No Man's Land (Eric Bogle song)

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"No Man's Land" (also known as "The Green Fields of France" or "Willie McBride") is a song written in 1976 by Scottish-born folk singer-songwriter Eric Bogle, reflecting on the grave of a young man who died in World War I. Its chorus refers to two famous pieces of military music, "The Last Post" and "The Flowers of the Forest". Its melody, its refrain ("did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly"), and elements of its subject matter (a young man cut down in his prime) are similar to those of "Streets of Laredo", a North American cowboy ballad whose origins can be traced back to an 18th-century English ballad called "The Unfortunate Rake" and the Irish Ballad "Lock Hospital". In 2009 Eric told an audience in Weymouth that he'd read about a girl who had been presented with a copy of the song by then prime minister Tony Blair, who called it "his favourite anti-war poem". According to Eric, the framed copy of the poem was credited to him, but stated that he had been killed in World War I.[1]

It's a song that was written about the military cemeteries in Flanders and Northern France. In 1976, my wife and I went to three or four of these military cemeteries and saw all the young soldiers buried there.

—Eric Bogle[2]

Identity of Willie McBride[edit]

According to the song, the gravestone of the soldier, Willie McBride, says he was 19 years old when he died in 1916. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, there were eight soldiers named "William McBride", and a further six listed as "W. McBride", who died in France or Belgium during World War I but none matches the soldier in the song. Two "William McBrides" and one "W. McBride" died in 1916 but one is commemorated in the Thiepval Memorial and has no gravestone. The other two are buried in the Authuille Military Cemetery but one was aged 21 and the age of the other is unknown. All three were from Irish regiments.[3]

Piet Chielens, coordinator of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium, and organizer of yearly peace concerts in Flanders, once checked all 1,700,000 names that are registered with the Commonwealth War Commission. He found no fewer than ten Privates William McBride.[citation needed] Three of these William McBrides fell in 1916; two were members of an Irish Regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and died more or less in the same spot during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. One was 21, the other 19 years old. The 19-year-old Private William McBride is buried in the Authuille Military Cemetery, near Albert and Beaumont-Hamel, where the Inniskilling Fusilliers were deployed as part of the 29th Division.[3] The 19-year-old Private William McBride can be found at Grave A. 36, near the back of the Cemetery.

The truth may be simpler. "19" and "1916" are an easy rhyme so his real age and date of death may be different.

Cover versions and recordings[edit]

The song (as "The Green Fields of France") was a huge success for The Furey Brothers and Davey Arthur in the 1980s in Ireland and beyond. The melody and words vary somewhat from the Eric Bogle original with some of the Scots phrases replaced (e.g. Did the rifle fire o'er ye? is often replaced by Did they play the death march?). It was also recorded by Dropkick Murphys, who changed the lyrics only slightly. Eric Bogle has repeatedly stated that his own favourite recording of the song is by John McDermott.[citation needed]

Film maker Pete Robertson[4] used the Dropkick Murphys version in his 2008 short film The Green Fields of France.[5][6]

In 2014 The Royal British Legion commissioned Joss Stone and Jeff Beck to record the Official 2014 Poppy Appeal SinglePoppy Appeal song. They chose No Man's Land. The end result was two recordings and a video set against the backdrop of the Tower of London focusing on the Poppies in the Moat installation. This decision caused controversy amongst some including a petition on Change.org due to the fact that it contained only the first two and one half verses, removing all of the anti-war references resulting in the original meaning of the song being obscured.

Cover versions include:

Controversy[edit]

A cover of No Man's Land by Joss Stone featuring Jeff Beck was produced as the Official Poppy Appeal Single for The Royal British Legion. The Poppy Appeal is part of the annual events in the United Kingdom, some British Overseas Territories and a small number of the countries comprising the former British Empire, relating back to the acts in the First World War and subsequent military actions in which serviceman and women from those nations were involved.

The end result was two recordings (one being a Radio edit), and a video set against the backdrop of the Tower of London focusing on the Poppies in the Moat installation.

The cover differed greatly from the original, mainly in that it contained only the lyrics from the first two and a half verses and so omitted the material that contained the anti-war sentiment underlying the song. There were several objections to this version of the song from individuals and organizations on such grounds as:

A petition on Change.org was created with the goal of producing a public apology from the Royal British Legion for the misuse of the song.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Eric Bogle & John Munro - Green Fields of France". YouTube. 2009-08-30. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  2. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  3. ^ a b "Cemetery Details". CWGC. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  4. ^ "Pete Robertson". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  5. ^ "The Green Fields of France". Foggydewproductions.com. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  6. ^ "The Green Fields of France (2009)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  7. ^ "The Official Dramtreeo Homepage". Southernbranch.com. 2001-01-03. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  8. ^ "Music". Cor.cochion.tripod.com. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  9. ^ "No Man's Land by Eric Bogle performed by 907Britt". YouTube. 2010-04-30. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  10. ^ "Chris A Butler Music, Lyrics, Songs, and Videos". Reverbnation.com. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 

External links[edit]