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Safe on the 'Western Front' song

McGrath of Harlow 09 Sep 09 - 11:33 AM
frogprince 09 Sep 09 - 12:45 PM
GUEST 09 Sep 09 - 12:50 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Sep 09 - 07:04 AM
alanabit 10 Sep 09 - 12:07 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Sep 09 - 09:19 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Sep 09 - 09:40 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Sep 09 - 08:13 AM
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Subject: Safe on the 'Western Front' song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Sep 09 - 11:33 AM

I was in a local museum yesterday to vist a temporary exhibition about the Great War, largely about how it affected people in this part of West Essex,

One of the exhibits was this poem, by a soldier from Epping serving on the Western Front in 1916, and published in the local paper (one that I used to work on at one time, as it happened).

Often in the trenches I think of those poor chaps at home.
Of perils that surround them, wherever they may roam;
The train and the tram collisions, the deadly motor car,
Bacteria in cow's milk, and Zeppelins from afar.

How awful it must be at night, within a feather bed,
How terrible at breakfast to find butter on your bread;
With all those shocking worries, a man's life must be sad,
And to think that I am missing them, makes me exceedingly glad.

Now out here things are different, and life is fancy free,
We have no butter on our bread, no cow's milk in our tea.
There are no train collisions, no feather beds at night,
And Zeppelins never trouble us, they keep well out of sight.

For all we have to worry us are bullets, bombs and shells,
Some bully beef and biscuits, and nasty horrid smells;
So to the chaps in England, I send my sympathy,
And ask them, for their safety, to come out here with me.


I particularly like (if thta is the word) the sardonic "nasty horrid smells", which I assume meant "poison gas".

Anyway, I thought I'd share it with people here. It cries out to be sung. I've got a tune and chorus in mind, but someone else might have one as good or better.

Incidentally, the comment notes attached to it on the wall demonstrated that a total lack of appreciation of irony is not unknown even in this part of the world: "The poem upholds a sense of Britishness in refusing to accept the terrible nature of the war on the western front. The poem may also be viewed as a propaganda tool to try and encourage more men to enlist."


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Subject: RE: Safe on the 'Western Front' song
From: frogprince
Date: 09 Sep 09 - 12:45 PM

It's mind boggling to think that anyone with enough intelligence to write a reasonably literate comment could miss that kind of sarcasm.

"nasty horrid smells"; yes, very possibly thinking of poison gas. But just as likely including dead flesh and diarrhea.

I tried feeling for a tune, and basically got a slowed down version of "Christmas in Killarney". You may come up with something much better.


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Subject: RE: Safe on the 'Western Front' song
From: GUEST
Date: 09 Sep 09 - 12:50 PM

Try "'Twas on a Monday morning, the gasman came to call". Apt, anyway...


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Subject: RE: Safe on the 'Western Front' song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Sep 09 - 07:04 AM

They'd both work OK.   But a hymn tune seems to fit better, and more likely if he ever did sing it, since those seems to habve been the kind of tunes they used (cf Oh What a Lovely War).

Quite a lot would fit, but "Aurelia", the tune used for "The Church's One Foundation" (among others) is the one most widely known, and seems to work well with the words.

(The line "And to think that I am missing them, makes me exceedingly glad" fits better amended to "And to think that I am missing them, makes my heart feel glad.")


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Subject: RE: Safe on the 'Western Front' song
From: alanabit
Date: 10 Sep 09 - 12:07 PM

That is a fine piece of writing and a reminder of why it is worth preserving these bits of culture. You won't find this stuff in the official records - and in its way, it records the story better.


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Subject: RE: Safe on the 'Western Front' song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 09:19 PM

Brings it home, true enough alan. And the thought of that young man, from a place I know very well, scribbling out this and sending it in to the local paper back home, I used to work for, to be opened by some predecessor of mine - "Here's a good one, we should find room for this!". Or maybe he called in with it while on leave. Well, it seems to make it personal.

Here's how I think I might do it, using the tune "Aurelia", and adding a refrain and end chorus that seems to ground the words in the reality of the time.

Often in the trenches I think of those poor chaps at home.
Of perils that surround them, wherever they may roam;
The train and the tram collisions, the deadly motor car,
Bacteria in cow's milk, and Zeppelins from afar.

And it's One, Two, Three, Four - over the top we go.

How awful it must be at night, within a feather bed,
How terrible at breakfast to find butter on your bread;
With all those shocking worries, a man's life must be sad,
And to think that I am missing them, makes my heart feel glad.

And it's One, Two, Three, Four - over the top we go.

Now out here things are different, and life is fancy free,
We have no butter on our bread, no cow's milk in our tea.
There are no train collisions, no feather beds at night,
And Zeppelins never trouble us, they keep well out of sight.

And it's One, Two, Three, Four - over the top we go.

For all we have to worry us are bullets, bombs and shells,
Some bully beef and biscuits, and nasty horrid smells;
So to the chaps in England, I send my sympathy,
And ask them, for their safety, to come out here with me.

And it's One, Two, Three, Four - over the top we go.
One, Two, Three, Four - over the top we go.
So early in the morning we'll hear the whistle blow,
Then it's One, Two, Three, Four - over the top we go.


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Subject: RE: Safe on the 'Western Front' song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 09:40 PM

And here is a picture I found of The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 2/4th Battalion, Tug of War Team During Training in Epping, 1915


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Subject: RE: Safe on the 'Western Front' song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 08:13 AM

And here's a photograph of soldiers and nurses in the makeshift hospital in the Town Hall of Waltham Abbey, a few yards from the town museum, where I saw this poem in the exhibition.

Zoom in to see it better - it's a powerful picture, with those young faces looking straight at the camera.


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