Music of World War One

War songs cropped small

World War 1 inspired a wide range of music which evolved during the 4 years of the conflict.
You will find some good examples in our music collection, ranging from sheet music, song books or actual recordings available in our music databasesHere are some recordings of music of WW1 on Alexander Street Music. And some more in Naxos.

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!

syndetics-lcMarching 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.

Te Whare Tapere at Waimango 2014

First a little background information. Te Whare Tapere can be literally translated from Māori to English as ‘community hall’ and it can also be translated as ‘a house of entertainment’. As well as guest accommodation Te Whare Tapere were used for entertainment which could include  kōrero pūrākau (storytelling), waiata (songs), haka (dance), taonga pūoro (musical instruments), karetao (puppetry) and tākaro (games). Te Whare Tapere also denotes the knowledge of these artistic disciplines.

This years Whare Tapere was held on Saturday 22nd February and is the fourth to be organised and held by Charles Royal at his family farm at Waimango, Firth of Thames and is a product of Charles’ extensive research on the topic. This years Whare Tapere had a focus on storytelling.


The day started with a visit from pupils of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Bernard Fergusson, Ngaruawahia. We started off with learning some tākaro (games) including rongomamau, which is a hand dexterity game and pōtaka which are spinning tops. I have been making pōtaka in the lead up to Whare Tapere and in the week leading up to the open day Kelly Kahukiwa, Eamon Nathan and I made two marae pōtaka (spinning top playing surfaces) which had plenty of use during the day.

Manu using the ta (whip) to keep the pōtaka spinning. Go Manu!
Manu using the ta (whip) to keep the pōtaka spinning. Go Manu!

Nga pōtaka

Here are some of the pōtaka I have recently made.

Ki o Rahi was a very popular game too as was Hakariki.

In the afternoon we made a hikoi (walk) up to the Wahi Marumaru (shaded area) where three stories were told, Manu Mea and Ngarara, Hine Raukatauri and Tukumana Taiwiwi Te Taniwha.

After that a karetao performance took place up on the hill with James Webster’s karetao (puppets) taking the spotlight. These were manipulated by James, Aroha Yates-Smith, Horomono Horo and Charles Royal while myself, Kelly and Elise Goodge hid in the forest and accompanied the performance with taonga pūoro.

Karetao performance
Karetao performance

The evenings entertainment was mostly musical with perfomances from Reo, The Makaurau Sessions and Ria Hall taking place on the motu (island).

Te Motu
Te Motu (stage)
Makaurau Sessions
Makaurau Sessions with me sitting in on piano!
Reo performing at Te Whare Tapere 2014

The Great Harbour of Tara – G. Leslie Adkin

ngaurangaPublished in 1956 and written by amateur archaeologist, cartographer, pioneering photographer and farmer, Leslie Adkin, this book explains many of the Maori place names and sites around Wellington and what these areas where used for. Cultivation and occupation sites are listed alphabetically and the explanations are supported by maps of Wellington, Terawhiti Head and Lower Hutt Valley illustrating the positions of pa, kainga, cultivation areas and other geographical areas of interest. Here is a excerpt about Ngauranga: “Nga Uranga” canoe-landing and kainga. ‘The spot where canoes were landed [as the name literally signifies] at the mouth of the [Waitohi] stream…A small Te Ati-Awa kainga (village) located nearby was the dwelling place of the chief Te Wharepouri; he was buried at Petone but a cenotaph…was erected to his memory on the hillslope on the east side of the Waitohi stream by Rawiri Te Moutere in 1848. The name Nga Uranga was, according to S.P. Smith a Ngati Ira name. It was for many years mis-spelt ‘Ngahauranga’ and this erroneous form furnishes a good example of how the wrong spelling of a name can have a false meaning assigned to it. A Mr Tirikatene is reported to have translated Nga-hau-ranga as ‘beaten by strong winds’.”

[Image courtesy National Library of New Zealand: Brees, Samuel Charles, 1810-1865 :N’Houranga. Drawn by S C Brees. Engraved by Henry Melville. [London, 1847].. Brees, Samuel Charles, 1810-1865 : Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand. London, John Williams and Co., Library of Arts, 141, Strand, 1847.. Ref: PUBL-0020-02-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.]

Instruments from Rakiura Wild Creations : Tumutumu

Editor’s note:

Librarian and artist Alistair Fraser had his final two week stay at Mason Bay, Rakiura/Stewart Island on a DOC/CNZ Wild Creations Artist Residency in December. You can read his previous posts about his stay on this blog, or visit his Taonga Puoro blog where he’s been documenting the instruments he’s created as part of this residency.

Alistair says:

tumutumu koiwi upokohue
tumutumu kōiwi upokohue

The tumutumu is a percussion instrument that has kōrero linking it to the southern parts of New Zealand. It is typically a found instrument.

This tumutumu kōiwi upokohue is a pilot whale’s lower jaw bone with a rata striker that was also found on the beach at Mason Bay. It has a variety of voices and tones depending on what part of the instrument is played. The density striker material also influences the tone.

Thanks to Kaitiaki Roopu o Murihiku for kindly giving me the permission to hold this taoka.

More of the instruments I have made on my DOC/CNZ Wild Creations residency can be viewed here:

Taonga Puoro Mason Bay residency December – Putorino tutu rakau

Ive just returned from my final two weeks staying at Mason Bay, Rakiura/Stewart Island on a DOC/CNZ Wild Creations Artist Residency. I will be posting some photos of the instruments I made in this time.

This putorino is made from tutu rakau and has kanohi (faces) based on an artifact pendant that was found on Rarotoka (Centre Island) Foveaux Strait. It plays well!

(Read Alistair’s previous DOC/CNZ Wild Creations Artist Residency posts)

Putorino tutu rakau
Putorino tutu rakau

Stewart Island Artist Residency


This was my second trip to Mason Bay as part of 2011 DOC/CNZ Wild Creations Artists Residency. This time I concentrated on making. Here are some examples of what I made.

For this karanga manu I used the tuwiri drill to fashion the cup and for the relief carving I used metal scrapers and some nails I found in the workshop. The original is in Otago Museum and is rather famous.

The porutu is a longer open end cross blown instrument and is very much an instrument used in Murihiku. Here are two made from tutu and one from albatross wing bone.

The putorino is mentioned in Traditional Lifeways of the Southern Maori J.H. Beattie by his informants. Here is one made from tutu rakau in a northern style.

Tokere are played by putting the pikao loops go over the fingers and playing in a similar way to castenets. These shells are from the mouth of Martin Creek and the pikao is from Big Sandhill behind Hill Homestead

Here is a link to my taonga puoro blog  with extra content.

I was playing porutu to a tui when half a dozen bellbirds turned up and had a sing along. Listen here