Bless Em All
James Lally, as “Jimmy Hughes”, Frank Kerslake, as “Frank Lake” & Fred Godfrey [British Library, Performing Right Society (PRS), American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN)]; originally written by Fred Godfrey in 1917; EMI lists as Hughes, Godfrey, Al Stillman & Lake; PRS credits Terry Sullivan with additional lyrics; published UK sheet music credits Hughes & Lake only; new US lyrics by Al Stillman, 1941 — London: Keith Prowse Music, 1940; Sydney: W.H. Paling, 1940; Toronto: Gordon V. Thompson, 1941; New York?: Sam Fox Publishing, 1941.
Note: SOCAN apportions royalty shares as follows: Fred Godfrey (12.5%), Jimmy Hughes (12.5%), Frank Kerslake (12.5%), Al Stillman (12.5%), Sam Fox Publishing (25.0%), Keith Prowse Music (25.0%)
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Fred Godfrey holds the distinction of having written two of the twentieth century’s most famous wartime singalong songs, both icons of their time for generations of English-speaking people: World War One’s Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty and World War Two’s Bless ’Em All.
Although a degree of controversy surrounds the writing of Bless ’Em All, Godfrey always claimed to have come up with the song during World War One while serving with the Royal Naval Air Service. In a letter published in the Daily Mirror on 2 April 1941, in response to a query about the song’s origins, he relates the following story:
In all fairness, however, one must relate the claim of Roy Palmer that “Lewis Winstock’s Chelsea Pensioners told him that the song was current in the army by the last decade of the nineteenth century....It seems...likely that Godfrey was merely writing down a song which was in circulation among servicemen in his day.”1 Palmer’s assertion notwithstanding, there seems no good reason to doubt Godfrey’s story, for several reasons. In the first place — and one admits this is the subjective assessment of the musically untrained — the tune simply does not sound of nineteenth-century vintage; rather, it has all the hallmarks of a typical Music Hall number of its day. As well, it is generally acknowledged that the song became popular with airmen, not soldiers, after the end of World War One, which lends credence to its originating in that branch of the service (the RNAS was merged with the Royal Flying Corps at the beginning of 1918 to form the Royal Air Force). Moreover, Palmer’s dismissive reference to “one Fred Godfrey” — though perhaps understandable given the almost-complete anonymity of British songwriters of the era — hardly accords with Godfrey’s accomplishments in the songwriting line. The Tommies were already lustily singing several of Godfrey’s hits — Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty and Who Were You With Last Night? among them — by the time he found himself in uniform, and he must have been something of a minor celebrity among his fellow “erks,” who would have been familiar with many of his pre-war hits.
During the interwar years, Bless ’Em All continued to enjoy a kind of “underground” popularity in the Royal Air Force. Then, in 1940, as Godfrey relates, two staff writers at Keith Prowse Music, James Lally and Frank Kerslake (under their pseudonyms Jimmy Hughes and Frank Lake), were given the job of cleaning up the RAF’s popular but bawdy Bless ’Em All for general consumption. This they did, and the song was duly published. Strangely, however, although Godfrey is credited as co-author by Britains Performing Right Society, ASCAP, and SOCAN (the US and Canadian equivalents), and in the database of the song’s current publisher, EMI, his name rarely appears on editions of the published sheet music of the song; an exception is the 1961 Australian printing under the title The Long And The Short And The Tall, released in conjunction with the film of the same name. Godfrey is also seldom mentioned in record label credits, though his name does appear on Vera Lynn’s best-selling and much-reissued 1963 Canadian LP “Hits of the Blitz.”
The first artist to put the song on disc was George Formby Jr., Britain’s top Variety and box office film star of the era. He had already recorded a couple of Fred Godfrey songs in 1939, and went into the studio with the newly published song in November 1940. Formby’s biographers Alan Randall and Ray Seaton relate:
The new couplets formed the basis of a second version, called Bless ’Em All No. 2, which Formby recorded in February 1941. As with the first version, however, Godfrey’s name again did not appear in the composing credits of Formby’s Regal Zonophone disc.
Subsequently, Bless ’Em All became a hit around the English-speaking world at war — including in the United States, where Americanized lyrics were supplied by Al Stillman (who would go on to write the words for such great hits as Juke Box Saturday Night, Moments to Remember, No, Not Much!, Chances Are, and Teacher, Teacher). Before long, Bless ’Em All began to be used in films whenever the script called for a group of people to gather around a piano for a singalong, especially if the setting was wartime London.
The first film to use the song, though just a very brief snatch, seems to have been the Royal Air Force quasi-documentary Target For Tonight, released in July 1941. Then, in A Yank In The RAF, starring Tyrone Power and Betty Grable, also released in 1941, it is heard as background music in the swank London nightclub where Power (the Yank in the RAF) goes looking for his former stateside girlfriend Grable. In Confirm Or Deny (1941), starring Don Amerche, Joan Bennett, and Roddy McDowall, the song is sung in a London tube station.
In Captains Of The Clouds (1942), a Technicolour film about hardy Canadian bush pilots going off to war and partly shot on location in Canada, James Cagney and Alan Hale sing and dance a spirited version of Bless ’Em All. Also in 1942, a very young Robert Stack and the rest of his squadron of “Polish” flyers sing Bless ’Em All around a piano on their English airfield in Ernst Lubitch’s To Be Or Not To Be, starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. That same year, the song makes an appearance in the Frank Randle comedy, Somewhere In Camp. In 1944, Bless ’Em All appears in the film version of the Oscar Wilde short story The Canterville Ghost, starring Charles Laughton as the Ghost, and Robert Young, Margaret O'Brien, and Reginald Owen, and in the comedy English Without Tears, starring Michael Wilding and Margaret Rutherford.
Bless ’Em All was also used in two wartime films about the US Marines, who adopted the song as their unofficial anthem. In Guadalcanal Diary (1943), starring Lloyd Nolan, William Bendix, and Anthony Quinn, Bendix and other Marines sing it while digging a gun pit on that infamous island — unusually, they sing the British lyrics. And in Marine Raiders (1944), the song is used as a recurring theme in the scenes set in Australia — at one point, stars Pat O’Brien and Robert Ryan sing it in a Melbourne club. A wartime documentary entitled Tunisian Victory (1944), co-directed by Frank Capra and narrated by Burgess Meredith (among others), also interpolates Bless ’Em All in the soundtrack.
Numerous postwar films about the late conflict used Bless ’Em All to establish atmosphere or to quote the era. In The Captive Heart (1946), a British film set in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany and starring Michael Redgrave, POWs sing Bless ’Em All in their compound. It is heard briefly in the US Army Air Force drama Twelve O’Clock High (1949), starring Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger, and in Chain Lightning (1950), Humphrey Bogart and Eleanor Parker are among the singers gathered around a piano in a wartime London nightclub. Also in 1950, in The Blue Lamp, the famous British police film starring Dirk Bogarde, a drunk serenades a police station with a snatch of the song.
Betrayed (1954), a story set in the German-occupied Netherlands and starring Clark Gable, Lana Turner, and Victor Mature, uses Bless ’Em All to good effect, particularly over the closing credits. Battle Cry (1955), based on the novel by Leon Uris and starring Van Heflin, James Whitmore, Raymond Massey, and Tab Hunter, also uses Bless ’Em All. The song is heard in a 1955 British comedy, Simon And Laura, starring Peter Finch, Kay Kendall, and Ian Carmichael. In The Man Who Never Was (1956), starring Clifton Webb, Gloria Grahame, and Stephen Boyd, it is heard being sung by patrons in a pub, and in The Young Lions (1958), starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin, a group of servicemen sing it in a London club in a scene with Martin. The Long And The Short And The Tall — a gritty 1961 film starring Richard Todd, Laurence Harvey, Richard Harris, and David McCallum about British soldiers fighting the Japanese in the Malayan jungle — borrows Bless ’Em All’s lyrics for its title and, appropriately, uses the song over its opening and closing credits.
The song is also heard in Bless ’Em All, a 1949 comedy starring Hal Monty and Max Bygraves; The Proud And The Profane (1956), starring William Holden and Deborah Kerr; The Colditz Story (1957), starring John Mills and Eric Portman; Desert Mice, a 1959 comedy starring Sidney James; Operation Bullshine (1959), starring Donald Sinden; The Victors (1963), with an all-star international cast that included George Peppard, Melina Mercouri, and Jeanne Moreau; The Thin Red Line (1964), another film about US Marines on Guadalcanal, starring Keir Dullea and Jack Warden; and Till Death Us Do Part (1969), in which it is sung by the film’s star, Warren Mitchell. It has also appeared in television shows, including a 1966 episode of the British series Adam Adamant Lives! entitled “D For Destruction,” where it is sung by Jack May; and in the acclaimed 1974 series about World War Two, The World At War, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, it is used in the episode “It’s A Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma – 1942-1944.”
Bless ’Em All still surfaces in odd places: Paul McCartney, no less, sings a snatch of the song in his 1984 film Give My Regards To Broad Street, and Tommies sing it around a piano (what an original idea!) in the Academy-Award-nominated 2007 film Atonement, starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and Vanessa Redgrave, whose father Michael appeared in a film that used the song more than half a century earlier. Though associated particularly with World War Two, Bless ’Em All was pressed into service, at least on the phonographic front, for later conflicts, including the Korean War (by Oscar Brand on a 1956 LP) and the Vietnam War (by Teresa Brewer on a 1966 album called Songs For Our Fighting Men). The advertising front, too, has adapted Bless ’Em All to its purposes — as in a New Zealand All-Blacks rugby “Captains” TV commercial from 2007.
George Formby Jr. (Regal Zonophone MR‑3394, 1940); reissued on LP “George Formby: The Man With The Ukelele” (World Record Club SH-126, ca. 1970s); reissued on LP “The Shadow Of Colditz” (Axis 6Z/73); reissued on 2-cassette set “Turned Out Nice Again” (EMI ECC 20, 1991); reissued on CD “The Best Of George Formby” (Start Entertainment, 1994); reissued on CD “That Ukelele Man” (Hallmark 30028, 1995); reissued on CD “George Formby: 24 Family Favourites” (Prism Leisure, 2000); reissued on CD “Remember When” (Lexicon 685233, 2004); reissued on CD “The Best Of George Formby” (Pid 611833, 2005); reissed on CD “Wish Me Luck” (Pid 612223, 2005); reissued on CD “The Great ANZACs” (Pid 631151, 2006); reissued on CD “The Great War Songs” (Pid 631244, 2006); reissued on 5-CD set “George Formby, The War And Postwar Years” (JSP CD-1902, 2006); reissued on CD “Songs That Won The War” (Demon 713457, 2007); reissued on 2-CD set “George Formby, 1932-1946: Leaning On A Lamp Post” (Living Era, 2007); reissued on CD “Turned Out Nice Again” (Castle Pulse 665629, 2008); reissued on 5-CD set “101 Songs That Won World War II” (Delta Music, 2009); reissued on 3-CD set “Heroes & Sweethearts: A Salute To The Greatest Wartime Songs” (Union Square 2010); reissued on 2-CD set “We’ll Meet Again: 50 Wartime Favourites” (One Day, 2011); reissued on CD “Bless ’Em All: Humorous Songs From World War II” (Gift of Music, 2012); reissued on 3-CD set “Great Songs From The War Years” (Big 3, 2014); reissued on 3-CD set “Songs From The War Years: A Celebration In Music” (One Day, 2014); reissued on CD “You ’Orrible Lot! Music & Memories Of The National Service Years” (Memory Lane, 2014)
———, Bless ’Em All No. 2 (Regal Zonophone MR-3441 [& other numbers?], 1941); reissued on LP “George Formby And His Ukelele” (World Record Club SH-151); reissued on 5-CD set “George Formby, The War And Postwar Years, Volume 2 of the JSP Compilation” (JSP CD-1902, 2006)
———, recording for ENSA radio program “Let The People Sing” in Aldwych tube station, Nov. 27, 1940; issued on CD “Formby At War” (Grosvenor CDGRS 1224, ca. 1992)
New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (HMV BD-5646, 1940)
The Organ, The Dance Band & Me; Billy Thorburn at the Piano (Parlophone F-1796, 1940)
Jack White & His Band (HMV BD-5646, 1940)
Bertha Willmott (Decca F-7692, 1940); reissued on LP “The World At War” (Decca DVL-6,1973)
Arthur Askey (HMV BD-891, 1941)
Art Kassel & The Castles-in-the-Air (Bluebird 11133, 1941)
Billy Cotton & His Band (Rex 9906, 1941); reissued on CD “The Early War Years” (Pearl, 1997)
Reginald Dixon, in “Dixontime, no. 6” (Regal Zonophone MR-3440, 1941)
The Jesters (Decca 3932-A, 1941)
Lew Stone & His Band (Decca F-7728, 1941)
Barry Wood & The King Sisters; orch. cond. by Leonard Joy (Victor 27407, 1941); reissued on 2-LP set “The Greatest Hits Of The War Yearrs” (Tele House CD-2035, 1974)
Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians; Kenny Gardner & The Lombardo Trio, chorus (Decca 4278-B, 1942)
Royal Air Force Community Singing, in “R.A.F. Choruses” (RAF 9, charity recording for theRAF Benevolent Fund, 1942)
Bing Crosby, from “Kraft Music Hall” radio broadcast, on LP “Der Bingle, Vol. 3” (Spokane 20, 1981); recorded at the NBC studios, Los Angeles, June 1, 1944 or June 15, 1944 (the song was performed on two different shows)
The Henry Hall Dance Orch.; The Coronets, vocal (Columbia 33SX 1067, postwar)
Oscar Brand, with the Roger Wilco Four, on LP “The Wild Blue Yonder” (Elektra EKL-168, 1956); updated Korean War lyrics by anonymous author
———, on LP “Tell It To The Marines” (Elektra EKL-174, 1960)
The Four Sergeants, under the dir. of Frank Raye, on LP “Bawdy Barracks Ballads” (ABC-Paramount ABC-245, 1958)
Ewen MacColl, on LP “Bless ’Em All” (Riverside RLP 12-642, 1958?)
Big Ben Banjo Band, on LP “More Minstrel Melodies” (World Record Club T-604, 1960s?)
Eddie “Piano” Miller, on LP “Honky Tonkin’” (Masterseal MS-34, 1957); reissued on LP ldquo;Honky Tonk Piano” (Palace M-663, early 1960s?); reissued on LP ldquo;Echoes Of Bar-Room” (Plymouth P-12-157, early 1960s?)
Laurence Harvey & The Long & The Short & The Tall Chorus, with Johnny Williams & His Orch. (Columbia 4-42017, 1961)
The Pearly Kings, on LP “Sing Along — With The Pearly Kings At The Skyline Pub” (Arc 601, ca. 1962–63)
Jane Morgan, with orch. arr. and cond. by Charles Albertine, on LP “Jane Morgan Serenades The Victors” (Colpix CP/SCP 460, 1963); also issued as a 45 rpm single (Colpix CP 713, 1963)
Vera Lynn, on LP “Hits Of The Blitz” (Capitol T6041, 1963); reissued in 2-LP set “Vera Lynn 50 Golden Greats” (Capitol Special Products TVLP 9053/4, 1979); reissued on LP “This Is Vera Lynn” (EMI THIS-22, 1980)
———, on LP “Vera Lynn Remembers” (Silver Eagle Records SIV-1120, 1988); reissued on CD “White Cliffs Of Dover” (Elite 513 158-2, 1992)
Patti Kogin (MGM K13164, 1963)
Frank Messina & The Mavericks; Bill Ball, caller [square dance 45] (MacGregor 1013, 1964?)
Carl Tapscott Singers, on LP “Pack Up Your Troubles” (RCA Camden CASX-2527, 1964)
Teresa Brewer, on LP “Songs For Our Fighting Men” (Philips PHM 200-200, 1966)
The NAAFI Singers, with Janet Webb, on LP “Songs That Won The War” (Music For PleasureMFP-1170, 1967); reissued on CD disc & cassette tape “Songs Of Britain” (Evergreen Melodies C84 [disc], E84 [tape], 2002/03 catalogue)
Joe Henderson, on LP “Around The Piano With Joe Henderson And His Friends” (Fontana SFL-13180, 1969)
Crazy Otto, on LP “In A London Pub” (Polydor MIM-1-8309 [2418-027 in UK], 1969)
Tiny Tim, with Harry Roy & His Band (Reprise-aphone RS-2700, 1969, distributed by Pye; as recorded on the David Frost TV Show, and released as a 78 rpm specialty record)
Acker Bilk & The Leon Young String Chorale, on LP “Bless ’Em All…Those Wonderful Songs of World War II” (EMI/Columbia Studio 2 TWO289, 1970)
The Copper Room Orchestra (Mary, Charlie, Les & Tom), on LP “Till We Meet Again At The Harrison” ([private? Canadian pressing] RXS 7204, 1970s?)
Bob Braun, on LP “Lonely, Lonely Town” (WrayCo WLSP-216, 1972); also on 7” single (WrayCo W214, 1972)
Air Transport Command Band and The Pipes & Drums of CFB Ottawa, on LP “RCAF 50” (World Records C-126, 1974)
The Concert Band & Chorus Of The R.A.A.F., directed by Sqd. Ldr. R.A.Y. Mitchell, on LP “30 Smash Hits Of The War Years” (Crest WAR-39/45, 1974)
Alan Randall, on LP “Alan Randall Sings Great Comedy War Songs” (Contour 2870 402, 1974)
Tony Selby (Pye 7N45553, 1975)
“Grandad’s Army”, on LP “Bawdy Barrack-Room Ballads, Volume 2” (Hallmark SHM-886, 1975)
Original London Cast recording of Happy As A Sandbag, on LP (Decca SKL-5217, 1975)
Morriston Orpheus Choir & The Band of H.M. Royal Marines, on LP “A Grand Night For Singing” (Studio 2 Stereo TWOX-1049, 1976)
Max Bygraves, on LP “Max-A-Million: Great Hits Of The Forties” (Pye NSPL-18527, early1980s?); re-issued in 4-LP set “Come Sing Along With Me” (World Artists WA-1540S-3, 1984)
———, on LP “SingaLongaMax” (Music For Pleasure MFP-5581, 1981)
———, on LP “80 All Time Party Favourites” (Polytel 829-739-1, 1986)
———, on LP “SingaLongaWarYears!” (Parkfield PMLP-5001, 1989)
The Goderich Harbouraires, on LP “Precious Men” (World Records WRC1-1307, 1979)
Queen Anne & The Pearly Kings, on LP “At The Pub” (British Records BR-3103, late 1970s?)
The Diamond Accordion Band, on LP “Your Favourite Singalongs, Vol. 2” (Emerald Gem GES-1229, 1980s)
The Massed Military Bands, on LP “The Edinburgh Military Tattoo 1981” (EMI Waverley Records GLN-1026, 1981)
Barbershopper’s Chorus, on LP “The Nova Scotia Tattoo 1982” (World Records WRC1-2358, 1982)
The Central Band Of The Royal Air Force; cond. by Wing Commander J.L. Wallace; with choir, on cassette “Cavalry Of The Clouds” (EMI/HMV Greensleeve TC-ESD 1078004, 1983)
The Combined Band of the Maritime Command, on LP “Royal Canadian Navy - Maritime Command 75th Anniversary, 1910-1985” (World Records WRC1-3973, 1985)
[massed and combined bands], on LP “Canadian Forces Tattoo” (Total TRC 8001, 1985)
The Massed Bands of the Royal Air Force, on LP “Festival of Music ‘86” (Polyphonic PRM-110D, 1986)
The Fredericton Singing War Brides, on CD “The Fredericton Singing War Brides” (OPCD3906, 2006)
Confirm Or Deny (1941); Target For Tonight (1941); A Yank In The RAF (1941); Captains Of The Clouds (1942); Somewhere In Camp (1942); To Be Or Not To Be (1942); Guadalcanal Diary (1943); The Canterville Ghost (1944); English Without Tears (1944); Marine Raiders (1944);Tunisian Victory (1944); Bless ’Em All (1949); Twelve O’Clock High (1949); The Blue Lamp (1950); Chain Lightning (1950); Betrayed (1954); Battle Cry (1955); Simon And Laura (1955); The Man Who Never Was (1956); The Proud And The Profane (1956); The Colditz Story (1957); The Young Lions (1958); Desert Mice (1959); Operation Bullshine (1959); The Long, The Short And The Tall [also known as Jungle Fighters] (1960); The Victors (1963); The Thin Red Line (1964); Till Death Us Do Part (1969); Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984); Atonement (2007)
1 Roy Palmer, What A Lovely War!: British Soldiers Songs
from the Boer War to the Present Day (London: Michael Joseph, 1990),