It’s not only men in uniform …

Today’s Remembrance Day in Britain: the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The big services will be held this coming Sunday but today’s the real day, and there was two minutes’ silence at 11.00 this morning (the eleventh hour). I was on a bus at the time but I did remember, and while I was thinking about it all I was suddenly reminded of a song I loved many years ago, and haven’t heard since – well, since cassette tapes unravelled and cassette players died, whenever that was. In the next ten minutes I also managed to remember the name of the singer-songwriter (Judy Small) and most of the words for two of her war-and-peace-related songs. (Well, that’s probably the best use of a bus journey – remembering stuff in comparative tranquility.) ¬†And when I got home again I googled her, as you do, and – oh joy! – I found her website and I’ve now downloaded the original album, the one which was lost in the mists of cassette meltdown.

The two songs I remembered are ‘Mothers, Daughters, Wives’ and ‘Lest We’: it’s the latter that contains the line “It’s not only men in uniform who pay the price of war”, but here are the lyrics for the first one.

Mothers, Daughters, Wives: lyrics by Judy Small

The first time it was fathers,

The last time it was sons

And in between your husbands

Marched away with drums and guns.

And you never thought to question.

You just went on with your lives.

Cause all they taught you who to be,

Was mothers, daughters, wives.

You can only just remember

The tears your mother shed

As they sat and read their papers

Through the lists and lists of dead.

And the gold frames held the photographs

That mothers kissed each night.

And the door frames held the shocked

And silent strangers from the fight.

It was twenty-one years later,

With children of your own.

The trumpets sounded once again,

And the soldier boys were gone.

And you drove their trucks and made their guns

And tended to their wounds.

And at night you kissed their photographs

And prayed for safe returns.

And after it was over

You had to learn again

To be just wives and mothers,

When you’d done the work of men.

So you worked to help the needy

And you never trod on toes.

And the photos on the pianos

Struck a happy family pose.

Then your daughters grew to women

And your little boys to men.

And you prayed that you were dreaming

When the call came up again.

But you proudly smiled and held your tears

As they bravely waved goodbye.

And the photos on the mantel pieces

Always made you cry.

And now you’re getting older

And in time the photos fade.

And in widowhood you sit back

And reflect on the parade.

Of the passing of your memories

As your daughters change their lives.

Seeing more to our existence

Than just mothers, daughters, wives…

I haven’t been able to find video of Judy Small herself singing this, but here’s a group who do it well, and if you’re going to watch this you might, I warn you, need a hanky to hand, it’s a very moving song and even more so when it’s sung than when you read the lyrics.

And iTunes will sell you her individual songs, so you could also download “Lest We” if you want to. I hope you might – she’s a truly terrific singer of unusually powerful songs. Think Eric Bogle’s “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, only more so. This is the link to the album, Natural Selection.

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