I wrote this song after a short and very sobering tour round one of the vast military cemeteries in Northern France. There were a lot of Willie McBrides buried there...
Liner notes for "Eric Bogle -- LIVE" (Autogram ALLP-211, 1977)
A song about the waste and futility of war. Pure and simple.
Eric Bogle, liner notes for "Now I'm Easy" (Celtic Music CM 004, 1980).
Please also note Stephen L. Suffet's "follow-up" song, "Willie McBride's Reply."
Lyrics as performed by Eric Bogle & John Munro, "Pumpe", Kiel, D, NDR-FM Broadcast May 25, 1982; transcribed by Manfred Helfert.
This is a song called "No Man's Land"... or "The Green Fields of France" it was known in Ireland...Well, how'd you do, Private Willie McBride,
It's a song that was written about the military cemeteries in Flanders and Northern France. In 1976, my wife and I went to three or four of these military cemeteries and saw all the young soldiers buried there.
And... couple of months later, I wrote a song called "No Man's Land," which is asking questions of a dead soldier...
This song was recorded by Hannes Wader -- but he changed all the words...
I'm sure they'll send me the royalty cheque...
D'you mind if I sit down down here by your graveside?
I'll rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
Been walking all day, Lord, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died "clean,"
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?CHORUS:And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the fife lowly?
Did the rifles fire o'er ye as they lowered ye down?
Did the bugles sing "The Last Post" in chorus?
Did the pipes play the "Floors1 O' The Forest"?
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever nineteen?
Or are you a stranger, without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?
Well, the sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard it's still No Man's Land;
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.
And I can't help but wonder now, Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "the cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it's all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.