Popular Songs

World War 1 inspired many great musicians to create pieces that are still prevalent today. Here are a few of the popular songs that were created during the war, or were inspired by the great war.


Keep the Home-Fires Burning (‘Till the Boys Come Home) by Ivor Novello

Keep the Home-Fires Burning (‘Till the Boys Come Home) is a British patriotic First World War song composed in 1914 by Ivor Novello with words by Lena Guilbert Ford (whose middle name was sometimes printed as “Gilbert”)

The song was published first as “‘Till the Boys Come Home” on 8 October 1914 by Ascherberg, Hopwood and Crew Ltd. in London. A new edition was printed in 1915 with the name Keep the Home-Fires BurningThe song became very popular in the United Kingdom during the war, along with It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

James F. Harrison recorded Keep the Home-Fires Burning in 1915, as did Stanley Kirkby in 1916. Another popular recording was sung by tenor John McCormack in 1917, who was also the first to record It’s a Long Way to Tipperary in 1914. Other versions include one by Frederick J. Wheeler and one by the duet Reed Miller & Frederick Wheeler.

There is a misconception that Ivor Novello’s mother wrote the lyrics for the song (propagated—for example—by patter in recorded performances of British musical comedy duo Hinge and Bracket) but Lena Ford (an American) was a friend and collaborator of Novello, not a blood relation.

(The opening of the melody bears a resemblance to Gustav Holst’s setting of the Christmas Carol “In the Bleak Midwinter”.)

Ivor Novello was only 21 when he wrote the song, which appealed to all families at the outbreak of war with its hopeful message. It was an instant hit. Novello’s war service was less glorious. After a stint in the Royal Navy Air Service, crashing two planes, he enjoyed a long postwar career as an actor, writer and composer of musicals. The Ivor Novello awards are named in his honour. The words of the song are by the American Lena Gilbert Ford, who was divorced and living with her son in London. Both were killed by a German air raid on London in March 1918.


Pack Up Your Troubles by George Henry Powell and Felix Powell

Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile” is the full name of a World War I marching song, published in 1915 in London. It was written by Welsh songwriter George Henry Powell under the pseudonym of “George Asaf”, and set to music by his brother Felix Powell.

It was featured in the American show Her Soldier Boy, which opened in December 1916.

Performers associated with this song include Edward Hamilton, the Victor Military Band, James F. Harrison, Murray Johnson, Reginald Werrenrath, and the Knickerbocker Quartet.

A later play presented by the National Theatre recounts how these music hall stars rescued the song from their rejects pile and re-scored it to win a wartime competition for a marching song. It became very popular, boosting British morale despite the horrors of that war. It was one of a large number of music hall songs aimed at maintaining morale, recruiting for the forces, or defending Britain’s war aims. Another of these songs, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, was so similar in musical structure that the two were sometimes sung side by side.

Snoopy on several occasions listened to the song when he fantasises as a WWI flying ace. In the annual special Schroeder plays a series of WWI songs on his piano, one of which was “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag”. In multiple comics Snoopy can also be seen on his doghouse, singing “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”, “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag” and “Over There”. He then concludes saying “We WWI flying aces are very sentimental.” In another strip, he also questions how can you pack up your troubles in a kit-bag.