And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is a song written by Scottish-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971.
After travelling throughout rural Australia, a fifteen year old lad is sent off to WWI amid cheering, patriotic crowds. On arrival in Europe, he is immediately confronted with fierce military action in the Gallipoli Campaign and fights only ten weeks before being seriously wounded. He awakes in a hospital to discover he has lost both legs from a shell explosion and subsequently falls into a depression. Returning to Australia with other wounded and maimed veterans, he gives thanks that there is no-one to welcome him home while noticing how sickened the crowd was at their collective state. Years later, he attends successive war memorial services watching his now old fellow brothers in arms proudly marching. The younger onlookers don’t know the history and he feels his physical, mental and psychological suffering was all for nothing.
The song closes poignantly with a lyrical and melodic reference to the famous 1895 Australian folk song by poet Banjo Patterson, Waltzing Matilda.
A pausing Australian ode to the horrors and complexities of war and achieved without virulent anti-service undertones, its message is appreciated across the Anglosphere whether by an Irish busker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixe_iZYN7p8 or by the composer himself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnFzCmAyOp8.
But for me, the most moving and halting performance was by a United States senator during an otherwise jubilant campaign victory speech. A veteran himself, he also lost a leg in battle.
Watch him perform here and especially witness the faces in the crowd change as the gravity of the lyrics rest on them:
If you are an Anglo-Celt or live in the Anglosphere, this is our shared art and history.