A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster
Like most long-time members of a Canadian Legion, I became an oficianardo… afishiando… offishi… fan of pub songs, particularly since most of the vets in the Legions had been stationed in England at least part of the time and brought the songs back with them and sometimes with a war bride tagging along who was able sing them properly. I was going to say ‘English pub songs’ but most of the popular numbers were from all over the British Isles.
I loved the evenings when someone started hammering away on a piano and everyone in the building joined in, even us colonials, although to be honest most of the time the meaning of the words escaped us and we had no idea what we were singing about or why. Therefore it behooves me to try and straighten out the confusion over the meaning of some of the lyrics.
To add to the musical chaos, the vets who came over after the war were not just Englishmen; there were Scots, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, Poles, and half of Europe, so not only did we have to try and interpret the words, we also had to wade through dozens of accents. As I understand it, every third house in the British Isles has its own accent. You will recall ‘enry ‘iggins of My Fair Lady fame could narrow down where some Brit came from within two block of where he or she was born. Since I don’t believe ‘enry made any moves on Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) in the movie, we will not talk about him today or for that matter, ever. I think he had something going with Colonel Pickering – not that there is anything wrong with that. (We must be politically correct)
Hence we shall take a scholarly look at some of the better known pub and musical hall favourites that echoed through the rafters in every Legion in Canada once the boys and gals came home from across the pond.
Let us begin with Just a wee Deoch an Doris – many the night I sang that spirited ditty along with a room full of transplanted Scots and had no idea what the lyrics meant. Had I known we were singing about one more drink to help some inebriated laddie find his way home, I would have finished my hot chocolate and left the building. Can anyone believe I would knowingly condone the partaking of alcoholic beverages for any reason, let alone for some bozo to set out in the wee hours to find his way home? And we know it is a man who is doing the drinking, since the song says he has a wee wifie waiting in a wee but an hen. If you can say, ‘It’s a braw bricht moonlict nicht, then yer a’richt, ye ken.’ I can’t even say that now and it’s 10:00 o’clock in the morning. By the way, what is an a wee but an hen? I don’t know and I don’t think I want to know either. I suspect it isn’t something we can discuss in a family-oriented on-line news site.
Once the evening wore on, we got into the Irish songs, beautiful, sensitive music that had everyone crying. Just the mention of Toora loora loora and the hankies would come out and a half-gallon of Bushmills would disappear within seconds. (Jameson’s if it was a Catholic crowd) Singing about one’s dearly departed mither was, and likely still is, a guaranteed tear-jerker. When an Irishman isn’t fighting he is crying. I think it has something to do with potatoes. Irishmen’s eyes are either filled with tears or black from a recent donnybrook.
(I’m allowed to say that because me granny was Irish once removed. My heritage is English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh, no wonder I am a bit odd)
For obvious reason, no night was ever complete without a half a dozen Dame Vera Lynn songs, although I hated The White Cliffs of Dover. ‘When Jimmy will go to sleep in his own little bed again’ was the signal for every kid in Grade One to turn and smirk at me.
Forgive me, I am going to kill the mood.
Almost all of my old friends from the Legion are gone now, and their songs are slowly disappearing from our lives. Most people today likely have never heard them and if they do sometime in the future they will have no idea why they were so important to the war vets, their families, and to us sentimental old geezers. It’s too bad but the world moves on. I’ll leave you with two favourites from World War Two, both are Vera’s.
Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye
Cheerio, here I go on my way
There are overtones of sadness in the lyrics since Vera was singing the words of some guy shipping out to the front. But there was one song that was too sad for me then and still is fifty years later.
We’ll meet again, don’t know where don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
I hope so, but I wonder…