Search Great War Images from the U of S
The printed word can often evoke an emotional response in an intellectually engaged reader. Music however, and the way it is heard, almost always evokes an deeper and instantaneous emotional response. That response is intensified if there is expectation of entertainment and revelry. Music can have a powerful influence, and when infused with meaningful or entertaining lyrics, it can become a highly effective propaganda vehicle in times of war.
During the Great War, the creation, performance and promotion of popular patriotic music became a significant factor in the overall war effort. Songs encouraged enlistment or called on citizens to do their bit were common. And once the fighting force was assembled, musical entertainment would become an important aspect of improving morale for the battle-weary and the homesick.
Propaganda in musical form greatly inspired acceptance, pride and participation in wartime programs that otherwise would have been hugely unpopular. Lyrics aimed at rallying troops and aid recruitment (or softening conscription) were penned to up-tempo march-style music that paid glorious tribute to the men at war and sometimes shame those who were not fulfilling their patriotic duty. Gentler, warm-hearted songs were composed that encouraged dedication and faithfulness for couples that now found themselves to be an ocean apart. With laughter as a significant stress reliever, musical comedy became a great distraction to the apprehensions of battle and constant worry on the home front. It gave fighting men great comfort to sing along to humorous tunes that poked fun at a seemingly incompetent enemy, or an incorrigibly tough superior officer.
The above link will take you to 37 folios of Great War patriot songs. They were found in three collections in the University Archives and Special Collections - The Shortt Library of Canadian, the Isabelle Mils fond MG 151 and Neil Richards fonds MG 355.