7 songs for Remembrance Day

Image shows six album covers from the respective artists listed in the article and a photo of poet nazim hikmet.

The following is a list of songs chosen and posted to facebook by PeaceQuest volunteer Jeff Piker in 2014. We loved the list and thought to share it with you here in 2015.


1) Greenfields of France (by Eric Bogle, 1976)


As we approach Remembrance Day, I’m remembering Canadian soldiers (and others) who died in WW1 (and other wars) by posting on my Facebook page one song about war and peace each day during the week leading up to November 11th.

This is especially important now in Canadian History, because the leaders of our federal government are bent on celebrating ‘The Great War’ (1914-1918) as a way to re-define Canada as a ‘warrior nation’. Listening again to each of these songs will help me to re-consider what war has meant to me as a Canadian and to others in Canada and around the world — and what peace can mean.

This first song was written by Eric Bogle in 1976. He’s a folk musician who was born in Scotland and moved to Australia, where he still lives. With appropriate relevance, the song is about ‘The Great War’. It’s sung here by Dropkick Murphys, a Celtic punk band from the United States.


2) Ballad of Penny Evans (by Steve Goodman, 1971)


Wars are largely fought by men (and boys — who often are forced to be soldiers without their consent). It is usually men who make decisions and plans for nations and armies to go to war. (pace Margaret Thatcher.) The people who profit most from war (politically and financially) are almost always men.

But women are involved in war as well.

Today’s song was written in 1971 by Steve Goodman, the marvelous folk-singer and song-writer from Chicago. Alas he died 30 years ago from leukemia, much too young. In this version he appears as I remember him at Mariposa Folk Festival on Toronto Island in the early 70’s.

3) I Come and Stand at Every Door (by Pete Seeger and Nazim Hikmet, 1972)


Children all around the world learn far more than they deserve to know about the meaning of the war-makers’ term, ‘collateral damage’.

The lyrics for this song were originally written by Turkish poet (and novelist and playwright), Nazim Hikmet — he died in 1963. The melody is from ‘The Great Silkie’ (alt: ‘The Grey Silkie’), a traditional folksong from the Orkney Islands to the north of Scotland. In 1972, Pete Seeger joined words (translated into English) and melody. It’s him singing in this version.


4) Christmas in the Trenches (by John McCutcheon, 1984)


I’ve known for some time about the unofficial ceasefires that took place between German and British soldiers around Christmas 1914, on the western front. I thought of those events as a sweet anecdote in an ugly war, not very meaningful — until a few weeks ago, when I first listened to this song.

Clearly the Christmas truces ‘said’ so much more than that — about what fighting in wars can mean to the people who actually do it — and about what soldiers will sometimes do, despite how they’ve been trained and re-made by their superiors and all they’ve been fed by their warrior cultures. I plan to learn more about these ceasefires.

The song was written in 1984 by US Folk-singer and song-writer, John McCutcheon. He sings it here.

5) Masters Of War (by Bob Dylan,1963)


War is destructive for the lives and livelihoods of so many…but not of everyone.

Bob Dylan wrote the song in 1963. It’s interesting to consider who and what he was talking about: which ‘masters of war’ and which ‘war’? In 1962 the U.S. (under JFK) had increased the number of ‘U.S. advisors’ in Vietnam from 700 to 12,000. Still there was not yet much public attention in North America to a ‘war in Vietnam’.

My guess is that the war Dylan was writing about was the ‘Cold War’. That’s a phrase used first by George Orwell, in an essay in 1945 (‘You and the atomic bomb’), in which he wrote about ‘the peace that is no peace’.

The song is sung here by Odetta — recorded in 1965. She died in 2008.

6) Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream (by Ed McCurdy, 1950)


When I was a kid in high school in Cincinnati in the mid ’50s and starting to pay attention to the idea of ‘peace’, this song gave me energy and hope. I know others of my generation for whom it had the same effect. It was a major anthem for peace work.

Recent anecdote: Last Saturday a friend and some others were handing out white ‘peace poppies’ downtown here in Kingston. Someone came up to them and asked, “Hey, are you allowed to do that?”

Paul Robinson, former Canadian and British army officer and later a military historian, has written that the most obvious domestic result of Canada’s war in Afghanistan has been a “return of militarism not seen in Canada in peacetime since before the First World War.”

Are we allowed to dream of peace anymore? Do we even allow ourselves to do it?

The song was written by US Folk-singer, Ed McCurdy, in 1950 — he died in 2000. This version is sung by Johnny Cash. He recorded it in 2002 — he died the following year.

7) And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda (by Eric Bogle, 1972)


Like the first song, this one is by Eric Bogle, a folk-singer and song-writer from Scotland who moved to Australia in 1969. He wrote it in 1972. Like the first song, this one is about WW1.

The landing at Suvla Bay on the Aegean coast in Aug. 1915 was part of a British, French and Australian effort to break the deadlock of the battle of Gallipoli, against the Turks.

Following in the boot-steps of our neighbours to the south, Canada has adopted the imperial mode of remembering and celebrating ‘The Great War’ (and other wars): hats which venerate the war and the battle (Vimy Ridge) which ‘made us a nation’, the ‘highway of heroes’, dramatic statues of our fighting men — all valour and heroism and self-righteousness — especially in recent years, as our federal government spares no cost to re-define us as a ‘warrior nation’.

I believe this song should be sung at Remembrance Day ceremonies across our country. You can find the lyrics on EricBogle.com

The singer is Liam Clancy. He died in 2009.

Jeff Piker has also compiled a list of over 100 songs about peace and war. You can read the full list here, or listen on his Youtube playlist.