The power of music to convey emotions, to soothe unrest, or even to boost morale has been recognised by military forces around the world. In Australia, bands have been part of our military culture since Federation, though until the formation of the Australian Regular Army (ARA) in 1947, bands were unofficial in structure, drawing on part-time bandsmen whose roles as medics and stretcher-bearers were given priority. During the war years this often made music making on the front difficult as musicians were first and foremost fighting soldiers and as a result bands suffered many casualties. In some instances every single member of a battalion or regimental band was lost as a result of their stretcher-bearing roles, as was the experience of the 3rd Battalion Band at Pozieres.
|Photograph: AWM Collection Caption: The Band of the 21st Battalion practicing beside a dump of salvaged farm implements at Cappy. No identification details were recorded for the men in this group.|
|Photograph: AWM Collection Caption: The Band of the 5th Australian Infantry Brigade, led by Bandmaster Sergeant A Peagam of the 19th Battalion, passing through the Grande Place (Town Square) of Bapaume, playing the 'Victoria March' (19 March 1917)|
After enduring one of France’s worst winters in almost twenty years, advances had been brought to a standstill and hope was being lost for any kind of victory to end the War. Capturing the town of Baupaume from German occupation had been a particular target for some time, as it would allow better access to road networks in use by the Allied forces, however progress had been painfully slow. Finally, after eight and a half months, the Germans began to withdraw on 24 February 1917, and by 17 March Australian forces had claimed the burning town. A media convoy attended the official celebration of the town’s occupation on 19 March 1917, during which time the band of the 5th AIF Brigade, led by bandmaster Sergeant Albert Peagam, marched with pride through the smoke.
The success at Baupaume, as illustrated by this single photograph, was heavily publicised. For audiences back home the photograph became a symbolic reminder of the Australian spirit and it instilled Australian national pride in getting the job done under any condition. But above all the photo renewed hope in both civilians and soldiers alike that a civilized end to the War was possible.
The sad reality however was that the band that marched through the burning town hardly resembled the original 5th AIF Brigade Band. It was essentially a hastily formed new band comprising of members from the 17th, 18th 19th and 20th battalions, and although the photograph was a powerful reminder of national pride, it must also surely symbolize sacrifice.
Australian War memorial, “Bapaume to Bullecourt: The fighting in France, 1917”, https://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2007/04/03/bapaume-to-bullecourt-the-fighting-in-france-1917/
Cartledge, Damon Neil. "Developing Professionals for a Changing World of Work: Identity and Change in the Australian Army Band Corps " RMIT University, 2002.
Holden, Robert. And the Band Played On. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, 2014.