Thursday, 10 July 2014

Music and the First World War

Music in the First World War played a number of different roles on both the battlefields and back on the home front. On a basic level, music was a good form of entertainment and was a focus for social gatherings.

Due to its popular nature, music is able to infiltrate into all aspects of life. During the war, governments quickly saw its potential to inspire a sense of national pride, patriotism, to promote recruitment for soldiers and garner support for fund raising efforts.

It was also used as a powerful way to shame conscientious objectors and others who didn't support the war. The catchy melodies and rhythms can therefore be seen as a form of propaganda. Most songs from the First World War period did not reflect the brutal reality of war, instead they suggested that all would be fine and that the war would end soon.

Ref: Natasha Barrett, military band at Auckland War Memorial Museum, Anzac Day, 25 April 2010
Music was also used to send the troops off to war and played a role on the fronts. Many regiments had their own bands and they fulfilled an important function by providing a boost to moral and a much needed form of entertainment. The music also distracted the soldiers from the daily horror of war and death which surrounded them. The profound psychological effect of music and its role as a form of escapism should not be underestimated, indeed Nietzsche once commented that 'without music - life would be a mistake'.

Many songs were penned during the war, along with other forms of artistic expression such as poetry and journals. For example, the Māori Pioneer Battalion sang their own version of 'It's a long way to Tipperary' (translated by Apirana Ngata), when they were marching. Whilst 'Haere tonu' which was written by Ernest Denis Hoben with music by R.A. Horne, was sung as a fighting song by the battalion.

It is only fitting then, that on Anzac Day when we remember all those who served in wars over the years, that music always plays a part in the proceedings. As part of the centenary commemorations, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra has a series of concerts and other events, which feature music and other aspects of life from this period.

The selection of heritage images below is dedicated to all those who played in military bands during the war and is drawn from the heritage collections at Auckland Libraries. Whilst we are on the subject of the First World War, make sure you also check out 'It'll be over by Christmas', the new Sir George Grey Special Collections exhibition, which opened on 9th July and runs until 12th October at the Central City Library.

Recruits and volunteers:

Ref: Newspaper Illustrations Ltd for Auckland Weekly News, recruits for Earl Kitchener's new army headed by the band of the Grenadier guards, London, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19141105-35-2
Ref: Ring and Son for the Auckland Weekly News, the Greymouth contingent leaving the town for Christchurch, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19140827-44-2
Ref: E De Tourret for Auckland Weekly News, departure of troops from Whangarei, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19140820-38-3
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, the 3rd Auckland Mounted Rifles Band with the mounted infantry, Grafton Bridge, Auckland, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19141001-40-2
Military bands:

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, a section of the Auckland Infantry Battalion, Queen Street, Auckland, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19141015-38-5
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, the NZ Infantry Battalion Expeditionary Band, no location, 1910, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19140924-46-3
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, the 3rd Auckland Mounted Rifles Band, no location, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19140924-46-5
Ref: Auckland Weekly News, the 5th Wellington Regimental Band in Apia, Samoa, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19141022-41-2

Author: Natasha Barrett (NB)

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