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Oh, What A Lovely War
As I type, it is November 11, 1998, the 80th anniversary of the armistice that ended the hostilities in what we now call World War I. The horror of that conflict has faded from memory, but it is still possible to convey some of the experience of those who fought "The Great War". One of the best ways is this original cast recording of a London play that opened on March 19, 1963. Its 40 minutes of song and dialogue take us from the heady days of 1914 through the despair and exhaustion of 1918.
The play came from the research of one Charles Chilton, who set out to find his father's grave. His description of that trip, from the liner notes on this recording, summarizes better than I ever could the play's purpose.
"In 1958 I was on holiday in France. At the request of my grandmother I visited Arras in order to photograph the grave of my father (her son) who had been killed in that area in 1918. I had no idea there were so many soldiers' cemeteries around Arras. When at last I discovered my father's official memorial it was to find that he had no grave. Instead, his name was inscribed upon the wall along with those of '35,942 officers and men of the Forces of the British Empire who fell in the Battle of Arras and who have no known graves'.
"What could have possibly happened to a man that rendered his burial impossible? What horror could have taken place that rendered the burial of 35,942 men impossible and all in one relatively small area?
"The search for the answer to this question has finally led to this production; in the sincere hope that such an epitaph will never have to be written upon any man's memorial again."
The recording is Copyright © 1983 That's Entertainment Production LTD
Its catalog number is TER 1043.
(In the UK it was released as a Decca record, SKL-4542.)
As far as I can determine, it has not been re-released as a Compact Disc. In order to find it, you'll need to scour used record stores and your local library. Good luck. If you find it, your search, like Charles Chilton's, will have been time well spent.
Note (January 14, 2005): I've noticed that Amazon.com says that it can special order a CD of the 1963 cast recording. I have not seen or heard a copy of this 2004 CD, but it looks like it is worth checking out. Also available is the text from the 1963 play.
A complete description of the record's contents is available at http://www.castalbumdb.com/title.cfm?TNumber=452 and samples from most tracks can be heard at http://www.allmusic.com/album/oh-what-a-lovely-war-mw0001343859
The song lyrics are available at
The Wikipedia entry for the play is informative, and may be read at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oh,_What_a_Lovely_War!
November 11, 2008, the 90th anniversary of the Armistice
In the 10 years since I first posted this page, two very good PBS resources for use in teaching about the Great War have become available.
The web site for the 8 part series THE GREAT WAR and the Shaping of the 20th Century is located at
In April 2008, PBS' Masterpiece broadcast MY BOY JACK, the story of Rudyard Kipling's blind commitment to sending Britain's youth to the fields of France, the resulting death of his only son there, and the effect this loss had on him, his wife and his daughter. You may learn more about this production at its Masterpiece web site http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/myboyjack/index.html. This is an exceptionally powerful and brilliantly acted film. You may also purchase a copy of the DVD from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/My-Boy-Jack-David-Haig/dp/B0011FDVGI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1226517193&sr=1-1.
The film may also be viewed on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUTBaFnEOPk
Songs from the 1969 film version of Oh, What A Lovely War are available on Youtube. Find a listing at http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=oh+what+a+lovely+war&aq=f
In 1926, Jimmy McHugh captured the anti-war spirit that spread across the US in the wake of the 1st World War in his song, My Dream of the Big Parade. It was recorded by the Peerless Quartet, and is available for listening on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PloEiN1Zpec
King Vidor's 1925 classic, and perhaps the highest grossing film of the silent era, The Big Parade also reflected the anti-war spirit of the 20s. Learn more about it at http://www.filmsite.org/bigp.html and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0015624/ The film is now available on DVD: http://www.amazon.com/The-Big-Parade-John-Gilbert/dp/B00D9BNONW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407100368&sr=8-1&keywords=the+big+parade
Kevin Brownlow, the great silent film historian, co-produced a documentary series on the silent era in 1980. Episode 4 is on the role played by Hollywood films and celebrities in the World War I era and the years immediately after. You may watch it via Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLtXuGded04 If you prefer his written history for this period, you may read the section on the War in his book The War, the West and the Wilderness. http://www.amazon.com/West-War-Wilderness-Kevin-Brownlow-ebook/dp/B00BRUQ4Q6/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1408829499&sr=1-6&keywords=kevin+brownlow
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original web posting: Wednesday, November 11, 1998
last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2014