A thing about the internet age… Your Humble Blogger spent far too long this week looking at various sets of lyrics for a WWI song I think I’ll call “No More Soldiering for Me”. It doesn’t seem to have a single name under which the lyrics gather, and the lyrics vary enough that there doesn’t seem to be a line that appears in the same words across all of them. I’d probably rather call it “When This [something] War Is Over”, only the modifiers in question change pretty substantially depending on where in the Anglophone world the singer is from. I suppose I could call it “That WWI Song to the Tune of ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’”.
The chorus goes something like this:
When this [bloody|bleeding|blasted|lousy|rotten|wicked|fucking] war is over
No more soldiering for me
When I get my civvy clothes on
Oh how happy I will be
The rest of it varies a lot.
There’s a verse about No more church parades on Sunday/No more begging for a pass which ends with the Sergeant-Major, but sometimes I will tell the Sergeant-Major/To stuff his passes up his ass and sometimes I shall kiss the Sergeant-Major/How I'll miss him, how he'll grieve!. This notion of the affection between the men and the Sergeant-Major shows up in a lot of WWI marching songs, and I think speaks to a lovely bond between the lower-level officers and the men, in a pig’s eye. There are a few more verses about the things that the soldiers will miss: Army stew, Tickler’s Jam, reveille, slit trenches. The sergeant, again.
One of the things I like about the folk music process is when lines or whole verses slip from one song to another. There’s a verse in some sources about medals (People said when we enlisted/Fame and medals we would win/But the fame is in the guardroom/And those medals made of tin.) that is also in “The Battalion National Anthem”. I dunno if it was commonly sung as part of this song or not, or which way it went. Anyway, lots of possible verses, lots of versions, but the song remains the same.
I was looking at it because on Armistice Day, the OUP blog posted a brief excerpt from Peter Hart’s The Last Battle which mentions it. There’s something to be said there about memory, and different experiences, and all of that, but mostly it just struck me as powerful that all of these different soldiers in units from Australia or England or Canada or even eventually the US were singing the same song about someday the bloody war being finally over. And a hundred years ago the day before yesterday, it was.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,