“Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile” is the full name of a World War I marching song. It was published in 1915 in London and was written by George Henry Powell who used the pseudonym of “George Asaf”. His brother Felix Powell set it to music.

A play presented by the National Theatre recounts how these music hall stars rescued the song from their rejects pile and re-scored it to win a wartime competition for a marching song. It became very popular, boosting British morale despite the horrors of the war. It was one of a large number of music hall songs aimed at maintaining morale, recruiting for the forces and defending Britain’s war aims.

In a sense this song became a “viral” hit of its time. It became one of the most iconic songs of WW1 due to its simplicity. For the soldiers the lyrics were particularly relevant and they would easily relate to them.

Whereas today we download music, back then sheet music was the way to access a song. People would then have to create the music themselves – whether it was soldiers at the front or in homes back in Britain. The sight of people gathered around a piano singing this and many other songs was commonplace around the time of the war.

The combination of George’s lyrics and Felix’s skill on a keyboard had already made them music hall favourites (even before their most famous hit).  But “Pack Up Your Troubles” took them to another level of fame, with the song being translated into around a dozen languages – including German.

 

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