Westminster Music Library was alive with the sound of song last Saturday, as a number of the Borough’s older residents braved wind and rain to join Ruth, Anthony and myself in a lively sing-along recollecting the centenary of the First World War. These melodious local residents raised their voices to prove that the “home fires” are indeed still burning as part of the City of Westminster’s Silver Sunday initiative and our very own Behind the Lines project.
“I sang these songs as a boy,” one participant commented, as we piped our way through popular favourites such as It’s a Long Way to Tipperary and Over There. Singing was gallantly led by Ruth, whose dulcet tones were masterfully accompanied by Anthony on piano; this is one library where staff don’t always insist on silence!
Attendees also listened to readings of poetry, letters and anecdotal writings from the Great War. Humourous poems evoked a feeling of light-hearted camaraderie; sentiments so warmly expressed in the timeless Oh! It’s a Lovely War:
“What do we want with eggs and ham
When we’ve got plum and apple jam?”
In contrast, letters sent to loved ones from front-line soldiers reminded us of the genuine hardships felt by men in overseas service, highlighting the real importance of motivational songs; a reminder to “Pack up your troubles…and smile” would have struck a chord not just for those in Britain but for those serving away from home.
Several songs not strictly related to the War managed to slip their way into our programme, including the popular If You Were the Only Girl in the World and There’s a Long, Long Trail. “‘There’s a long, long trail’ was immediately popular,” our programme notes explained, “It did not become one of the anthems of the War until the British troops embraced it as they left British ports.” If the mental image of a shipful of soldiers waving goodbye to loved ones as they sail away from England brings a tear to your eye, the song ends on a hopeful note:
“Until my dreams all come true;
Till the day when I’ll be going down
That long, long trail with you.”
After an hour of singing and being entertained, warm refreshments provided a friendly opportunity for us to talk to some of our guests. “Excellent,” one participant commented, “- so well prepared and presented.”
For our part, we were delighted to participate in Silver Sunday (despite it being a Saturday!) and spend our Saturday morning doing something a little different. In the words of our closing song…
“Bonsoir, old thing!
Cheerio! Chin chin!
Nah poo! Toodleoo! Good-bye-ee!”