Sunday 5 October 2014

Songs of the First World War


While I was researching the songs of the First World War recently, I came across a reference on page 175 in a book called “Charlie Chaplin and His Times” by Kenneth S. Lynn, published in 1997 by Simon & Schuster, New York to the song about Baggy Trousers and the Dardanelles.  My Mother used to sing that song so I was immediately interested.

According to Lynn, Charlie Chapin’s decision not to return to Britain and enlist was because a clause in his film contract that forbade him to leave the United States of America.   The British public were none too pleased and Chaplin received quite a few letters containing white feathers which in those days was a sign of cowardice.  A sheet-music  firm in London published a set of lyrics to the tune of “Red Wing”, a song that had been written in 1907 in America with music by Karry Mills (“ who also penned Meet me in St. Louis Louis”), adapted from a piece of piano music by Schuman, and lyrics by Thurland Chattaway, about an Indian Princess who lost her Brave.

The new lyrics became popular with troops during the First World War, and referred to Charlie Chaplin’s apparent reluctance to return to England and enlist.

Now the moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin
He’s going barmy to join the army
But his old baggy trousers they’ll need mending
Before they send him to the Dardanelles.

The moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin
His shoes are cracking, for want of blacking
And his baggy khaki trousers still need mending
Before they send him to the Dardanelles.

Lynn goes on to explain that “in the year of the Battle of the Somme" (which began in July 1916) ",.. the movie tents behind the lines in France continued to be filled with laughter whenever Charlie Chaplin comedies were shown.”  (p. 176)

Being able to laugh must have had a positive effect on the morale of the troops who, according to Kate Luard, a senior nurse in France during The First World War who was a veteran of the Boer War, when they were frontline troops spent four days in the trenches and four days resting in camps behind the lines.

“Unknown Warriors The Letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914 – 1918” Edited by John and Carolie Stevens and published by The History Press, Stroud, Glos. 2014.

Picture:  Cartoon by Bruce Bairnsfather - "The Last Man"