The songs of WW1 were at first rousing calls to arms such as ‘We Don’t Want to Lose You, but We Think You Ought to Go’, but as the number of deaths steadily grew the popular songs became more sarcastic and somewhat bitter such as ‘Oh, It’s a Lovely War!‘ This drop in enthusiasm led to a war time marching song competition held by New York publishers Francis Day and Hunter, who were giving a prize of 100 guineas for a marching song for the troops to help with recruitment and frontline morale. The winner of this competition was ‘Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile‘ written by George Henry Powell. This song became hugely popular during the war and can be interpreted as saying that the war has ended so there is no need to worry any longer. Here is a recording of this song on Alexander Street Music.
Although most people would have heard a gramophone at a seaside resort or park gala, these would have been unaffordable to buy for the ordinary person in the U.K. Thus, Music Hall and sheet music was the popular and affordable way for the masses to enjoy music during the era of The Great War. If a song was very popular it was not unusual for the sheet music to sell over one million copies!
Marching bands were used to entertain the troops on the Western Front who were waiting for long periods in between battles, and almost every division had its own entertainment troop.
America was at first reluctant to enter the war. This reluctance was evident with the popularity of the song at the start of the war, ‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier’ but after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 America’s attitude changed, as can be noted with the song ‘When the Lusitania Went Down’.
Although the recording industry was in its infancy, many record labels were quick to jump on the bandwagon and cashed in releasing many popular songs referencing the war. As phonograph production increased the war was brought back home with recorded speeches, novelty songs and patriotic anthems.
An interesting perspective of the ANZAC’s musical contribution can be read in ‘And the Band Played On’. Many soldiers were asked to bring forth their talents to aleviate the strain of war.