Today is the centenary of the publication of one of the most famous songs of World War 1. The original title, ‘Till the Boys Come Home’, was changed in 1915 to the more familiar ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ when it was recorded by James F. Harrison. The song was a collaboration between lyricist Lena Ford and composer Ivor Novello. Novello went on to become a major film star while Ford was killed in an air raid in London on March 1918. One hundred years on, the lyrics still tug at the heartstrings.
Today the Ivor Novello awards are presented to outstanding songwriters and composers and are internationally respected. Past winners include Amy Winehouse (the only person to win twice) and more recently Dominik Scherrer who composed the soundtrack to the T.V. series ‘Ripper Street’.
'Till the Boys Come Home'
As they passed through Boulogne on the 13th August 1914, the Connaught Rangers sang a song that would become synonymous with marching men. Their choice was a pre-war music hall hit that reminded them of their native Ireland. Entitled ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, it was quickly adopted by units from all parts of the United Kingdom.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 13th August 1914
Debut of the Soldiers Anthem!
The 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers arrived in Le Havre to a great reception with the locals lining the streets and cheering. They also sang the French national anthem, La Marseillaise’ and the Royal Fusiliers responded with a popular music hall hit, ‘Hold your hands out, naughty boy’. Under the impression that this was the British national anthem, many French folk stood to attention.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 8th October 1914
MUSIC TO BOOST SOLDIER MORALE
An improvised band featuring a tin whistle, mouth organs and a toy drum was used to lead a band of British stragglers to safety after they had been abandoned in the French town of St. Quentin. Around 300 exhausted and wounded ‘Tommies’ sat around the town square awaiting capture by the advancing Germans when Major Tom Bridges hit on a bizarre idea. Simply issuing orders did not work on the exhausted and bleeding British soldiers – some of whom had marched 120 miles in 5 days. He hit on an alternative idea and organized food and beer for the men before acquiring some instruments from a local toy shop. With two others, he then marched round the town square playing popular tunes such as ‘Tipperaray’ and gradually men began to clap and cheer. With spirits reviving he organized some carts for the wounded and got the men onto their feet and formed them into a column. They then marched off to safety.
Image: A German unit led by its band near Ypres.
During the fighting on the Messines ridge, south of Ypres British soldiers witnessed the bizarre scene of the enemy advancing towards them behind a brass band. The chosen tune was identified by one as the Austrian national anthem! One possible explanation is that General Deimling (Commander of XV Corps) was a firm believer that music boosts morale and had announced that musicians who played during attacks would be awarded the Iron Cross. Another is that the soldiers were aware that the Kaiser was taking a keen interest in their progress. In the frantic hand-to-hand fighting that ensued the British were once more beaten back.