Tunes of Glory - Marches of Two World Wars January 20 2010, 4 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

The twentieth century will be remembered mostly, not for innovations, but the two largest conflicts in world history. The Great War from 1914 to 1918 was to be the “War to End All Wars,” but within 21 years the world again was involved in a terrible clash. The world still is engaged in a horrible conflict. It is, however, music which seems to have the ability to transcend the quarrel. Many marches have been written to memorialize the battles and military units.

The composers seem to be able top represent servicemen and women in not only praise in name but by the irresistible melodies that provide a moving tribute to the spirit of both their service and country.

I will not delve into much background for the marches, but try and list them by composer and in which war they appeared.

The most well known of the famous marches was “Colonel Bogey,” as it was played, whistled and sung throughout both wars and remains to this day one of the world’s most famous marches. Kenneth Alford had a knack of writing great material which has stood the test of time. In 1917, “Voice of the Guns” and the naval marches “On the Quarterdeck” and the “Middy” are but a few of the stirring renditions he composed.

On the other side of the ocean, John Philip Sousa was busy writing a whole host of great marches, and in 1918 added two of the greatest when he wrote “The Field Artillery March” and the march “Solid Men to the Front.”

In Germany and Austria, several marches existed prior to the war, but some of the most popular were the well known “Prussian Glory” by March composer Johann Piefke. The traditional “Parade March #2” was used universally in the German army. Julius Fucik wrote a number of marches. He was a Bohemian (Czech today) who composed the enormously popular “Entry of the Gladiators.” The most popular march, however, was the march by Carl Teike, “Old Comrades,” which remains as one of worlds finest today.

The Second World War marches of Kenneth Alford included two that made their appearance in 1941. “The Army of the Nile,” which quotes Last Post and Lights Out, represents the allied victory in North Africa. The march “Eagle Squadron” quotes the “Star Spangled Banner” and the RAF March Past. The Eagle Squadron was itself formed from a number of American Pilots who joined the RAF prior to the American entry in the war.

Another significant march written for wartime experience is the “British Eighth”. It was dedicated to the British Eight Army in the North African campaign. The American composer Lorenzo Elliot sent the march to General Montgomery who described it is as “a first class march.” One march which perhaps stands out is the march “Arromance” written by Albert Kelley. It is a march which commemorates the D-day Landings. Another march which made its way in the small screen in the highly popular series “Victory at Sea” was the march “Guadalcanal” written for the series by the eminent American Broadway composer Richard Rogers. Kelly also added a great march to the military band repertoire with the march “Arnhem.”

In addition to the fine marches of commemoration there were also two wonderful melodic marches written to honour the veterans.  “The American Legion March” by Charles Parker and the “Royal British Legion March” written by Thomas Bidgood. Bidgood wrote the magnificent “Vimy” march, which has been recorded and re printed several times. It is very interesting to note that there are nine marches titled “The American Legion March” written by various composers as well as Morton Gould’s American Legion Forever. The Royal Canadian Legion of Canada recently adopted a march by distinguished Canadian musician Edwin Barlow of Guelph Ontario.

We are always interested in hearing your comments about your favorite march. Some years ago Norman Smith who wrote several books on March music (March Music Notes) worldwide canvassed several of his correspondents on the world’s most well liked marches. Please let us know your choices!


- Jack Kopstein