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Over There
The story of America's most popular WW1 song

The vintage recordings available from this page are in RealAudio format

George M CohanIn 1917, George M Cohan composed his greatest hit song. America had just entered the war. The story goes that Cohan (pictured left) was travelling by train from New Rochelle into New York, when the headlines in the papers being read by everyone on the train gave him inspiration:

 "I read those war headlines, and I got to thinking and humming to myself, and for a minute, I thought I was going to dance. I was all finished with both the chorus and the verse by the time I got to town, and I also had a title." 

Over there by Nora Bayes
Click here for a RealAudio version of the recording by Nora Bayes 

The title was "Over There". It had its first public performance by a singer called Charles King in the New Amsterdam Theater at a Red Cross Benefit concert; a recording by the hugely popular singer Nora Bayes made it a national hit. It was recorded dozens of times - notably by vaudeville star Billy Murray, and (more weirdly) by the opera singer Enrico Caruso.

It was still a time of innocence, the Doughboys were eager to march to war, but as yet had experienced none of the horrors. Enthusiasm was the order of the day and the success of Over There reflected that, and was a potent weapon for those organising the US Army Recruitment Drive. Cohan's contribution to that war effort was belatedly recognised when he awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honour in 1940. He died in 1942 aged 64. 

Over There

Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run,
On the run, on the run.
Hear them calling, you and me,
Every son of liberty.
Hurry right away,
No delay, no delay,
Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad.
Tell your sweetheart not pine,
To be proud her boy's in line.


Johnnie, get your gun,
Get your gun, get your gun,
Johnnie show the Hun
Who's a son of a gun.
Hoist the flag and let her fly,
Yankee Doodle do or die.
Pack your little kit,
Show your grit, do your bit.
Yankee Doodle fill the ranks,
From the towns and the tanks.
Make your mother proud of you,
And the old Red, White and Blue.

(chorus - twice)

Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there--
That the Yanks are coming,
The Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming
So prepare, say a pray'r,
Send the word, send the word to beware.
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over
Over there.

You can also hear a short midi version of the song
Listen to the midi version of Over there

Read about one of Britain's most popular wartime songs
Keep the Home Fires Burning

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Aftermath - when the boys came home

Sunday 12 February 2006