Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Between Battles 10: The Power of Music

Can you imagine an ANZAC day parade without a street march led by a military band, or the crisp call of a bugle? Odds are the answer is a resounding no! That’s because music and military bands have become embedded within our military culture to the point that such events would be unimaginable without them. Music is symbolic of its society, and during times of war and hardship, people like to be reminded that order and civility are still possible.

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.
During the First World War some 60 Australian military bands served overseas, practicing when they had time and often performing in the dark with audiences straining to hear them over the sound of gunfire. These bands brought much enjoyment to troops, raising their spirits, reminding them of home, and most importantly distracting them from the horrors and discomfort of war. Whilst each band would have been fondly remembered by the troops, it was arguably the 5th AIF Brigade Band that was most recognised by the allied audiences back home, thanks to a single photograph taken at the ruins of Bapaume on the Western Front in 1917.
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)
This photograph, thought to have been captured by Lieutenant Herbert Baldwin (a British press photographer), circulated throughout the allied forces media both at the front and back home. Arguably one of the most iconic and well-known Australian war photos of its time; it depicted a dire scene.

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.

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