Who will care for Mother now?

Guest blogger: Sandy Bickerton, University of Queensland

Songs are often powerful tools to communicate a range of the human experience, from joy to heartache, adoration to hatred, love and loss, misfortune and bliss, there is hardly an emotion or situation that has not been put to music. Life is dramatically affected in times of war, and it is no surprise that the songs written about it vary in their reflection.

Who Will Care for Mother Now is one of those real tear-jerkers. It tells the story of a brave young soldier, who while being treated for his wounds overhears the familiar words of his comrades, and is confronted with war's most terrible fate. His life, as well as many other Australians' had been put on hold to do his duty. But when was demanded of him the ultimate sacrifice, "while burning tears ran down his fevered cheeks", he thought of the life he had left behind. The unknown soldier was the "only support of an aged and sick mother for years", and the painful question of her wellbeing was the only thing he could express.

The war had profound impact on all areas of life, causing Australians to re-evaluate meaning and significance and ask the big questions. Part of this re-evaluation was that Australians learned to appreciate music in a different way. An article published in The Queenslander (Brisbane) in October 1915 features a fascinating discussion of the effects of fighting a material struggle requiring "immense material resources" on the "materialistic" outlook people had on life. In particular, the author claims that people were experiencing a growing materialism in their approach to music, and had come to value more highly "a score with forty staves", or "an orchestra with a hundred and forty performers" than appreciating the music itself.1

Such things were not possible during the war, and Australians had to learn again to value music in its purest form. The author says that people had begun "turning to music as a consolation, as a tonic, as a relief from the strain of war". This seems only natural for people wanting to process the horrors that had intruded into their daily lives. But what about those fighting in the war? Did they also use music to cope with war’s horrors?

The answer is yes, but in a completely different way. A letter from a Rockhampton man featured in The Capricornian (Rockhampton) in January 1915 describes that their troopship, on the way to join the navy, was "not stuck for music". They had "a band, an orchestra, and bagpipes".2 Though we would argue the validity of using ‘bagpipes’ and ‘music’ in the same sentence, they clearly enjoyed having music as a major part of their military experience.

Another article gives the history of regimental bands and their usefulness to the military. The Brisbane Courier article (May 1915) comments that they would play "daily programmes of light and lively music" to act as a "wholesome tonic to the community".3

Those who were at war certainly did not want to hear the story of a dying soldier grieving for his mother. The front line was no place for music that, while at home allowed people to grieve and reflect, would there depress spirits and confound the hearts of the soldiers. These war time songs were written not for the soldiers at war, but for Australians at home.

The story of this song describes the young man as brave and noble, accepting his fate with dignity and patriotic valour. The moderate and expressive tempo of the song is a nice change to the typical march style. The chording is as simple as it can be, and the song takes the shape of a traditional hymn. The emotive power of the lyrics and melody mean that the manuscript needs no evocative imagery.

Who Will Care For Mother Now

Vocals: Alexander Bickerton

Guitar: Alexander Bickerton

Production: Callum Gibson

Lyrics:

All around to me seems darkness, tell me comrades is this death?

Ah! How well I know your answer! To my fate I meekly bow,

If you’ll tell me one thing truly, who will care for mother now?

Who will comfort her in sorrow? Who will dry the falling tear?

Gently smooth her wrinkled forehead, who will whisper words of cheer?

Even now I think I see her kneeling praying for me,

How can I leave her in her anguish? Who will care for mother now?

Let this knapsack be my pillow and my mantle be the sky

Hasten comrades to the battle, I will like a soldier die.

Soon with angels I’ll be marching with bright laurels on my brow.

I have for my country fallen, who will care for mother now?

References:

1. The Queenslander (Brisbane) Saturday October 30, 1915. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/22302417?searchTerm=music&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland|||l-category=Article|||l-title=42|||l-decade=191|||l-month=10|||l-year=1915|||sortby=dateDesc

2. The Queenslander (Brisbane) Saturday October 30, 1915.http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/22302417?searchTerm=music&searchLimits=l-state=Queensland|||l-category=Article|||l-title=42|||l-decade=191|||l-month=10|||l-year=1915|||sortby=dateDesc

3. The Capricornian (Rockhampton) Saturday January 2, 1915. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/69392256?searchTerm=world%20war%201%20music&searchLimits=l-decade=191|||sortby=dateAsc|||l-category=Article|||l-year=1915|||l-state=Queensland

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Beautiful and sensitive treatment of the music, and interesting information on the role of music in society.

I clicked on the link to listen to the recording of Alexander Bickerton singing and playing this song and it came up with an error code "404" missing page. Can you help me find this page?