British Songs of World War II

Although First World War poets [Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon] are often presented as the literature of wartime, popular songs were important in keeping up morale.  Those from World War II have become especially well known.

whitecliffs

Some songs were overtly nationalistic, such as There’ll Always Be An England. Other music was popular because it evoked emotional states common in wartime, for instance a sense of nostalgic sadness and loss. Perhaps the most famouse such song was Lili Marlene, uniquely famous as a hit both for German and Allied armies.

In Britain, without any question, the most popular vocalist of World War II was Vera Lynn, “the forces’ sweetheart”.  She sang virtually every well-known wartime song in her concerts (including Lili Marlene and There’ll Always Be An England), but her best know songs were White Cliffs of Dover and We’ll Meet Again.

These songs give only a hint of the variety of wartime music. Other music popular included a variety of “silly” songs and some lush instrumental compositions.

There’ll Always Be An England

I give you a toast, ladies and gentlemen.
I give you a toast, ladies and gentlemen.
May this fair dear land we love so well
In dignity and freedom dwell.
Though worlds may change and go awry
While there is still one voice to cry – – –

There’ll always be an England
While there’s a country lane,
Wherever there’s a cottage small
Beside a field of grain.
There’ll always be an England
While there’s a busy street,
Wherever there’s a turning wheel,
A million marching feet.

Red, white and blue; what does it mean to you?
Surely you’re proud, shout it aloud,
“Britons, awake!”
The empire too, we can depend on you.
Freedom remains. These are the chains
Nothing can break.

There’ll always be an England,
And England shall be free
If England means as much to you
As England means to me.

 

Lili Marlene was based on a poem written  German soldier Hans Leip during World War I (in 1915), and published in 1937.  Norbert Schultze set the poem to music in 1938 and it was recorded just before the war. It became a favorite of both German troops when it was broadcast to the AfrikaKorps in 1941. The immense popularity of the German version led to a hurried English version done by Tommie Connor and broadcast by the BBC for the Allied troops. Eventually, both sides began broadcasting the song in both versions, interspersed with propaganda nuggets. The German singer was Lale Andersen , an anti-Nazi. But the most celebrated singer was another anti-Nazi German – Marlene Dietrich, began to sing it in 1943. The English version of the song embellishs an already sentimental German original. After the war, the song’s fame was perpetuated by Vera Lynn who sang it in every NAAFI concert she gave for British BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) soldiers stationed in pre-NATO Germany, to thunderous applause and stomping feet.

White Cliffs of Dover 1942

Words by Nat Burton and Music by Walter Kent

Although in Britain (There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover was most associated with Vera Lynn, in the US Kay Kyser and His Orchestra (vocal by Harry Babbitt) took it to a peak Billboard position of #1 in 1941-42. Four other competing versions also made the Top 20: Glenn Miller (#6); Kate Smith (#9); Sammy Kaye (#11); and Jimmy Dorsey (#15).

 

There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see
There’ll be love and laughter and peace ever after
Tomorrow when the world is free

(The shepherd will tend his sheep)
(The valley will bloom again)
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again

There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see

<instrumental interlude>

There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait…and see

We’ll Meet Again 1939

Words and Music by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles

In Britain this was Vera Lynn‘s song. In the US Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians took it to a peak Billboard position # 24 in 1941. Kay Kaiser also hit # 24. with it, and Benny Goodman hit # 16 in 1942. Vera Lynn’s version made it to the US charts (#29) in 1954, and also appeared on the soundtrack of the film Dr. Strangelove in 1964.

We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

Keep smilin’ through
Just like you always do
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away

So will you please say hello
To the folks that I know?
Tell them I won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song

We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

Autor: literatura inglesa

Cátedra de Literatura inglesa de la Universidad de Buenos Aires. Publicación de artículos, notas y trabajos monográficos de profesores y alumnos y de información de interés inherente a la materia.

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