The miss­ing Kiwi songs of WW1

The Hutt News - - FRONT PAGE -

A new book looks at the sur­pris­ing mu­si­cal legacy of the Great War. re­ports.

Have you ever won­dered why there is no pop­u­lar New Zealand song as­so­ci­ated with World War I?

Ask 99 per cent of Ki­wis to name a song from that war and it is a good bet that it will be It’s A Long Way to Tip­per­ary or even the bawdy Made­moi­selle from Ar­men­tieres.

So why does New Zealand not have a pop­u­lar song as­so­ci­ated with World War I?

It is a ques­tion that takes on even more sig­nif­i­cance given the im­pact Gal­lipoli and, in more re­cent times, the Western Front, has had on our na­tional iden­tity.

East­bourne jour­nal­ist and his­to­rian Chris Bourke ad­dresses the is­sue in his lat­est book GoodBye Ma¯ori­land.

Mu­sic was cen­tral to the war ef­fort both at home and over­seas. Troops marched off with brass bands play­ing and pa­tri­otic songs urg­ing them to do their best for King and Coun­try.

Over­seas our sol­diers sang a range of songs, of­ten rein­vent­ing clas­sic Bri­tish tunes to have a sub­tle dig at their of­fi­cers.

Bourke had re­mark­ably lit­tle recorded mu­sic to work with.

There are ap­prox­i­mately 200 song sheets from that era but only four known record­ings, all of which were done in Eng­land. He was able to track down two of the record­ings, Good Old New Zealand and Sons of New Zealand, in the hands of a col­lec­tor in Auck­land.

Without recorded tunes to work with, Bourke faced a ma­jor prob­lem in his re­search.

For­tu­nately two avid col­lec­tors of sheet mu­sic, David Dell and Alis­tair Gilk­i­son, had found 178 songs writ­ten by New Zealan­ders between 1914 and 1919.

The ma­jor themes were pre­dictably sup­port for the boys in khaki, em­pire and king, and New Zealand pa­tri­o­tism.

Songs writ­ten at the be­gin­ning of the con­flict were all about sup­port­ing the troops and the Bri­tish Em­pire, and were of­ten highly jin­go­is­tic.

As the war dragged on, the themes changed and there was a sense of grief and re­flec­tion of how heavy our losses had been.

When the war fin­ished and the armistice was signed, such songs no longer had a pur­pose and were quickly for­got­ten.

In cities such as Welling­ton and Auck­land, new forms of mu­sic be­came com­mon and there was no place for songs about pa­tri­o­tism and sac­ri­fice.

‘‘Peo­ple wanted to move on and there was jazz and the fox trot was in­vad­ing our night­clubs.’’

In Eng­land songs from the war were kept alive in mu­sic halls and in pan­tomimes.


A brass band per­forms at a New Zealand Ri­fle Bri­gade camp near the line at Ypres, Septem­ber 1917. Above, Chris Bourke’s book.

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