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And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

"And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is a song written by Scottish-born Australian singer-songwriter Eric Bogle in 1971.[1][2] The song describes war as futile and gruesome, while criticising those who seek to glorify it. This is exemplified in the song by the account of a young Australian soldier who is maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War.

The song incorporates the melody and a few lines of lyrics of "Waltzing Matilda" at its conclusion. Many cover versions of the song have been performed and recorded.

The song is often praised for its imagery of the devastation at Gallipoli. The protagonist, a drover before the war, loses his legs in the battle and later notes the death of other veterans with time, as younger generations become apathetic to the veterans and their cause.

In May 2001, the Australasian Performing Right Association, as part of its 75th Anniversary celebrations, named "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time.[3]


The song is an account of the memories of an old Australian man, who, as a youngster in 1915, had been recruited into the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and sent to Gallipoli. For "ten weary weeks," he kept himself alive as "around [him] the corpses piled higher". He recalls "that terrible day" ... "in the hell that they called Suvla Bay [they] were butchered like lambs at the slaughter" ... "in that mad world of blood, death and fire".

When the ship carrying the young soldiers departs from Australia the band plays Waltzing Matilda while crowds wave flags and cheer. When the crippled narrator returns, "the legless, the armless, the blind, the insane" are carried down the gangway to the same popular music but the crowd watches in silence and turn their faces away.


The song, written in 1971,[1] has also been interpreted as alluding to the Vietnam War. The song rails against the romanticising of war. As the old man sits on his porch, watching the veterans march past every ANZAC Day, he muses: "The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask myself the same question".


The song was originally eight verses long, but Bogle pared it down to five verses.[1] At the 1974 National Folk Festival in Brisbane, Bogle entered another song in a songwriting competition. Since the first person who performed sang two songs rather than just one, everyone who followed did the same. Thus, Bogle also sang "Matilda", to great acclaim; some expressed consternation when it did not win the competition.[1]

Jane Herivel from the Channel Islands had heard Bogle sing at the festival and requested Bogle to send her a recording. She sang it at a festival in the south of England where June Tabor heard it and later recorded it. Unknown to Bogle, the song became famous in the UK and North America; so when Bogle was in the UK in 1976 he was surprised to be asked to perform at a local folk club on the strength of the song.[1]


The first release of the song was by John Currie on the Australian label M7 in 1975.[4] Cover versions of the song have been performed and recorded by Katie Noonan (Flametree Festival Byron Bay 08), The Irish Rovers, Joan Baez, Priscilla Herdman, Liam Clancy, Martin Curtis, The Dubliners, Ronnie Drew, Danny Doyle, Slim Dusty, The Fenians, Mike Harding, Jolie Holland, Seamus Kennedy, The Langer's Ball, Johnny Logan and Friends, John Allan Cameron, Houghmagandie, John McDermott, Midnight Oil, Christy Moore, Michael Grosvenor Myer (YouTube channel), The Pogues, The Skids, June Tabor, John Williamson, The Bushwackers and the bluegrass band, The Kruger Brothers, Redgum, John Schumann, Tickawinda (on the album "Rosemary Lane"), Orthodox Celts, The Houghton Weavers, Pat Chessell and Bread and Roses. Audrey Auld (on the album Billabong Song), Garrison Keillor has also performed it on his radio show A Prairie Home Companion when ANZAC Day (25 April) has fallen on a Saturday, and has also performed his own adaptation titled "And the Band Played The Star-Spangled Banner". Phil Coulter released a cover on his 2007 album "Timeless Tranquility - 20 Year Celebration".

Critic Robert Christgau wrote of the Pogues' cover that vocalist Shane MacGowan "never lets go of it for a second: he tests the flavour of each word before spitting it out."[5]

American Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Senator Bob Kerrey, who lost half his leg in the war, sang the song to his supporters after being elected to the United States Senate in 1988,[1] and borrowed the first line for the title of his autobiography, When I Was A Young Man: A Memoir.

A French version, quite faithful to the original, was created in 2014 by the duet Ambages : "Et l'orchestre jouait la valse de Mathilde".

Factual inaccuracies

  • The second verse of the song refers to the amphibious assault by Australian troops at Suvla Bay. The landing at Suvla was actually carried out by Irish Soldiers from the 10th Division and British Soldiers from the 11th Division, although Australians were involved in an attempt to break out from the ANZAC lines and link up with the British. Bogle has said that he included the reference to Suvla partly because most Australians connect it with Gallipoli, and partly because it made for an easier rhyme.[1] (Most of the Australian activity at Gallipoli took place around what is now called ANZAC Cove.)
  • The reference to "tin hats" is anachronistic; they were in fact not issued until 1916 (a year after the Gallipoli campaign).[1] Contemporary photographs of ANZAC soldiers at Gallipoli clearly show them wearing their Australian bush hats.
  • The narrator claims to have joined the AIF in 1915. However, it is strongly implied that he is present at the initial landing on 25 April 1915, which would mean he would have left Australia by the end of October 1914.[6]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Casimir, Jon (20 April 2002). "Secret life of Matilda". Music (Sydney Morning Herald). 
  2. ^ ""And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  3. ^ Kruger, Debbie (2 May 2001). "The songs that resonate through the years" (PDF). Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  4. ^ "Secret life of Matilda". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 April 2002. 
  5. ^ "Album: The Pogues: Rum Sodomy and the Lash". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2012-01-04. 
  6. ^ From
    Battles: The Landings at Suvla Bay, 1915 Updated – Sunday, 9 June 2002
    With three fresh divisions of reinforcements promised to arrive in August 1915 by British war minister Lord Kitchener in London) subsequently increased to five), Mediterranean Commander-in-Chief Sir Ian Hamilton began planning a major Allied offensive on the Gallipoli peninsula to coincide with their arrival. At this time the combined British (including Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – the Anzacs) and French force had established two beachheads on the peninsula: the first on the southern tip at Cape Helles, and the second further north at Ari Burnu (shortly afterwards renamed Anzac Cove). Note:Where the ANZAC's landed was called Anzac Cove in 1985.

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