10 Definitive Songs From World War Two

Graham Land

3 mins

10 Aug 2018

Each time in history has its own distinctive music and the Second World War is no exception. The era produced many songs from all over the world, with themes ranging from waiting for a lover’s return to the support of resistance movements to old-fashioned battle marches.

Here is a list of 10 songs that capture a variety of sentiments from different countries involved in World War Two.

1. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

Immensely popular and enduring, this hit was recorded by the American trio the Andrew Sisters and introduced in the Abbott and Costello film Buck Privates, which was released in January 1941, nearly a year before the US entered the war.

2. Don’t let’s be Beastly to the Germans

Noël Coward blended humour and patriotism in this satirical British World War Two gem. It was an immediate favourite of Winston Churchill’s upon the Prime Minister’s first listen, but was banned by the BBC in 1943 due to complaints by survivors of the Luftwaffe, who didn’t feel very humorous about the war.

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3. Katusha

Composed by poet Mikhail Isakovsky and popular composer Matvei Blanter in 1938, this Soviet war song is equal parts peasant folk music, patriotic battle anthem and love song. Its Italian version, Fischia il vento, became one of the most popular songs of the Partisans.

4. Stalin wasn’t Stallin’

Recorded by a capella gospel group Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet (and written by member Robert Wyatt) in 1943, this piece of history praises the Soviet Army and Joseph Stalin’s fight against Nazi Germany. It serves as testament to the fact that during the war America had a favourable view of the Soviet Russia.

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5. Panzerlied

Composed in 1933 by Wehrmacht Oberleutnant Kurt Wiehle, this famous Nazi war anthem was adapted from an older sailor’s song to inspire and support the Tank Force (Panzerwaffe). At the time Germany was secretly building up its arsenal in preparation for war.

6. Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major

Another humorous British entry, this 1939 soldier’s song was popularised by Arthur Askey.

7. Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Based on stories about a wartime chaplain who supposedly uttered the phrase during the attack on Pearl Harbour, this American wartime patriotic anthem was written by Frank Loesser in 1942. Several versions by different artists gained popularity during the war, though in later years the phrase took on a more satirical context.

8. Bella Ciao

This perennial left-wing folk anthem got its start in Italian Partisan resistance and Italian Civil War of 1943–45. It is still being sung to this day all over the world in support of anti-fascism.

9. Le Chant des Partisans

The most popular song of the French Resistance and Free French Forces, this anthem was composed by Anna Marly in London in 1943, inspired by a Russian song (Marly was Russian by birth). She also wrote ‘Une chanson à trois temps’/’The Partisan’, popularised by both Édith Piaf and Leonard Cohen.

10. There’ll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover

Written by Walter Kent and Nat Burton, this hopeful song of peace after the war was popularised by Vera Lynn in 1942, when the outlook was dark. Strangely enough, bluebirds are not indigenous to Europe and so have never been over the white cliffs of Dover.