Pack Up Your Troubles

One song that refers to this unification particularly well is the previously mentioned “Pack Up Your Troubles.” The lyrics of the song, written by George Asaf and Felix Powell, center on the story of an imagined soldier, Private Perks. Other than the fact that he is a “funny little codger with a smile” at a height of “five feet none,” Private Perks is identified in no other way. There are no lyrics referring to his social class and we do not know if he is English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish. What is evident about Private Perks is that he the embodiment of a general British soldier of non-officer rank.

To reinforce his general identity, Private Perks is referred to as “an artful little dodger.” This line alludes to Jack Dawkins, the famous character from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist who is better known as the Artful Dodger. The Artful Dodger is a cunning yet lovable pickpocket who can figure his way out of any situation (except his eventual capture). He has few unique qualities, and there is something appealing about his normalcy. Readers can relate to the Artful Dodger as easily as soldiers could relate to Private Perks. The allusion to the Artful Dodger carries additional significance because the majority of infantrymen were from the working class—just like the Artful Dodger. The officers all descended from middle and upper class families, and the troops, like the Artful Dodger, were victims of economic circumstance

The genius of “Pack Up Your Troubles” is that the important part of Private Perks’ character is his British identity—every British soldier could see a reflection of himself in the song’s hero just as working class citizens could empathize with the Artful Dodger. Though Private Perks takes pride in his abilities as a soldier and the artful dodger in his criminal prowess, they both perform their work more out of necessity than desire. Both characters are not given much choice in their work. Private Perks serves King and country without complaint and the Artful Dodger completes his work without fuss either. Both characters are forced to live a brutal existence, and, as the song suggests, do not protest but “smile, smile, smile.”

The musical attributes of “Pack Up Your Troubles” also reinforce the strong feeling of British identity and pride in military duty conveyed in the lyrics. The song is similar to the type of songs performed in the musical hall and would register as such with the soldiers. Music hall songs featured refrains that were both catchy and easy to sing, making them great sing-along songs. “Pack Up Your Troubles” is definitely the type of song that a large group of people would sing together. The music hall is a distinctively British entity, and the song’s allusion to musical hall style would have instilled a sense of British pride in the soldiers. The song writers were wise, too, to give the song a definitive march style. There are two beats in every measure, the rhythms are either short or dotted (meaning the notes sound for a length one and half times the normal value), and the notes are clearly annunciated. In short, the song would have fit perfectly with military culture and its tradition of march songs.