The Music of World War I

Besides world music, various other phenomena burst onto the global stage in the early twentieth century: namely war. Despite the usual historical treatment of music, its place in the history of World War I is not easily forgotten. Total war envelopes every cultural entity and music is no exception. The creation of jingoistic songs provided a convenient vehicle for the dissemination of propaganda, and these types of songs were the most produced songs of the war. Songs like “Pack Up Your Troubles” instilled in young men a strong sense of responsibility to the nation despite a lack of understanding of the reasoning behind the war. These songs also reminded soldiers on the front of life at home and the sweethearts that were patiently awaiting their return home.

Songs that reminded the Tommies of home were equally important to the development of British music. The lyrics and music of the songs were intentionally written to carry with them a sense of all things British. This strong sense of British pride is what British music had been lacking up until this point. In its pre-war usage, “British music” can best be understood to refer to music created somewhere in Great Britain for any of a number of sub groups of Britons. It could have been written in Wales for a Welsh audience, in England for an English audience, or in Scotland for a Scottish audience. The war years were so important to British music because the strong sense of national identity evoked by the war effort translated into the solidification of musical identity. The British people were fighting the enemy as one people and they were beginning to listen to one music as well.

Many World War I songs were also written to lighten the hearts of loved ones and friends left on the home front. Though they were not fighting in the war, the separation of mothers, wives, and girlfriends from their soldiers was a significant sacrifice of its own. Songwriters realized the need to encourage them as they endured the long years of the war.