Last year I was working on a chapter about soldiers songs for the forthcoming Edinburgh Companion on the First World War and the Arts. Yesterday I came across a paragraph that I wish I’d seen before finishing the chapter.
It’s from the New Statesman, October 19, 1918:
Some of the soldiers on leave tell me that the effect of the dawn of victory on the Army has been most remarkable. Its fighting mettle has never declined, but there have been long periods when it has plugged on in a very dismal if dogged way. One symptom of the universal boredom was the total disappearance of the singing habit which was universal in the early stages of the war. Men – whatever the correspondents might say – have never sung much when going up to the trenches, but during the last twelve months they have never done much even when marching out again. All this has changed, and the regiments of the advancing Army go into the line laughing, singing and whistling in a manner unprecedented. The melancholy folk-songs of the Army have gone; they tramp to the latest rag-time. On the German side music at the moment is conspicuously absent.
The paragraph is from the weekly ‘Observations’ column. At this time this was generally written by Arnold Bennett, using the pseudonym ‘Sardonyx’, but this week Bennett must have been otherwise engaged (maybe at the Ministry of Information?) so the column was written by ‘Onyx’. Does anyone know who he was?
Goodness knows how reliable this article is as a general picture of the Army’s musical habits in 1918. Are those ‘soldiers on leave’ a representative sample, or all from one unit? Did the singing habit really ever suffer a ‘total disappearance’? I don’t think Partridge and Brophy would agree.
What is rather interesting in this paragraph (and in some other articles in the same issue) is the confidence that the war would soon be won. The German retreat has clearly boosted morale at home as well as in France.