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Songs of the Second World War.

Let's start with a lady called Julia Howe who in 1861 wrote new words to a 19th century American camp meeting song;
 Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,
 He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are
 stored,
 He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,
 His truth is marching on. (1)


Perhaps we had better stop before the Glory Glory Hallelujah's start because they may evolve into "and he ain't going to fly no more". Poor Julia. In the next 80 years her spiritually uplifting words would be frequently replaced with soldier's parodies of a coarseness, vulgarity and cynicism she could never have predicted.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic is importantly representative of one type of war song. Firstly it was written by a civilian safely out of range of any guns, it implies that God is on our side and while it may bring a lump to the throat, it neither offers any insight into the political machinations that caused the war, nor reflects the sentiments of the humble soldier who is within range of the guns.

The Second World War had the new technology of radio and sound movies. Popular songs spread much further, quicker and wider than previously. The BBC had a powerful influence on what songs were actually sung. Community sing-songs were tremendously popular and for young people, dancing; that is, two people standing in front of each other, holding each other and moving gracefully to music that was soft enough that conversation was not impossible. The older people can explain this quaint phenomenon to the youngsters.

We all know the old favourites which I fear may not survive past my generation. But tonight we are going to investigate the songs that could not have been written at any other time.

In my research into this subject I have come across some truly astonishing lyrics which came from RAF bomber crews. However I must refrain from presenting any here for fear of offending the delicate sensibilities of any infantry junior NCO's who may be present.

When the war broke out in 1939, The sons of the Old Contemptibles had to make do with music recycled from the Great War to get them across the channel, but with some updated versions like Somewhere in France with you and Daughter of Madamoiselle from Armentieres. My favourite is If a grey--haired lady says how's yer father, that's Madamoiselle from Armentieres, a forgettable piece from the popular Flannagan and Allen. Now, one wonders how Madamoiselle from Armentieres went in a short 21 years from being a young sexy and celebrated French bint to becoming a grey-haired old lady. I'm sure the lucrative French cosmetic industry could take issue with this. Take a popular soldier's marching tune of the Great War;
 I've got sixpence, jolly jolly sixpence,
 I've got sixpence, to last me all my life,
 I've got twopence to spend,
 Twopence to lend
 And twopence to send home to my wife. (2)


Change a few words and you have a little brainwashing song;
 I've got a coupon, jolly jolly coupon,
 I've got a coupon the only one to spare,
 I've a coat and a vest and as for the rest
 My coupon is all I have to wear.

 You need coupons for your butter and your tea,
 For eggs and ham and cheese & jam and honey from the bee,
 Why pay coupons for the things only husbands ought to see,
 As they go carrying on the home.

 Carrying on, carrying on, as they go carrying on the home
 We need no coupons for our pint of beer,
 That's why we're all so full of cheer. (3)


Obviously brainwashing to music was a great success because it was followed by a song called Obey your air raid warden which may have been common sense, but the song had little artistic merit.

Our next song is a bit dreary, but it served a purpose;
 When the homeland is in danger.
 And there's trouble in the air,
 We forget out little squabbles,
 And it's trespassers beware.
 All the nation is united,
 When the danger looms in sight
 And we march along together
 As we sing with all our might,
 We must all stick together,
 All stick together,
 And the clouds will soon roll by,
 We must all stick together,
 All stick together,
 Never mind the old school tie,
 United we will stand
 Whatever may befall,
 The richest in the land
 The poorest of us all,

 We must all stick together,
 Birds of a feather,
 And the clouds will soon roll by. (4)


These stirring sentiments of a classless society were certainly embraced with enthusiasm by the richest in the land, one of whom, the celebrated Lady Diana Cooper, when she wasn't living at the Dorchester Hotel took up milking cows.

The Queen put on her best frock to Visit the bombed residents of the East End.

The Princess Elizabeth learnt how to strip down a truck engine.

George Formby thought he would get into this togetherness act with a truly wondrous piece of racism;
 There's a Chinese laundry man, the famous Mr Wu,
 He's chucked his Limehouse laundry shop and his window cleaning
 too,
 He's got another job, and it's one of the best,
 Now he's doing his bit for England like the rest.

 Mr Wu is now an Air Raid Warden, And don't he look cute,
 In his new siren suit.
 He goes round every night to make the blackout sure,
 So if you've got a chink in your window,
 you'll have another one at your door.

 His headquarters it's plain, are down by lover's lane,
 And he goes there every evening any how,
 He'll flash his torch into the dark
 and the girls all cover their laundry mark,
 Cause Mr Wu's an Air Raid Warden Now. (5)


Taking the Mickey is an admirable British characteristic that stands them in good stead when there's really not much to laugh about. Enter Annette Mills whose previous contribution to British sophistication was, Hands, knees & boompsa daisy. This little gem sounds like a reworked Belgium put the kibosh on the Kaiser. It had a limited shelf life, but filled a niche at the time;
 A certain German chancellor has lost his head,
 He's going to get a headache somewhere else instead,
 And he will be retiring very soon,
 To join a certain Kaiser down in Doom,

 Adolf, you've bitten off, much more than you can chew.
 Come on, hold your hand out,
 We're all fed up with you, Gor Blimey,
 Adolf, you toddle off, and all your Nazis too,
 Or you may get something to remind you
 Of the old red, white and blue. (6)


Flannagan and Allen rose to the occasion with;
 We're going to hang out the washing on the Seigfried line,
 Have you any dirty washing mother dear,
 We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried line,
 'Cos the washing day is here.
 Whether the weather may be wet or fine
 We'll just rub along without a care,
 We're going to hang out the washing on the Seigfried line
 If the Seigfried line's still there. (7)


Stirring marching tunes and amusing little cheer-ups are all very well, but there was a definite need for sentimental songs of loneliness and yearning. There was a great proliferation of these songs. Enter the popular Vera Lynn. We'll Meet Again came out in 1939. It never mentions the war, but refers to dark clouds being chased away by blue skies. London was blacked out. Walking around in the dark tended to make people depressed. So there was a need to turn a disadvantage into a virtue;
 When we go strolling in the park at night,
 Oh, the darkness is a boon
 Who cares if we're without a light,
 They can't black out the moon.
 I see you smiling in the cigarette glow,
 Though the picture fades too soon
 But I see all I want to know
 They can't black out the moon.

 We don't grumble
 We don't worry about alarms
 When you stumble, you stumble right into my arms
 And when you kiss me don't you realize
 That my heart's like a big balloon
 And like the lovelight in your eyes,
 They can't black out the moon. (8)


Obviously not everybody was convinced by this sentiment because getting the lights turned on in London seemed to be the ultimate goal for a nation. Carroll Gibbons and His Savoy Hotel Orpheans had a great ambition to Get Lit Up When the Lights go up in London.

However, we will start with a 1939 song;
 For a while we must part,
 But remember me sweetheart,
 Till the lights of London shine again.
 And while I'm over there,
 Think of me in every prayer
 Till the lights of London shine again.
 I'll keep your picture near me
 A tender souvenir,
 Now hold me close and kiss me
 And may God bless you, dear.
 Don't you cry when I'm gone,
 Wear a smile and carry on,
 Till the lights of London shine again. (9)


By 1942, our Vera seemed fed up with all the sacrifices and she put it this way;
 When the lights go on again,
 All over the world,
 And the boys are home again,
 All over the world,
 And rain or snow is all that may fall from the skies above.
 A kiss won't mean Goodbye, but Hello to love.
 When the lights go on again.
 All over the world
 And the ships will sail again,
 All over the world

 Then we'll have time for things like wedding rings,
 And free hearts will sing,
 When the lights go on again,
 All over the word. (10)


The observant listener will notice that so far the fare has been entirely British.

The Yanks came into the war only three weeks before 1942 began, starting off by recycling their Great War hit Over There by George M. Cohan;
 Late again, Late again,
 Here we are, here we are, Late again.


Suddenly they were over here, over paid and oversexed. Obviously the British felt obliged to suck up to the Yanks, so Flannagan & Allan recorded a truly forgettable number about some poor schmuck of a kid who got lumbered with the name Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jones, Yes, siree, yes, sir-ee. If I may quote my friend Neville Cohn the music critic here, "Patriotic songs, as a genre, don't have an in-built guarantee of musical quality." He was obviously talking about FDR Jones.

The American contribution to the music of World War Two was enormous. Up till now the British had been doing the Hokey Pokey, Knees Up Mother Brown and the Lambeth Walk.

In fact it could be argued that these contributions to music, not to mention Gracie Fields, were responsible for the ferocity of the Blitz. The Germans, after all, were music lovers.

However, Glen Miller hit the UK with his big band and young people could now smooch around the dance floor to Moonlight Serenade or jitterbug to In The Mood.

Most American song hits that came out during the war were strictly business as usual, the Bing Crosby spoon-beneath-the-moon-in-June variety. Take Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow for example. This was enormously popular but reflects nothing about the war unless, of course, it could have been interpreted as the Red Army's defence strategy.

Very few American song hits could be described as "songs that could only have been written at that time". The question on everyone's lips was "What's got six tits and squeals"? The Andrew Sisters were obviously confused about whose side they were on when they recorded Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. Probably to make amends they then came up with the great little patriotic piece, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. Their hit Drinking Rum and Coca Cola should go down in history as one of the best pieces of corporate advertising embracing product placement, patriotism, racism and sexism all in the one song. Quite an achievement.

A typical example of the Business-As-Usual American song would be the great hit of 1941 Elmer's Tune;
 Why are the stars always winkin, and blinkin above,
 What makes a fellow start thinking of falling in love,
 It's not the season, the reason is plain as the moon.
 It's just Elmer's tune.
 What makes a lady of eighty go out on the loose?
 Why does a gander meander in search of a goose?
 What puts the kick in a chicken, the magic in June?
 It's just Elmer's tune.

 Listen, Listen, there's a lot you're liable to be missing.
 Sing it, swing it, any old way and any old time.
 The Hurdy gurdies, the birdies, the cop on the beat.
 The candy maker, the baker, the man on the street,
 The city charmer, the farmer, the man in the moon.
 All sing Elmer's Tune. (11)


I can assure you that the list of people who sing Elmer's Tune goes on almost forever. Well, at this point someone must have said, "Pardon me, don't you know there's a war on", because after another tedious verse they finally come up with a little post script;
 You'll find the Army, the Navy, the Aussies and Yanks,
 The flighty Airmen, the generals, the men in the ranks,
 You'll find the Search-lighters seeking to rival the moon
 All sing Elmer's Tune.


The British custom of "taking the Mickey" crossed the Atlantic and Spike Jones and his City Slickers rose to the occasion. Viewing the war through the bottom of his whisky glass, Spike put some new words to an old German tune and came up with a song you don't hear much any more, which means it definitely falls in the category of "songs that could only have been written at the time";
 Ven der Fuehrer says, "Ve iss der Master Race,
 Ve Heft! Heil! Right in Der Fuehrer's face,
 Not to luff der Fuehrer is a great disgrace
 So ve Heil! Heil! Right in der Fuehrer's Face.

 Ven Herr Goebbels says, "Ve own der Vorld und Space"
 Ve Heil! Heil! Right in Herr Goebbel's face,
 Ven Herr Goehring says "Dey'll neffer bomb dis place"
 Ve Heil! Heil! Right in Herr Goehring's face. (12)


Nobody could ever accuse Spike Jones of moderation. He also recorded such classics as The Sailor with the Navy Blue Eyes, and Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Jeep.

One of the most loved songs of the war came out of Germany in 1941. It is interesting that when it transferred to English in 1944, the sheet music was marked The Authentic and Officially Sanctioned Edition which I assume meant it was not the unkind version sung by the RAF. The original was by Lale Anderson, who I am very sorry is not with us tonight because no subsequent cover was ever as good, including, with all respects, Vera Lynn, Marlene Deitrich and especially not the RAF;
 Vor der Kaserne,
 Vor dem grossen Tor,
 Stand eine Laterne,
 Und steht sie noch davor,
 So woll'n wir uns da wiedersehen
 Bei der Laterne woll'n wire steh'n
 Wie einst Lili Marleen. (13)


Another song which was translated into English was the French song j'A'ttendrai. This came out in 1937 and was recorded by everyone who was anyone; Gladys Moncrief, Richard Tauber, Josephine Baker to name but a few. Known in English as Au Revoir, it obviously touched a cord with those missing their loved ones;
 J'attendrai,
 Le jour et la nuit,
 J'attendrai toujours
 Ton retour
 J'attendrai
 Car l'oiseau qui s'en fuit
 Vient cher cher l'oubli
 Dans son nid
 Le temps passe et court
 En battant Tristement
 Dans mon Coeur plus lourd
 Et pourtant J'ettendrai ton retour. (14)


The reason for including this in our little presentation is that it was sung by Fania Fenelon, a Parisian cabaret singer who was transported to Auschwitz and survived the war by playing in an orchestra assembled to soothe the nerves of her fellow Jews on their way to the gas chambers.

One of the few survivors of the sinking of the Bismarck remembers distinctly that this was the song being played over the tannoy as the ship went down.

Meanwhile back in the USA Spike Jones and his City Slickers expanded their morale boosting repertoire with a little number that went the way of all ephemeral songs that ceased to be PC after the war;
 You're a sap Mr Jap, to make a Yankee cranky,
 You're a sap Mr Jap, Uncle Sam is going to spank ee,
 Wait & see before we're done,
 The ABC & D will sink your rising sun.

 You're a sap Mr Jap, Oh what a load to carry,
 Don't you know, don't you know,
 You're committing harri karri,
 For we'll wipe the Axis right off the map,
 You're a sap, sap, sap, Mr Jap. (15)


On the American home front, it was all hands to the pump. Suddenly minority groups were being courted, at least temporarily. To wipe Mr Jap off the map the military needed ships and planes. There was a shortage of men. Uncle Sam sponsored an extensive propaganda campaign to get women into factories, assuring them building ships was as easy as filing their nails. Six million of them responded. One wonders if they appreciated the irony of their working for the Kaiser Shipyards.

Despite the references to cocktail bars and munching caviar, it was working class women, both black and white, who flocked to the factories. This 1942 song became an anthem to the women's movement in the USA in the 60's;
 While other girls attend their favourite cocktail bar,
 Sipping dry Martinis, munching caviar,
 There's a girl who's really putting them to shame
 Rosie is her name.

 All day long, whether rain or shine,
 She's a part of the assembly line,
 She's making history, working for victory,
 Rosie, the riveter.

 Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
 Sitting up there on the fuselage
 That little frail can do
 More than a male can do,
 Rosie, the riveter

 Rosie's got a boy friend Charlie,
 Charlie, he's a Marine.
 Rosie is protecting Charlie
 Working overtime on the riveting machine

 When they gave her a production "E"
 She was a proud as a girl could be
 There's something true about,
 Red, white and blue about
 Rosie, the riveter. (16)


After the war, women's magazines were full of recipes for complicated "simple" meals that took 6 hours to prepare so that Rosie was once again back in the kitchen.

Black Americans elbowed their way into the military usually against the military's racial policies. It wasn't till 1944 that this song appeared;
 Chocolate drop, always fast asleep
 Dozin in his cosy bed
 Chocolate drop has got no time for sleep
 He's riding in a jeep instead

 They used to call in lazy bones in Harlem
 Lazy good for nothing all the day
 But now they're mighty proud of him in Harlem
 Chocolate soldier from the USA.

 They used to call him just a chocolate dreamer
 Until the day he heard the bugle play
 They made a coloured Doughboy out of dreamer
 Chocolate soldier from the USA.

 Never in the school room
 Always in the pool room
 For a nickel or a dime he'd croon
 His idea of heaven
 Was seven come eleven
 And dancing every evening neath the yellow Harlem moon

 He used to get a scolding from his mammy
 But now you'll hear his mammy proudly say
 He's somewhere over there for Uncle Sammy
 Chocolate Soldier from the USA. (17)


The black soldiers' contribution to the war effort was obviously enormously appreciated by a grateful nation because when they finally came home there were only about 38 of them lynched.

This next song, written in 1944, appears to have only been copyrighted in Australia. It comes under three headings;

1st War Makes Strange Bedfellows

2nd It could only have been written at the time

3rd Patriotism is no guarantee of musical worth.

Perhaps some time during the conference some of the more scholarly of you could find time to discuss in depth the reasons why this song was not plagarised by the Americans and turned into a big hit in the 1950's;
 The carpet biter Hitler
 Gets littler and littler,
 But Uncle Joe he, grow and grows and grows.
 The stooges of the Feuhrer, get fewerer and fewerer
 And soon there'll be an end to Nazi foes.

 Curl the mo, Uncle Joe, curl the mo.
 We've got the Hun on the run Uncle Joe
 Churchill and Roosevelt and we know it too
 That the Reds helped to keep the red in the Red White and Blue
 Light your pipe, you're alright, Uncle Joe.
 Though the going may seem mighty slow
 From the Volga to Berlin, you're an odds-on cert to win
 Curl the mo, Uncle Joe, curl the mo. (18)


There are another 2 verses. They don't get any better. I'm sure that while Noel Coward was writing Don't Let's Be Beastly To The Germans he agonized for minutes wondering why he couldn't come up with clever lyrics like that. But let me assure you it is considerably better than Goodbye Uncle Adolph which also seems to have been confined to Australia.

Obviously by this time everyone was fed up with the war. Vera Lynn put it nicely;
 When they sound the last all clear,
 How happy my darling we'll be,
 When they turn up the lights,
 And those sad lonely nights,
 Are only a memory.
 Never more we'll be apart
 Always together sweetheart
 For the peace bells will ring
 And the whole world will sing,
 When they sound the last all clear. (19)


Australians had a different slant on this;
 When they send the last Yank home,
 How lonely some women will be.
 When they turn out the lights,
 There'll be long, lonely nights,
 All those good times just a memory.
 Evermore they'll be alone,
 Those women no Aussie would own.
 All they'll have are some clothes
 And a kid who talks through its nose,
 When they send the last Yank home (20).


Finally it was all over and the boys started coming home. After years away, vowing that "the second thing I am going to do when I get home is take my pack off", these sentiments were put to music in 1945 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, only much more politely;
 Just kiss me once, then kiss me twice, then kiss me once again.
 It's been a long long time.
 Haven't felt like this my dear, since can't remember when
 It's been a long, long time.
 You'll never know how many dreams I dreamed about you
 Or just how empty they all seemed without you,
 So kiss me once and kiss me twice, then kiss me once again,
 It's been a long long time. (21)


There were several patriotic songs written in Australia about the AIF which seem to have sunk without a trace. But let us finish with a great Australian patriotic song which has been well remembered. It was written by the comedian George Wallace, so it has a rather retrospective Great War vaudeville quality about it.

Actually this should be presented rather in the style of Mrs Henderson presents, by a chorus of young ladies in skimpy AIF uniforms;
 It's a Brown Slouch Hat with the side turned up,
 And it means the world to me.
 It's the symbol of our Nation,
 The land of liberty,
 And the soldiers they wear it,
 How proudly they bear it
 For all the world to see.
 Just a brown slouch hat with the side turned up,
 Heading straight for victory. (22)


*****

(1) Battle Hymn of the Republic, Popular Songs of Nineteenth-Century America, Richard Jackson, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1976.

(2) I've Got Sixpence, Box, Cox and Hall, Copyright MCMXLI, by Bradbury Wood Ltd., London.

(3) I've Got Sixpence, Box, Cox and Hall, Hits of the gear Years (CD1), Sony Music Entertainment (Australia) Ltd. 1997.

(4) We Must All Stick Together, Butler/Wallace, ibid.

(5) Mr Wu's An Air Raid Warden Now, Latta, ibid (CD2).

(6) Adolf, Annette Mills, Copyright in all Countries, MCMXXXIX, The Lawrence Wright Music Co. Ltd., London.

(7) We're Gonna Hang Out The Washing on the Siegfried Lind, Jimmy Kennedy & Michael Cart, Copyright MCMXXXIX for all Countries by The Peter Maurice Music Co. Ltd..

(8) They Can't Black-out The Moon, Art Strauss, Bob Dale & Sonny Miller, Copyright in all Countries, MCMXXXIX, Lawrence Wright Music Co. Ltd., London.

(9) Till The Lights of London Shine Again, Tommy Connor, Eddie Pola, Copyright 1939 B. Feldman & Co. Ltd., London.

(10) When The Lights Go On Again, Eddie Seiler, Sol Marcus & Bennie Benjemen, Copyright 1942 Campbell, Loft & Porgie Incorporated, USA.

(11) Elmer's Tune, Elmer Albrecht, Sammy Gallop & Dick Jurgens, Copyright 1941 Robbins Music Corporation, New York.

(12) Der Fuehrer's Face, Oliver Wallace, Copyright 1942, Southern Music Publishing Company Incorporated, USA.

(13) Lilli Marlene, Hans Leip, Norbert Schultze, Copyright 1941 Apollo Verlag, Germany.

(14) J'Attendrai Louis Poterat, Dino Olivieri, Copyright 1937 P. Leonardi Berlin, Milano, Italy.

(15) You're a Sap Mister Jap, Cavanaugh, Redmond, Simon, Spike Jones & His City Slickers Strictly For Music Lovers (CD1) Proper Records, London, 1999.

(16) Rosie The Riveter, Fedd Evans & John Jacob Loeb, Copyright MCMXLII by Paramount Music Corporation, New York.

(17) Choc'late Soldier From the U.S.A., E. Box, D. Cox & Lewis Ilda, Copyright MCMXLIV Irwin Dash Music Co. Ltd., London.

(18) Curl The Mo, Uncle Joe, Jack Hatch & Jack Lumsdaine, Copyright 1944 J. Albert & Son Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

(19) When They Sound The Last All Clear, Hugh Charles & Louis Elton, Copyright MCMXLI The Irwin Dash Music Co. Ltd., London.

(20) Echoes of ANZAC; The voice of Australians at War edited by Graham Seal, Lothian Books 2005, p. 7.

(21) It's Been a Long, Long Time, Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne, Copyright 1945 Edwin H. Morris & Company Inc., New York..

(22) A Brown Slouch Hat, George Wallace, Copyright 1942, J. Albert & Sons Pry. Ltd., Sydney.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Military Historical Society of Australia
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Julia Howe's works
Author:Gunn, Gail
Publication:Sabretache
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:4327
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