Patriotic and uplifting melodies intermingling with the dropping of shells and bombs are the sounds that filled the ears of a bandsman during WWI. Soldiers who joined the band would be responsible for boosting the morale of men on the front as well as their families at home through song. According to Philip James, a bandsman whose diary was published in 1996 and titled “The World War I Army Bandsman: A Diary Account by Philip James,” his role had its positives and negatives. In the diary he wrote, “As such I will have no kitchen duty, no guard duty, no terrific hikes and above all no carrying a gun. Sounds unpatriotic but I don’t think I could kill any man no matter how sinful his country.” In the beginning, it sounded like the best deal. However, James was a solider, whether he was a bandsman or not, being a solider came with unrelenting duties. The band rehearsed daily and never performed in the same place for more than two or three days. The traveling was overwhelming. Members of the band still had to complete training in packing packs, bandaging wounds, reading maps, learning topography, digging trenches and latrines, as well as handling and carrying for horses. Even though they weren’t on the front lines, it didn’t mean that they could avoid the tragedies of war. In one account when the band was closer to the action, James recalled, “We had been ordered here to bury the dead which are still remaining here, and there are hundreds of bodies which have been left for weeks without burial. Sanitation quads have been overworked as well as all the chaplains in this respect.” Music was one of the military’s greatest morale-building forces and James, as well as the men who came before and after him, fulfilled the duties to the greatest extent.
Post by Jackie Slanley