Friday, March 20, 2009

"God Bless Her" - Echoes of SJI in a WW1 song

Buried on the 348th page of American Air Service historian Edgar S. Gorrell's book Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-1919 (stored at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration - NARA) is a song with some resemblance to "St. James Infirmary." Gorrell assembled a few pages of songs enjoyed by the World War One airmen. These words introduce this section of the document (obviously written by someone with less than expert proficiency on a typewriter):

"One of the pleasantest recollections which the officers of the Ninetieth will carry with them from France back to the States is of the convivial evenings spent in the mess hall after the dinnerplates had been removed, cigarettes and Pierson's cigars lighted, and the cares of the day forgotten. With Conover at the head of the table leading the songs, assisted by Rohrer's dramatic tenor and Lakes melodious bass, the hours passed quickly. Sweethearts gone but not forgotten and the ties which bound us to the Ninetieth were the favorite but by no means the exclusive themes of our songs.

"We were particularly fortunate in having not only a glee club of such high ability, but also writers of such merit as Capt. Schauffler and Harvey Conover proved to be. Yet this collection does not pretend to be comprised of exclusively original songs. We have disregarded all copyright laws both as to words and music. For some of our songs we owe a debt of gratitude to the Ambulance Corps. Others will be recognized as mere naked parodies on well-known college songs. Our object has been merely to make a collection which would in future years refresh our memories of those merry evenings at Souilly and Bethelainville, and incidentally preserve from oblivion the genius of our aviator poets."

The song, "God Bless Her" looks as if it had been cobbled together, perhaps using the refrain of "St. James Infirmary" as its inspiration. This is one of the few concrete references to SJI that precede the 1920s. I am convinced there were many variations about, some of them probably quite daring - but these fell by the wayside, forgotten, after Irving Mills secured the copyright.

Lyrics to "God Bless Her"


Oh she turned me down last summer
For she said she didn't love me anymore;
But now she has written that she'll be my wife
An I've gone and joined the Flying Corps.

She has gone, let her go, God Bless her

She is mine wherever she may be

She may search this wide world over
But she'll never find another like me.

Oh there may come a change in the weather
And there may come a change in the sea.
And there may come a change all over
But there will never come a change in me.

She has gone, let her go, God Bless her.

She is mine wherever she may be

She may search this wide world over
But she'll have to fly to France to catch me.

Oh I've looked at the girls in New York
In London and gay Paris
And there’s one conclusion that I have got
There are other little fishes in the sea.

She has gone, let her go, God Bless her

She is mine wherever she may be

She wanted to marry a tin soldier

But a home-guard I never would be.

Inquiries into the early years of SJI