Soldiers Must Sing

[The Independent; February 2, 1918]

A long, white, dusty road stretches away until it drops out of sight over the hilltop. It gives back the sound of nearly 400 marching feet as a company of dusty, khaki-clad men swing into sight on the last lap of a fifteen-mile hike. Sweat is dropping from the faces of dozens as they struggle along. The sun beats down; dust rises in choking clouds; file leaders look anxiously along the line—it closes up at the glance, then wavers and elongates once more.

"Buck up, Bill!" admonishes a rear-ranker to the man on his left.

Bill makes no reply. His face is taking on the dull grey hue of utter fatigue; lines chisel themselves around his set lips. Down the uneven ranks of marchers the ashy color is spreading; eyes stare straight ahead; the line elongates still more. The captain looks sharply along it. Then a glance of understanding passes between him and the young chap trudging along beside the guide.

The latter turns.

"Come on boys," he shouts, "Sing 'Pack Up Your Troubles!' Make a noise they can hear clear to Berlin!"

Two hundred voices roar out the chorus; two hundred pairs of shoulders straighten; ranks close up; eyes brighten; squad by squad they wing into camp to the blood-quickening rhythm of

What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worth while;
So pack up you troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile.

It was the song did it.

Sometimes it is "Smile, smile, smile;" sometimes it is that favorite parody of the officers' training camps:

There's a long, long trail a-winding
Into No Man's Land in France;
There the shrapnel shells are bursting,
But we must advance.
There'll be lots of drills and hiking
Before our dreams all come true,
But we're going to show the Kaiser
How the Yankee boys come through.

Or it may be the song of the field artillery:

Get that smell of slum and coffee, hear the cursin' as we load,
Sections right, behind the guidon, and we're out upon the road.
Roll, roll, roll, just keep them rolling;
Roll, roll, roll, just keep them rolling;
Roll, roll, roll, just keep them rolling,
As we're rolling in the field artillery.

Army and Navy officers are not simply permitting their men to sing—they are encouraging song in every way possible and making a place on the program of training camp routine for the song leaders. They know that song makes a good soldier a better soldier; that it makes a tired soldier a rested soldier.

"A songless army," says Major General J. Franklin Bell, commander of Camp Upton, "would lack the fighting spirit in proportion as it lacked responsiveness to music. There is no more potent force in developing unity in an army than in that of song."—New York Times.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury