Monday 25 April 2011

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is the name of a song, written by the Scots born singer songwriter Eric Bogle, who has lived in Australia since 1969 (and is, in fact, a distant relative by marriage of mine). The song very quickly gained worldwide popularity and has been recorded by about 100 different artists.

In Australia, its initial reception was considerably more mixed, with many people feeling it was an attack on the returned soldiers themselves rather than war in general. I was 11 when it was written and for most of my childhood, the television news backdrop was the Vietnam war. By 1971 the surviving WWI veterans were starting to getting thin on the ground, and people on all sides of the political spectrum were deeply unhappy about the creation of a brand new crop of veterans, particularly as they were conscripts. Feelings were running high, no matter whether you wanted to support the veterans or the peace movement (or both, as many ordinary people did). This song touched raw nerves and took a while to settle in on its home territory. For some people this is the greatest anti-war song ever, for others, including the songwriter himself, it remains problematic on, shall we say, artistic grounds and it's just not angry enough, with its relentless tugging of the heartstrings.

We've chosen to present the June Tabor version here because like many songwriters, Eric is often not the best interpreter of his own material, and this is apparently his favourite version. Although the Pogues did the most famous version, June's crystal clear voice allows the listener to take in the self-explanatory lyrics better. The only clarification that may be required is of the phrase 'Waltzing Matilda' itself.

The expression 'waltzing Matilda' is the dry Australian slang for trudging from town to town, itinerant job to job, carrying all your possessions in a blanket roll, usually called a swag in Australia, but often given a personal female name by individuals.


If you are interested in the history of Australian soldiers on French soil, check out the Facebook page of the Lost Diggers. There you can see a remarkable collection of images taken by Antoinette and Louis Thuillier on their farm at Vignacourt, of soldiers during their brief times of respite from the front line in 1916. The more than 3000 photos, discovered in the attic of one of the barns on the farm, also includes pictures of Americans, Canadians, Indians, Chinese, French, New Zealanders, British and Germans, as well as some images of closer to the action.

Our friend Dave is currently in the Somme, once again taking photos for TWGPP (the War Graves Photographic Project). The aim of the project is to make a photographic record of all the Commonwealth War Graves, and Dave is helping at the rate of 1000 photos a day. He was our guest blogger two years ago.

Today is also Souvenir des Déportés in France, which remembers the French men and women who were deported as forced labour, interned or sent to concentration camps during the Second World War.


Niall & Antoinette said...

Really thoughtful post. I used to teach an indepth unit on WW1 poetry and used Bogle's song 'Green Fields of France' to start things off.

GaynorB said...

We take our pupils to a war cemetery near Etaples. We only stay there for about an hour each time, but even these fairly 'brash' 13 year olds are captivated by the seemingly endless rows of graves, each one representing a life lost, too soon.

I think photographing the graves is an important project, as many relatives are unable to make the journey to France to visit.

Emm said...

It's such an iconic song that you forget it's modern. And antiwar, oh yes. Thanks for such detail and the links.

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