Some songs about the Great War

Something I thought would be good to share are some songs from/about the Frist World War that have affected me in one way or another.

The first song is “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” a song about an Irish veteran returning home from the home, missing both physical and spiritual parts of himself as he’s completely run down by the war. It ends on the theoreitcally optimistic note that, although he’s missing an arm, a leg, his innocence, and will likely be begging for food for the rest of his life; he still is alive, so that’s something.

The second song is a reading of “In Flanders Fields,” probably the most famous poem of the War. The poem itself probably needs no introduction, but here is a link to it regardless.

The third song is “Wo alle Stra├čen enden,” a song disputedly attributed in part to a German soldier in WWI, although I feel like it hits the feeling of utter hopelessness quite well. A very fitting song for All Quiet on the Western Front, as it describes this hopelessness from a German perspective with the knowledge of the impending losing of the war in mind.

The fourth song is “Green Fields of France,” a Scottish folksong written in the 1970’s about the narrator considering the grave of a soldier who died in 1916, and wondering if the soldier left anyone behind when he died or if he was properly honored. The narrator then starts wondering if the war was fought for anything at all.

The fifth and final song I wanted to share in this post is “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” and it’s one of my favorite songs about the war and a song that almost always make me cry. It’s a play on the classic ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) song Waltzing Matilda, a song played often in the ANZAC army bands and a marching song of the era. And the Band Played is hardly about the original subject matter of Waltzing Matilda, as And the Band Played focuses on the experience of an Australian Conscript sent to fight in the meatgrinder of a campaign known as Gallipoli. Eventually, this conscript return homes short a leg, with nobody to go home to and considers how pointless the whole war was. Waltzing Matilda is used to help the theme of being lied to by those in power to die in this war. To make it short, it’s a very good song.

I hope you all enjoy (or maybe that’s not the right word) these songs and get something out of them. I’d love to know y’alls thoughts on them!

2 thoughts on “Some songs about the Great War

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing! “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” is definitely a song I could see myself hearing and not even realizing how meaningful it is, so I am glad I heard it in a context in which I was focused and paying attention. Repetition really drives the message of the song. The line “so low in flesh, so high in bone” is such a shocking, powerful way to describe death. I read through some of the Youtube comments under the video while the song was playing and there were several people who mentioned their grandfathers sing this song to honor their fallen friends who died in war, which is a powerful testament to how music can be a unifying expression of emotion.
    “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” on the other hand, takes a heartbreaking, storytelling approach to describing war. It is an absolutely beautiful song. The thought of blind patriotism shown through the band playing a marching song despite the senseless injuries and deaths the soldiers face is such a stark, powerful image. A line that really stood out to me is “I looked at the place where me legs used to be/And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me/To grieve, to mourn, and to pity.” One would expect a soldier to be sad he has no one to go home to, but this soldier knows the war has broken him and going home alone is easier than facing loved ones(like Paul had to do). It is a profound expression of pain if it is so great it overwhelms the human desire for friends and family. In the simplest of terms, these songs really do prove war is terrible and causes permanent damage.

  2. “Green Fields of France” and “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” are such old favorites of mine; I’ve cried over both! (Over the former especially, and quite recently. “Although you died back in 1916 / In that faithful heart, are you forever 19?” never fails to Get Me.) “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” also struck me when I first heard it because Australia especially is not really embedded into our popular conceptions of the Great War, being very geographically removed from the “center” of the fighting. A telling reflection of the “World” part in “First World War.”

    I wasn’t as familiar with the others, at least not in song form, but I WAS startled to hear that “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye” matches tunes with “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” (which I’m familiar with as an American Civil War song, but might be older, I’m not sure.) I think that’s a really telling reflection of evolving attitudes to how we think about war; “We’ll all feel gay! When Johnny comes marching home!” is just inapplicable to the survival and return of veterans in the Great War (and maybe it was never applicable to anything, but the altered narrative there is telling.)

    Thank you for linking these!

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