BBC WW1 – Month of Madness

Month of Madness

There will be a lot of coverage here of the early part of the first world war, as there are so many fantastic resources available. The BBC in particular launched into the project of making something new about these years with such a degree of creative enthusiasm that it set vastly unrealistic expectations for the rest of the four years.

This series presented by Christopher Clark goes over the feverish 37 days which took an almost entirely peaceful continent into all-out war, and it’s absolutely one of my favourites – he really gets inside the heads of all the disperate parties experiencing this historical vertigo all at one. None of them can believe that this is really going to happen until it’s too late – and frankly, I find it hard to believe too – surely they can stop this madness before it’s too late? It’s testament to the quality of the programme that even knowing how it ends, there is a genuine sense of suspense.

Part 1 – Sarajevo
Part 2 – Vienna
Part 3 – Berlin
Part 4 – The French in St Petersburg
Part 5 – London


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Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Philip Larkin – MCMXIV (1964)

When I make these mixes I am dealing with original sources, but with a very restricted selection, as representation was at this time anathema to the recording industry. This has been an advantage, on the whole, so far – the surviving audio has led me to make soundscapes of these years which seem to emerge organically, and which need very little agonising over inclusion criteria. If a year doesn’t sound the way I expected, then good! The new picture is always more rounded and interesting than the preconception (I would make no claims at all about it being more ‘accurate’ or ‘authentic’ – at least not so far.)

But then, here is 1914, and all of this is swept away. The horrors seen in this year, and in the next four, dominate any imagination of the early part of the 20th century. What does the slow evolution of ragtime and vaudeville have when put up against humanity deciding to destroy itself in ways so shocking that they were beyond all prior imagining?

This isn’t to say that there wasn’t a response. Germany, France and Russia understandably did not apparently have the time to record topical music, and for the USA it was still a foreign entanglement in a far-away place, but Britain did at least focus some of its energies onto responding to this existential threat, albeit in the buttoned-up-but-jolly spirit which was thought of as the best possible stance in the face of the horrors of the modern world.

‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ was written two years before the outbreak of war, but its theme of separation from loved ones in a foreign land alongside its simple march-ready rhythm made it an easy fit for soldiers heading towards the front. On the 18th of August the Connaught Rangers, an Irish regiment, were heard singing the song as they marched, and a dispatch along these lines in the Daily Mail led to it being picked up by other British Army units, as the war’s first theme song. How much input your average fighting Tommy had into this phenomenon is questionable – the keeping up of spirits is primarily something for the people left at home.

Another song requisitioned for the war effort is “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers” – a tongue twister intended to be repeated at increasing speeds by the inebriated, with humorous results. The song allows for a modicum of cynical levity such as “when we say her stitching will set all the soldiers itching / She says our soldiers fight best when their back’s against the wall.” – this is in contrast to straight-laced propaganda pieces like “Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser” which save their fire for jingoistic mockery of the enemy, and vaudeville sketches which are concerned only with painting the German leadership as arrogant buffoons.

I have restricted the war to the first 20 minutes of this mix – the rest takes place outside Europe, in the parts of the world so far not affected enough to put on hold their hot dance ragtime, foxtrots, tangos and other lighthearted entertainments. Personally, I find this a more enjoyable listen (and I’m fairly sure you’ll feel the same) but a slightly guilty one. I could have front-loaded the hot ragtime, but that would have been hiding what little we have to represent the history of the year. It’s a bit messy, and a bit of a compromise, but perhaps that’s what it needs to be.


0:00:25 Pale K. Lua – The Rosary
0:03:17 General Nelson A. Miles – Visit of General Nelson A. Miles
0:03:23 Edison Concert Band – Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (Part 1)
0:03:51 Kaiser Wilhelm II – Aufruf an Die Deutschen
0:04:13 Billy Murray & American Quartet – It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary
0:05:48 Stanley Kirkby – It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary
0:06:42 Princes Orchestra – Its a Long Long Way to Tipperary
0:07:59 Penrose and Whitlock – Potsdam (Part 1)
0:08:21 Billy Murray – Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers
0:10:20 Jack Charman – Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts
0:11:48 Penrose and Whitlock – Potsdam (Part 2)
0:12:33 Jack Sheridan – Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser
0:14:47 Jolly Jesters – The Battle That Wasn’t
0:15:27 Eugene Jaudas National Promenade Band – Meadowbrook Rag
0:17:18 Josephus Daniels – Sec. of Navy Daniels. Edison Lab
0:17:35 Folk and Liturgical Choir of Tbilisi – Chona
0:18:30 Arvid Paulson – Karolinas Tråkigheter
0:18:47 Tuskegee Institute Singers – Live A-Humble
0:20:08 Europe’s Society Orchestra – Castle Walk
0:22:34 Mrs. Josephus Daniels – Mrs. Jos. Daniels. Edison Lab (Part 1)
0:22:43 Van Eps Banjo Orchestra – Some Baby
0:25:40 Mrs. Josephus Daniels – Mrs. Jos. Daniels. Edison Lab (Part 2)
0:26:02 United States Marine Band – Crazy Bone Rag
0:28:33 National Promenade Band – Lu Lu
0:30:04 Victor Military Band – Music Box Rag
0:31:27 Six Brown Brothers – That Moanin’ Saxophone Rag
0:33:36 Europe’s Society Orchestra – Castle House Rag
0:36:39 Felix Arndt – From Soup to Nuts
0:38:57 Thomas A. Watson, Assistant to Alexander Graham Bell – the Birth of the Telephone
0:39:05 George Formby Snr – John Willie’s Ragtime Band
0:41:49 Ada Jones and Len Spencer – Si Perkins’ Barn Dance
0:42:11 Ada Jones & Peerless Quartet – Pussy Cat Rag
0:44:06 Fred Duprez – Happy Tho’ Married
0:45:14 Billy Murray – Ragtime Temple Bells
0:46:45 Olly Oakley & Alfred Cammeyer – Chinese Patrol
0:48:21 Pietro Deiro – Hungarian Rag
0:49:41 Aristide Bruant – Aupres De Ma Blonde
0:51:42 Van Eps Banjo Orchestra – Sans Souci
0:52:43 Chiquinha Gonzaga – Sultana
0:54:58 Joan Sawyer’s Persian Garden Orchestra – Bregeiro
0:56:39 Jules Sims – Bagai Sala Que Pochery Moin
0:59:05 Glacier Park Indians – White Dog Song
1:00:14 Geoffrey O’Hara – Navajo Indian Songs (With Drums)
1:00:53 Kitty Berger – Romance From Leclair
1:02:41 Henry Heidelberg & Eugene C Rose Piccolo Duet – Will O’ the Wisp
1:04:14 Cal Stewart – Moving Day at Pumpkin Centre
1:04:41 Helen Clark and Billy Murray – Mrs. Sippi, You’re a Grand Old Lady
1:06:21 Charles Daab – Fairest Rose
1:08:30 Dr. Clarence Penny – Indianola Patrol
1:10:47 Harry Houdini – Description of Stunt
1:11:24 Edison Concert Band – Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (Part 2)
1:12:14 Enrico Caruso – Amor Mio (Ricciardi)
1:15:38 Andrew Carnegie – Speech
1:15:55 Charles G Widdén – Sockerdricka (Swedish Song)
1:16:53 Harry E. Humphrey – Night Before Christmas
1:17:00 Bert Williams – You Can’t Get Away From It
1:18:24 Rev. Madison Clinton Peters and the Edison Mixed Quartet – Rev. 21- 21 to 25;the Gate Ajar for Me
1:20:14 Afro-American Folk Song Singers – The Rain Song
1:23:18 George Formby Sr – Closing Monologue


Elsewhere in 1914

January 1 – The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line in the United States starts services between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, becoming the first airline to provide scheduled passenger services

January 9 – The Phi Beta Sigma fraternity is founded by African American students at Howard University, in Washington, D.C

February 2 – Charlie Chaplin makes his film début, in the comedy short Making a Living

March 10 – Suffragette Mary Richardson damages Velázquez’ painting Rokeby Venus in London’s National Gallery, with a meat chopper

March 16 – Henriette Caillaux, wife of French minister Joseph Caillaux, murders Gaston Calmette, editor of Le Figaro, fearing publication of letters showing she and Caillaux were romantically involved

April 4 – The Komagata Maru sails from India to Canada. Due to Canadian regulations designed to exclude Asian immigrants, the boat is forced to return to Calcutta with all its passengers

April 9 – A misunderstanding involving US Navy sailors in Mexico and army troops loyal to Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta leads to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico

April 20 – The Colorado National Guard attacks a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners in Ludlow, Colorado, killing 24 people

April 21 – 2300 U.S. Navy sailors and Marines from the South Atlantic fleet land in the port city of Veracruz, Mexico, which they will occupy for over six months

June 12 – Ottoman Greeks in Phocaea are massacred by Turkish irregular troops

June 28 – Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Duchess Sophie, in Sarajevo.

June 29 – Anti-Serb riots in Sarajevo and Zagreb break out

July 23 – Austria-Hungary presents Serbia with an unconditional ultimatum.

July 28 – Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia by telegram. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia orders a partial mobilisation against Austria-Hungary.

July 28 – British and French naval forces fail to prevent the ships of the Imperial German Navy Mediterranean Division from reaching the Dardanelles.

August 1 – Germany declares war on Russia, following Russia’s military mobilization in support of Serbia. Germany also begins mobilisation.

August 2 – German troops occupy Luxembourg

August 4 – German troops invade Belgium at 8.02 am. In London the King declares war on Germany for this violation of Belgian neutrality and to defend France

August 5 – The German Army overruns and defeats the Belgians at Liège with the first operational use of Big Bertha (a howitzer).

August 7 – France launches its first attack of the war, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to recover the province of Alsace from Germany, beginning the Battle of the Frontiers.

August 17 – The Battle of Tannenberg begins between German and Russian forces.

August 23 – In its first major action at the Battle of Mons, the British Expeditionary Force holds the German forces, but then begins a month-long fighting Great Retreat to the Marne.

August 24 – Serbian troops defeat the Austro-Hungarian army at the Battle of Cer, marking the first Entente victory of the War.

August 27 – At the Battle of Le Cateau, British, French and Belgian forces make a successful tactical retreat from the German advance.

August 28 – At Heligoland Bight British cruisers under Admiral Beatty sink three German cruisers.

August 30 – At The Battle of Tannenberg, The Russian Second Army is surrounded and defeated.

September 5 – The First Battle of the Marne begins when French 6th Army attacks German forces near to Paris. Over 2 million fight, and a quarter are killed or wounded

September 22 – German submarine U-9 torpedoes three British Royal Navy armoured cruisers, HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue, with the death of more than 1,400 men, in the North Sea.

October 9 – Antwerp (Belgium) falls to German troops.

October 19 – The First Battle of Ypres begins.

October 31 – At The Battle of the Yser, the Belgian army halts the German advance, but with heavy losses

October 31 – The Battle of the Vistula River concludes in Russian victory over German and Austro-Hungarian forces around Warsaw.

November 5 – After the shelling of Russian Black Sea ports, Britain and France declare war on The Ottoman Empire

November 7 – The Japanese and British seize Jiaozhou Bay in China, the base of the German East Asia Squadron at Tsingtao.

December 2 – Austro-Hungarian forces occupy the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

December 19 – The Battle of Kolubara ends, resulting in a decisive Serbian victory over Austria-Hungary.

December 24 – An unofficial, temporary Christmas truce begins, between British and German soldiers on the Western Front.

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