1916 - Words & music by Bennett Scott, Allan James Mills & Fred Godfrey
This was a music hall song that tells the story of three fictional soldiers on the Western Front suffering from homesickness and longing to return to Blight. Blighty is a corruption of a Hindustani word from the days of the Raj, meaning Britain.
Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty is a phrase that became so famous that it entered the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations. Not only a music hall song but a real favourite of the British soldiers on the Western Front. The songs association with World War One is almost iconic.
It was the biggest hit of the early part of Fred Godfrey’s career. A report in the London Times of January 4, 1917 said it was the most popular war-time pantomime song of that winter, and was even sung at the London Opera House by the music hall star Ella Retford with audience participation.
According to a personal communication from Barry Norris, Fred Godfrey’s grandson: “It’s impossible to know who was responsible for what in the writing of most of these songs… Dorothy Ward claimed Godfrey wrote the song by himself… but Godfrey recollected that it had been a collaborative effort with Mills and Scott. At the same time… Mills and Scott owned Star Music Publishing Co. and possibly had their names added to the composing credits of many songs as a quid pro quo for publication.”
Dorothy Ward almost certainly recorded “Blighty” first, but the date she did so is unknown; Florrie Forde recorded her version on October 16, 1916. It was in fact recorded no less than seven times in 1916, including by an Irish regimental band, and remained popular all through the 20s and 30s.
Noël Coward borrowed Blighty for his 1931 stage production Cavalcade, about British life in the first two decades of the twentieth century. In the Academy Award-winning 1933 film version, however, Coward dropped Blighty in favour of another Godfrey song, Take Me Back To Yorkshire , for a scene set on an Edwardian seafront. In his follow-up film This Happy Breed (1944), directed by David Lean, Coward favours Blighty once again, having returning Tommies sing it as the camera pans over the London streets of 1919 from high above in the film’s opening sequence.