It may be a long way from Tipperary, but with these songs, it can feel just like home. In the First World War, there were very few ways to spread propaganda. Music, however, could be easily distributed to soldiers and citizens, unlike many other types of propaganda. Using music as propaganda was a very effective mode because it could be easily produced and could be tailored to target certain groups of people. These songs could be heard throughout the allied side in music halls where people could gather and sing along. Music was made for soldiers to keep their morale up, to make people think joining the war was a valiant and great decision, to unite everyone, and to make other people want to help support the war in any way possible. However, the music was also used as a way to encourage peace by anti-war advocates later in the war.
Music distribution was easier than ever. In 1917, when America joined the war, lots of musical propaganda started to come out of Connecticut. Song booklets and cards were produced and sold to soldiers and citizens to raise money for war efforts and to try to inspire people to support the war. These songs typically were very musically simple making them catchy and easy to remember. They required very little musical effort and talent and had simple rhythms that everybody could understand. These propaganda songs were intended to be simple to inspire a feeling of unity and togetherness. Many of these songs were written for a piano accompaniment because at the time, almost every household had a piano and at least one member of every household could read music. On the battlefronts, soldiers had these songbooks too. They allowed soldiers to connect with each other and bond while boosting morale and camaraderie. They also created a sense of traditional patriotism and instilled a call to duty because of the upbeat tempos in the march style of music.
The unity created from music during the war was incredible. Citizens came together, singing pro-war songs in music halls, soldiers on the front lines bonded over songs in their songbooks and ones they made themselves, and during the Christmas Truce of 1914, all along the western front, there was a ceasefire where all sides got together to sing Christmas carols and celebrate. Music-halls were very important in the unification of people during this time because it allowed people to come together and sing songs with performers. Most of the songs sung in music halls were very patriotic and aimed at recruiting new soldiers. For example, the English music hall performer, Vesta Tilley, sang the song “Your King and Country Want You” while bringing men on the stage to enlist in the war. Music is a part of everyone’s life and by taking advantage of that fact, the government was able to create songs that could subtly influence your opinions about the war. Exposing children to these songs made them think that joining the war was a good idea and made them want to fight. Lots of cities had their own individualized song or songs that made soldiers feel connected to home because wherever they were fighting, they were singing the same songs as the people back home like “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”.
At the start of the war, music was intended to try to recruit new soldiers but as the war progressed, the tone of the songs changed. People were starting to realize that the war was not such a good idea and people were not happy about it and so rather than making songs to try to recruit new soldiers, songs were made to try to gain more support for war efforts to raise money and materials. As people started to realize that the war was bad, they started to make their own anti-war-themed songs like “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” by the Peerless Quartet. Songs like this were almost impossible to get into music halls because the halls worried about being shut down or getting in trouble with the government. Controversial songs could be found on the battlefronts too. Being in the military, soldiers couldn’t openly voice any negative opinions on the war and military issues, but they could get around that by making their own parodies of songs found in their songbooks. These parodies were often satirical and considered disrespectful but allowed the soldiers to express their anger and frustrations with the government while not break any rules.
Though music isn’t often acknowledged when talking about propaganda during the war, it could certainly be argued that it was what helped win the war for the allied powers. Music brought countries together, helped bring awareness to war efforts and the problems of war, gave soldiers and citizens an outlet where they could voice their opinions, and created a whole genre of music, and created some songs we still sing today. While printed flyers and posters are generally recognized as the more prominent form of propaganda, it was music that stayed in the hearts and on the lips of people for decades to come.
Meyer, J. (2016, June 27). Music in Wartime: Song Composition during the First World War. Retrieved from https://filsonhistorical.org/music-in-wartime-song-composition-during-the-first-world-war/
Music as Propaganda. (0AD). Retrieved from https://library.ccsu.edu/dighistFall16/exhibits/show/music-as-propaganda-in-world-w/music-as-propaganda
Wells, K. A. (2004, April). Music as War Propaganda. Retrieved from http://parlorsongs.com/issues/2004-4/thismonth/feature.php
Music of World War I. (2019, August 12). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_World_War_I