Music Your Ancestors Listened to


Bravo Little Belgium (sung by Harry Fay) 

 Click on image for musical slide show

 Whether the British Government would have declared war in support of France if Germany had not invaded Belgium is a moot point.  However, back in 1839, England along with Prussia had guaranteed Belgian neutrality and independence – the so-called “Scrap of Paper”.

 There is no denying the huge wave of support expressed for the people of Belgium and the Music Hall songs of the time reflected this.

 Bravo Little Belgium, recorded in November 1914 and sung by Harry Fay, is our first example.

The story of Harry Fay is somewhat of a mystery.  He certainly was a British Music Hall singer and recording artiste and was mainly active in the 1910s and 1920s.  His real name was Henry Fahey but he used various aliases including Jack Hay and Harry Carlton.

Harry Carlton is known as a prolific lyricist and is generally credited with writing the great World War One hit Mademoiselle From Armentières (with Joseph A. Tunbridge, 1915).  Harry Carlton died in 1961.

 No evidence has been found that Henry Fahey and Harry Carlton were one and the same person.

 The photograph of the ruined church is understood to have been taken in Dendermonde, East Flanders.

 As a neutral power until 1917, United States charities were able to send food parcels to Belgium.  Look out for a picture of Heverlee children taken by the Commission For Relief.


Tell That to the Marines (Sung by Al Jonson)

Click on image for musical slide show

Jolson, born in Lithuania, Russian Empire, was a highly acclaimed American singer, comedian, and actor, and the first openly Jewish man to become an entertainment star in America.

 His career lasted from 1911 until his death in 1950, during which time he was commonly dubbed “the world’s greatest entertainer”. Numerous well-known singers were influenced by his music, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Judy Garland. By 1920, he was Americas most famous and highest paid entertainer.

 Between 1911 and 1928, Al Jolson had nine sell-out Winter Garden shows in a row, more than 80 hit records, and 16 national and international tours.

 We must also mention the 1927 film The Jazz Singer.  As the first feature-length motion picture with not only a synchronized recorded music score, but also lip-synchronous singing and speech in several isolated sequences, its release heralded the commercial ascendance of sound films and ended the silent film era. It featured six songs performed by Jolson.

 Most of the pictures & posters used date from the period of the Great War, but some are definitely later.


 Have You Heard of my Son Jack?

Click on image for musical slideshow

In 1915 casualties were mounting and affecting all ranks of society.

 In late September 1915 Lieutenant John Kipling, the only son of Rudyard Kipling was killed during the Battle of Loos.

At age 18. John had initially wanted to join the Royal Navy, but having had his application turned down after a failed medical examination due to poor eyesight, he opted to apply for military service as an Army officer. But again, his eyesight was an issue during the medical examination. In fact, he tried twice to enlist but was rejected. His father had been lifelong friends with Lord Roberts, former commander-in-chief of the British Army, and colonel of the Irish Guards, and at Rudyard’s request, John was accepted into the Irish Guards.

 John Kipling was sent to Loos two days into the battle in a reinforcement contingent. He was last seen stumbling through the mud blindly, with a possible facial injury.  A body identified as his was found in 1992.

 Partly in response to John’s death, Kipling joined Sir Fabian Ware‘s Imperial War Graves Commission.

His most significant contributions to the project were his selection of the biblical phrase, “Their Name Liveth For Evermore” (Ecclesiasticus 44.14, KJV), found on the Stones of Remembrance in larger war cemeteries; and his suggestion of the phrase “Known unto God” for the gravestones of unidentified servicemen. He also chose the inscription “The Glorious Dead” on the Cenotaph. Additionally, he wrote a two-volume history of the Irish Guards, his son’s regiment: it was published in 1923 and is considered to be one of the finest examples of regimental history.

 In 1916, Kipling write the poem My Boy Jack. This recording features the poem sung by Louise Kirkby Lunn (1873 – 1930) who was a leading English-born contralto of the first two decades of the 20th century, earning praise for her performances in concert, oratorio and opera.


Paddy Maloney’s Aeroplane : Sung by Harry Fay (aka Charlie Collins). 

Click on image for musical slideshow

There is a 1914 letter to the Editor from “Disgusted of Halifax”.  He had written to the Admiralty with the suggestion that all our battleships should be fitted with bands of rubber to repel enemy mines and torpedoes, and was annoyed that his idea had been ignored.

 Paddy Maloney’s Aeroplane is certainly in the same “totally impractical” class.  Listen to the construction and equipment details.

 Look out for the 1915 photograph of the first aircraft acquired by the Serbian Army.

Starting with his photograph, this is a second record sung by the mysterious Harry Fay – this time under yet another pseudonym – Charlie Collins.  It dates to September 1915.


Women’s Work . Sung by Tom Clare. 

Click on image for musical slideshow

 Our next singer is monocled Londoner Tom Clare (1876 – 1946).  He was a music hall singer and was best known for singing humorous songs which he accompanied himself on the piano.

He made his first stage appearance when he was eight years old, with the Mohawk Minstrels. He was particularly well known, in the First World War era, for his ironic, humorous songs, The Fine Old English Gentleman (a song which gently mocked the arrival of modernity, Who Bashed Bill Kaiser? and What did You do in the Great War, Daddy?

He was also involved in a large number of charity concerts in aid of wounded soldiers.

On this occasion, we will be listening to his rendition of Womens’ Work from December 1916.

 We have tried to match photographs with the words of the song but we could not find any period pictures of women working behind any shop counters let alone those of a butcher’s shop.


Belgium put the Kibosch on the Kaiser

Click on image for musical slideshow

Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser was a popular British patriotic song of the First World War. It was first recorded on 6 October 1914 by Mark Sheridan. The song refers to the 1914 campaign in Belgium when the small British Expeditionary Force, along with an unexpectedly fierce Belgian defence, managed to delay the much larger German army, slowing them and wrecking the Schlieffen Plan which depended on total victory against the French to the west in a matter of weeks.

Mark Sheridan (1864 – 1918) was an English music hall comedian and singer. Born in Hendon, County Durham, he initially worked on the Sunderland docks before being employed at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Theatre, where he took up amateur dramatics.

He became a popular performer of lusty seaside songs and originated the classic, “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside” in 1909. He recorded over fifty songs during a ten-year period, and, during his later career, was also a major presence in pantomime productions throughout the British Isles.

In 1917, he wrote and personally financed Gay Paree, a musical burlesque show. It cost Sheridan £2,000 and had a London company of 40 people.

On 14 January 1918, Gay Paree opened at the Coliseum in Glasgow, with Sheridan playing the part of Napoleon. Gay Paree received negative reviews from both its audiences and newspaper critics.

Devastated by the critics’ reviews, Sheridan walked out of the theatre and the following day, was found dead in nearby Kelvingrove Park, from a single gunshot wound to the head. Aged 53, he left a wife Maude, and their three sons and two daughters.


Since Father joined the Territorials

Click on image for musical slideshow

The Territorial Force (TF), which existed from 1908 to 1920, was the volunteer reserve element of the British Army (then becoming the TA – Territorial Army). The Territorials were intended for home defence during wartime.

The building blocks of the TF were its 207 infantry battalions (each of eight Companies) and 55 yeomanry regiments. There were also 23 volunteer batteries of the Royal Garrison Artillery, 151 of the Royal Field Artillery and 14 of the Royal Horse Artillery plus volunteer engineer, medical and supply companies.

Though reasonably well provided with permanent staff instructors, the TF came off second best for equipment. Meanwhile, its training programme was based on the optimistic assumption that it could count on six months training after war was declared before being required for active work.

By 25th August 1914 more than 70 battalions had volunteered for overseas service. Remember that in 1914, the United Kingdom was the only European Great Power without conscription.

Billy Williams recorded When Father Joined the Territorials in 1909, It was posthumously paired with Williams’ recording of When Father Papered The Parlour, in October 1916, and retained in the Zonophone catalogue until its deletion in – wait for it – 1941!

Born in Melbourne, Williams tried a number of jobs before embarking on an entertainment career which led him to come to England in 1899. He became a popular entertainer in the music halls singing what were known as chorus-songs – he also appeared in pantomime.

The year 1912 seemed to be the zenith of Billy’s career – he appeared in the first Royal Command Performance of that year and achieved glowing reviews in the national press. Sadly this fame was not to last as Williams became ill in late 1914 and died aged 37 in Hove, Brighton in March 1915.

One of the photographs I have used features the Guiseley Company of Territorials. On Monday 3rd of August they were undergoing their annual training in Marske when they were called home. The following day, August 4th war was declared and they were ordered to join their Regiment at Headquarters in Skipton.


It’s a Long Way to Tipperary

Click on image for musical slideshow

For quite some time I couldn’t decide what song to start the programme with. Finally I chose one written in January 1912 in Stalybridge by Jack Judge and Harry Williams as a music hall and marching song. Legend has it that Judge accepted (and subsequently won) a 5s bet that he couldn’t write a hit song over night.

However, it only became popular a year later when Miss Florrie Forde had a summer season in the Isle of Man and featured the song in her act.

In 1914 columns of marching soldiers from the Connaught Rangers made the song known and popular first in the British Army, then on the whole Western Front. Daily Mail correspondent George Curnock witnessed the Irish soldiers marching and singing in Boulogne on August 13th, 1914, reporting this soon after.

The march then became the definite song of the Great War.

Our first artiste is John Francis McCormack who was born in 1884 in Athlone, County Westmeath, Ireland, the fourth of eleven children. His parents were employed at the Athlone Woollen Mills.

When the family moved to Dublin, he sang in the choir of St Mary’s Cathedral where he was trained by Vincent O’Brien, the choirmaster and a leading figure in Irish music.

He received further tuition in Italy and in 1906, he made his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year he began his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor.

His recording of our song in 1914 was the first of very very many.

If you haven’t guessed the name of the song by now, the last clue is that the distance from London, as the crow flies, is just over 348 miles.

And have a look out for the photograph of the Stalybridge Bronze statue commemorating Jack Judge, the writer of the song. A World War I soldier is whispering to him.


No more Bully Beef and Biscuits

Fred Haywood 

For Bully Beef think Corned Beef. As well as large tins, today’s familiar oblong 12oz cans complete with key opener were available from the late 19th century. Bully beef and hardtack biscuits were the main field rations of the British Army from the Boer War to World War II.

Other staples of the soldier’s diet were tea (required to soak the biscuit to make it digestible) and the ubiquitous Plum & Apple Jam.

21st century military rations are quite different as the final photograph in the next sequence shows.

For our artiste Fred Haywood, the main benefit of the end of the Great War was No More Bully Beef & Biscuits.

A Bit of a Blighty One

Vesta Tilley

The theme is Armistice and Peace.
Previously, I have showed an excerpt from After the Ball the 1957 film biography of Miss Vesta Tilley with Pat Kirkwood in the starring role. This time we hear Vesta Tilley herself and see some period photographs. The chosen song, I’ve a Bit of a Blighty One was released early in 1919.