100 years since the start of World War One

So its been 100 years since the start of World War 1 – we don’t learn do we, when you look at all the conflicts that went on before then, and all the conflicts that have occurred since.


I see that RR has already tackled the topic of war before I was a regular, so I shouldn’t be running the risk of spoiling anything over there, but wanted to put together a playlist of war, or really, anti war songs. So please indulge me for my first post on the Spill!


Although my list is dominated by Aussie artists, don’t get too hung up on whose side the songs come from, the key thing is recognising the messages, which to put it simply really highlight the futility of war.


I hope you appreciate it.


I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green) – Redgum

Wow, what a song. Of course involvement in the Vietnam War was controversial for a number of different nations, including Australia. At the time, there was a national conscription done by a birth date lottery – that was one lottery you didn’t want to win.


In this song, Redgum sum up the so many of the themes so well – the pride of going off to war (“Townsville lined the footpath as we marched down to the quay, this clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean”),  the horrors of war (“A four week operation, when each step could mean your last one on two legs: it was a war within yourself”), and the lasting impacts of the war long after active service was complete ( “And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep? And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet? , And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?”)


What’s a Few Men? – Hunters and Collectors

I am not much of a reader, but A B Facey’s “A Fortunate Life” is probably my favourite book and one I would highly recommend. It’s Facey’s memoirs and he certainly did lead an amazing life – his WWI experience being just one part of it. In the book, Facey recalls a high ranking officer  quipping “what’s a few men?” when told that a certain course of action would result in casualties.  This song is pretty much based on Facey’s recollection of his war experiences, and its such a powerful insight into the war. Mark Seymour, lead singer of the Hunters and Collectors delivers the lyrics so well. I actually prefer the solo version that Seymour recorded for his “Daytime and the Dark” album but I couldn’t find that on you tube.


And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda – The Pogues

Written by Eric Bogle, but I think the Pogues version is as good as any others going around.


The Battle of Brisbane – The Pogues

If you want another example of how stupid war is, look no further than the Battle of Brisbane. During World War II, American soldiers were based in the Australian city of Brisbane, for a variety of reasons –mainly either awaiting deployment to various hot spots in the Pacific, or for rest and recuperation.  Australia and the US were allies in the war, but as the stories go, the Aussie troops were resentful of the Americans, as their soldiers were paid more, they had better looking uniforms and they seemed to have a tendency to be more successful with the local women. Fuelled by alcohol, these tensions eventually boiled over and resulted in two days of rioting in the streets, and brawling between the Aussies and the Americans. Yes, you read right, during the middle of a world war, Allied forces were fighting each other on the streets of Brisbane. One person was killed, many others injured, and countless amounts of damage was caused by two parties ON THE SAME SIDE fighting.  The Pogues bring us a jaunty instrumental which you can just imagine being set to drunk people brawling in almost a Benny Hill kind of way.


Singing in Vietnam Talking Blues – Johnny Cash

This is such a simple song, but it’s a got a simple poignancy to it that I really like. Its basically Cash telling the story of him and wife June heading to Vietnam to entertain the troops – performing some concerts, spending time in a military hospital chatting to the injured, and trying to sleep with all the shells going off.



Khe Sanh – Cold Chisel

This song has become a bit of an anthem in Australia, and sadly, in my opinion, has become associated with drunken yobbos and karaoke. But to anyone that has badly belted out a rendition of this, I would encourage you to study the lyrics carefully, it really is a wonderful piece of songwriting, telling the story of someone returning from the Vietnam war and being totally lost with what to do with themselves. The shoddy treatment of Vietnam Vets when they returned was not unique to Australia (indeed for  a music look at this topic, also refer to “Born in the USA”- Springsteen, and “Four Walls of Raiford” – Lynard Skynard) and that topic is also touched upon in this brilliant track.


War – Edwin Starr

So if you haven’t worked out the message of this post yet, refer to Edwin Starr – what a chorus!


Give Peace a Chance – John Lennon

I have to end on an optimistic note, via a bed in at a Montreal hotel. “All we are saying, is give peace a chance”.


I have put all of these tracks into a Youtube playlist for those interested.


18 thoughts on “100 years since the start of World War One

  1. Hi deano! I’m looking forward to an inverse perspective on the world! And I’ll definitely give (the Aussie bit of) your playlist a whirl….. My one stint as RR Guru was for Army Songs, so I came across several around your subject.

    But can I be the picky little bugger who asks you to put a page break in your post to make it a little more scroll-friendly? I gave these WordPress how-to instructions to someone else a while ago:

    When in Visual Mode (not Text Mode), there are two rows of editing buttons (bold, italics, etc.) above the box where you type the body of your post. Near the end of the top row is a button showing two thick horizontal lines separated by a dotted line. Hovering over this should display the text ‘Insert Read More tag’.
    If you put the cursor at the position in your post where you want the page break, pressing this button will insert the “continue reading” tag.

    In other words:
    1. Make sure you’re in Visual mode.
    2. Place the cursor at the position in your post where you want the page break.
    3. Hit the button showing two thick horizontal lines separated by a dotted line.

    Robert should then become your aunt’s husband.

    The Preview function doesn’t show page breaks, unfortunately, so you can only verify success when the post goes live.

  2. One of the most affecting songs from my Army list was Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt singing the words of a French prostitute offering comfort to the troops in 1917.

    We have been inundated with TV programmes about WWI over here. Many of them have been fascinating and affecting. It’s the chain of absurdities and personal ambition that kicked it all off so fast that really took me aback.

  3. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Britain entering the First World War on Monday the 4th August 2014 I arranged for three men to come and dig a 2 metre deep trench right across the back garden.

    It was good to finally get the kitchen extension underway, it should all be over by Christmas.

  4. Nice playlist btw. I remember that you picked a Robb Johnson song of mine when you were guruing recently. Robb composed a whole song cycle back in the ’90s based on the experiences of his two grandfathers in the first world war. This got a dusting off and a new version recorded last year so this premiere performance might interest you.

    Gentle Men – Robb Johnson

    Followers of UK folk will recognise the mighty Roy Bailey playing a major part and various versions of this are being toured through the Autumn (and probably beyond), including a duo version with Roy and Robb.

  5. Hi Deano, nice to see you here. “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” has to be the greatest (anti-)war song ever, doesn’t it? I saw Eric Bogle at the Canberra Folk Festival a couple of decades ago, but I was sorely disappointed, and had to leave before he played this.

    I wonder whether PJ Harvey’s last album, Let England Shake, made as big an impression in Oz as it did back in England? It’s inspired by the first world war, and particularly the Gallipoli campaign. There are artsy videos for all the tracks on YouTube.

    • Hi Barbryn, thanks for your post. It is a great song, but I don’t really know any of Bogle’s work beyond this track. I don’t really keep up with the latest music, but certainly have heard of Let England Shake and seen it advertised in music shops over here, although don’t know any of the tracks, will have to check them out.

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