It is hard to believe that World War One started ninety-seven years ago. In just over four short years, members of 21 countries and empires entered into a combat that would take the lives of nearly 40 million people. To give you an idea of how big that number is, think of losing the entire state of California! It was a lot of people. Luckily for us, songwriters haven’t forgotten about World War One. They have created songs to help remind us that we shouldn’t get into wars like this disaster. Here are five memorable songs about that time. I have chosen videos sung by groups that I think really gave a good rendition of these songs.
This song, was written in 1917, during World War One, by George M. Cohan, the man famous for songs like Yankee Doodle Dandy. The song details America’s entrance into World War One with our troops leaving home and heading “Over There” – a place where most young men had never been and had no expectations of what was to come. It would remain a popular song through World War Two, when America’s boys were required to do the job again. In actuality, the song is a propaganda piece to stir American soldiers into going overseas to fight.
The Band Played Waltzin’ Matilda
This song, written in the 1970′s by folk songwriter, Eric Bogle, details an Australian soldier at the Battle of Gallipoli during World War One. The song describes war as futile and gruesome, while criticising those who seek to glorify it. “Waltzin’ Matilda” is an extremely popular folk song in Australia and it means a person who wanders around carrying a sack (a Matilda) on their back. In this song, the man goes off to war and is maimed in the Battle of Gallipoli (which was a total train wreck for the British empire) and can no longer go back to his old life.
This song was featured in another war film called We Were Soldiers (2002), starring Mel Gibson. While that was about the Vietnam war, this song is commemorating World War I. It was written and sung by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie in honor of his great-grandfather who died in the Great War. Charles Stuart MacKenzie, a sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders, was bayoneted to death at the age of 35, while defending one of his badly injured fellow soldiers in the hand-to-hand fighting of the trenches. The song is a haunting lament about the last thoughts of a man who would not run in the face of death.
Green Fields Of France
This 1976 song by Eric Bogle, this song is also known as “No Man’s Land” and “Willie McBride“. It is about a man who is reflecting on the grave of a young man who died in World War I. Its chorus refers to two famous pieces of military music, “The Last Post” and “The Flowers of the Forest“. One of the mysteries surrounding this song is “Was there really a Willie McBride?”. The answer seems that either Bogle got the age of the soldier wrong or made up the name. There are several Willie McBride’s but none of them match the person in the song. This song has had dozens of cover versions, including the Dropkick Murphys rendition below.
Christmas 1914 In No Man’s Land
This song is about the series of widespread unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas of 1914, during the First World War. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into “No man’s land”, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides had also been so friendly as to play games of football with one another. This song relates the strange time in war history.