Traces of WW1 are still with us, besides Middle-Eastern politics, battlefield artifacts or even the ubiquitous Doughboy statues in the courthouse square.
One of these is the song titled It’s a Long Way to Tipperary (later It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary), most often called simply Tipperary, which was written in a Manchester pub by music hall performer Jack Judge (with help from the publican’s son Harry Williams) on January 30th, 1912 and debuted by Judge the following night.
Written well before the start of the war, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the war, nor is it either patriotic or about anything military, but notwithstanding it became the ‘theme song’ of The British Expeditionary Force in WW1.
Why? Although the melody is bright, lilting and easy to march to, and, as typical of the music hall genre, it has a rollicking sing-a-long chorus, instead it seems to have been a case of being in the right place at the right time.
Tipperary wasn’t a well-known song in 1914, but popular lore says that the 2nd Battalion of The Connaught Rangers was marching to it after their landing at Boulogne on August 13th. The song quickly spread to other bands and in today’s terminology, it went viral. With popularity came serious money and Judge and Williams were eventually sued for plagiarism by the writer of a 1908 ditty promoting Washington state apples. At the trial in 1920 expert witness Victor Herbert’s opinion that the two works were musically dissimilar carried the day and the suit was unsuccessful.
A later connection to the war was the loss of the destroyer HMS Tipperary on June 1st, 1916, which although seriously outgunned, heroically went one-on-one with the German battle cruiser SMS Westfalen at Jutland. Only 13 of Tipperary’s crew survived.
Like some other popular songs of the war era (e.g. Keep the Home Fires Burning), Tipperary speaks of longing for home and loved ones rather than thrashing the evil Hun. It was a hit on the home front, too, a mainstay of music hall acts for the entire war. Here’s a Youtube link to the legendary Irish tenor John McCormick’s recording, one of many in the day (warning: if you’re Irish you may find the lyrics objectionable).
Tipperary found its way across the Atlantic and into our popular culture. Local sports fans are quite familiar with this tune, though they may not know where it came from.
Tipperary lives on as Every True Son of Missouri.
Jack Judge’s son, 35506 Pte. John, 8th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was killed in Mesopotamia on February 15th, 1917, aged 20. He is commemorated on the Basra Memorial to the Missing, which will be the subject of a future post.
Nowadays Tipperary is a regimental quick march of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, a unit formed in 1914 which is still active in the Canadian Forces, and which will also be the subject of a future post.
In 1920 about 90 members of the 1st battalion of The Connaught Rangers, stationed at Jalandhar, India, staged a peaceful protest against martial law in Ireland, which was brutally repressed. This is regarded as the most recent incident of mutiny in the British Army. In 1922 The Rangers were disbanded, along with all of the British regiments that recruited in territory ceded to the Irish Republic.