire that we had ‘Singing Soldiers’. It was that very spirit that made defeat impossible.

“They did not sing to keep their hearts up; they sang because their hearts were up. There was a job to do, and if death came with a song it was the better way out.”

The writer of all this rather purple prose was one Draycot M Dell, who seems to have been quite a character. Journalist, writer of children’s stories (including the ‘Bunnykins’ books) and co-author, with Edgar Wallace, of a short story King Kong, published in Cinema Weekly in October 1933, and probably based on the movie, rather than the other way round, his works also included Dough-Nuts for the Dough-Boys (1917), a collection of jokes for GIs stationed in Britain.

The booklet is part of the Scarborough Collections. If you have an enquiry or would like access to the Collections please contact Karen Snowden, Head of Collections on 01723 384506, or Karen.snowden@smtrust.uk.com