The missing Kiwi songs of WW1
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.