The Sound of the Trenches

Going to war

All countries involved in the 1914-1918 war had to somehow convince people to join up. Slogans were conceived amplifying a variety of feelings: a love of one’s country; a sense that one should do the right thing; and, also, a concern that not signing up was equal to cowardice. Music played a part in conveying this message and, in an age in which music-making often took place at home around the piano, published sheet music provided a great opportunity.

The patriotic song, ’La Française’ was composed in 1915 by Camille Saint-Saëns with lyrics by Miguel Louis Pascal Zamacoïs and is described on the cover as ‘a heroic song of the Great War’.

Music also attempted to inspire camaraderie and the feeling of being part of a group. This booklet produced in France contains national anthems from France’s allies - Serbia, Montenegro, Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Egypt and Japan. The booklet aimed to nurture good relations between these countries and remind their citizens that they had a common cause.

For many soldiers - and their families - the separation caused by war was unfamiliar and painful. Sentimental postcards would contain lyrics from songs, such as the one below, ‘The Little Grey Home in the West’. Such a series of postcards would primarily have a visual impact, but would also refer to songs that could be purchased by the recipient.

Little Grey Home in the West, H. Macklin,
Internet Culturale, Public Domain

Recorded sound, as well as sheet music, also began to play its part in the war. This song can also be found on Europeana as a wax cylinder. As playback equipment became more popular, recorded sound could be brought into the trenches as shown in the chapter ‘The sounds of war'.