Subversive Hymns of World War I

At the moment there is a great deal of interest in the First World War, because the summer of 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the war. We were recently given a folded sheet of paper dating from that time, and on it an unknown serviceman had copied down a wry version of a soldier’s daily routine.

Soldier's Life

Part of the ‘soldier’s daily routine’

The original author of this humorous piece is unknown, but it was in widespread circulation by the spring of 1916, when it was being included in entertainments for the troops on the Western Front. It was also printed in magazines produced by the soldiers themselves and in those produced by the staff of the hospitals for wounded servicemen. From these sources, it was soon picked up and reprinted in various local newspapers in Britain. Surprisingly, there is little variation in the different published versions, probably because it circulated via carefully handwritten copies, not by word of mouth. It gives a satirical, if not cynical, view of military life:

’A Soldier’s Life. Daily Routine told in Hymns.

6.30a.m. Reveille – “Christians Awake”
6.45. Hut Parade – “Art Thou Weary”
7.0. Breakfast – “Meekly wait and murmur not”
8.15. Company Officers Parade – “When He Cometh”
8.45. Manoeuvres – “Fight the Good Fight”
9.30. Company Orders – “Oft in Danger, Oft in Woe”
10.30. Kit Inspection – “All things bright and beautiful”
11.15. Swedish Drill – “Here we suffer grief and pain”
1.0p.m. Dinner – “Come, ye thankful people, come”
2.15. Rifle Drill – “Go, labour on”
3.15. Lecture by Officer – “Tell me the old, old story”
4.50. Dismiss – “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow”
5.0. Tea – “What means this eager anxious throng?”
6.0. Free for the night – “O Lord, how happy we shall be”
6.30. Out of bounds – “We may not know, we cannot tell”
7.0. Route march – “Onward Christian soldiers”
8.45. Zeppelin Raid Drill – “We plough the fields and scatter”
10.0. The Last Post – “Peace, perfect peace”
10.15. Lights out – “All are safely gathered in”
10.30. Guard inspection – “Sleep on, beloved, sleep”’

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