On the night that the old cow died

You look for one thing and find another. I was checking a reference in the New Statesman of 1917 (in the pleasant Archive Room of the newly restored Central Reference Library in Manchester), and flicked through the rest of the bound volume to see what else was interesting.
Much was – a grudging review of Wodehouse’s Uneasy Money, for instance (‘Mr Wodehouse has an admirably humorous manner of the thinner sort.’) and one of Goldring’s The Fortune that despite many reservations decided that ‘The deep feeling in the whole book distinguishes it from the mass of novels.’ J.C.Squire (literary editor, and with a weekly column under the pseudonym of ‘Solomon Eagle’) was often interesting, especially about the effect of the war on publishing:

Before the war, if a publisher gave the author of a novel no advance, he could often ‘come home’ (when the book was not of abnormal length) on a sale of 600 or 700 copies. Today he may sell out the whole of an edition of a thousand and still be the loser; even if he spends very little on advertisements he is not likely to begin raking in any profits until he has got over the 1,500 mark.

The article that interested me most, though, was ‘A Concert at the Front’ by W.J. Turner. (Jan 5, 1918) A crowded tent of soldiers enthusiastically watched an entertainment put on by nine of their fellows. One was a pianist, two were dressed as girls and six as men. The entertainment was varied, with sentimental songs as well as sketches and comic songs.
Two jokes that brought down the house:

Girl (flashing engagement ring): I’m engaged to a soldier.
Friend: What is he?
Girl: He’s an officer in the Y.M.C.A.


Jovial officer meets depressed subaltern.
Jovial Officer: Hello, old man, where are you now?
Depressed Subaltern: I’m attached to the R.F.C. Where are you?
Jovial Officer: Oh, I’m attached to the base.

What I’d most like to have heard was one of the pieces described as: ‘A roster of verses ad lib, to a sort of comic chorus such as ‘The night that the old cow died’ or ‘When we sat upon the baby on the shore.’

This is the item where all the gibes at quartermaster-sergeants and men in ‘cushy’ jobs and innumerable jokes are got off, typical couplets being:

And the Australians stood at attention
As an officer passed by.
Solemn Chorus: On the night that the old cow died.
And an anti-aircraft gun
Got its first shot at a Hun.
Solemn Chorus: On the night that the old cow died.

These concert parties are a subject I’d like to know a lot more about.

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