Caption: The band of the First Bradford Pals (16 West Yorks)
The role of military music is often overlooked. It has a crucial role to play, not least in keeping spirits up, and the unit in step, on long marches. In addition to maintaining morale, the musicians themselves often doubled as stretcher-bearers during battle. It played an important role in recruitment, fund raising and the maintenance of civilian morale. That the fighting fronts were full of music and humour may come as a surprise. While Britain’s modern memory of the First World War is dominated by mud and loss, the history of music 1914-18 shows us that in the midst of so much fear and death there was a great deal of life. Music of all kinds connected servicemen back to the sound worlds of comfort, family and friends. Through music the soldiers were reminded of the homes for which they were fighting. But it’s not all about bawdy music hall ditties and marching songs. Music and musicians were implicated in espionage plots; after 1915 bugle calls were used to guard civilians’ public safety after Zeppelin raids; orchestras provided cover for prisoners of war to escape from German prison camps. Music would also have therapeutic uses both for wounded servicemen and for the comfort of the bereaved in the war’s aftermath.
About the speaker: Dr Emma Hanna lectures in military history at the University of Kent. Her research interests include: representation of the First and Second World Wars in tv and the performing arts; wartime entertainment and recreation; formal and informal musical activities in the British Army (1914-18).