“The Warrior Band” – Patriotic Songs and Temperance in the English Band of Hope Branches during the First World War

By Alexandra Esche

On April 29th 1915, members of the Teignmouth Wesleyan Band of Hope gathered in the hall of the local school to conduct their annual concert. Following a couple of speeches detailing this year’s growth in attendance and membership, like every year, the show was effectively stolen by the children performing solos and action songs to an “appreciative audience.”[1] Business as usual, one might think, and yet long-time supporters of the Band of Hope, the popular temperance organization for children and youth, might have been caught off-guard by what they got to hear that night. While some Band of Hope “classics” like the cautionary temperance songs “When I Do Wrong” and “The Two Orphans” did make an appearance, the concert was dominated by a wide choice of patriotic songs. A group of boys sang tales of “Coming Heroes,” the girls reminded the audience of the plight of “Gallant Little Belgium,” and finally the whole choir came together to perform “The Little Soldier” and “A Land of Hope and Glory.” The singing of songs, it should be noted, constituted an essential part of the work of the different Band of Hope branches: Even at informal gatherings and tea parties one would find time for the recital of one of the many temperance-themed songs taken from their impressive corpus. Through the means of song especially the younger generations were to be informed about the vices of alcohol and sign the group’s pledge to live in abstinence. The replacement of this integral part of the Band of Hope’s program with popular war songs, therefore, points to a significant shift in the group’s views on patriotism and temperance taking place during the course of the First World War. This change in attitude may well have had something to do with the growing success and influence of the temperance movement in general. After successful lobbying from the Band of Hope and other temperance organizations,[2] the Intoxicating Liquor Act was passed by Parliament only four weeks after the beginning of the war on the 31st of August 1914 and gave the power to restrict pub opening times to licensing authorities and thereby the state.[3] While these measures were first greeted with rejection and disdain by the majority of the British public,[4] the Band of Hope was increasingly successful in rallying support to its cause by linking its temperance work to the debate on national efficiency in times of war. Towards the end of 1914, the so-called “Signing the Pledge” campaign was started, urging soldiers and those staying at home alike to promise not to drink alcohol for the duration of the war to strengthen the war effort.[5] While taking the pledge had constituted an integral part of the Band of Hope’s work before 1914, it had so far only been taken by the children as part of their initiation into the organization. Cleverly advertised as “the patriotic pledge”,[6] the campaign met with considerable success, especially after King George V himself signed the pledge in April 1915. As an immediate reaction only a month later significant changes were adopted to the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), which included the earlier closing of pubs as well as the watering down of drinks. Finally, a Central Control Board was installed to oversee the national drink provision and enact further measures if necessary.[7] The merging of the temperance cause with the patriotic defence of the country was perfect. The same sentiment soon became apparent in a changing of procedures at the Band of Hope’s events. Not only did donations to war funds become increasingly common, several branches also skipped their annual Christmas tea or other activities to help the war effort.[8] Moreover, as we have seen in Teignmouth, popular war songs now enriched the programs at local concerts, which increasingly finished with the signing of the National Anthem.[9] The last step in this development was constituted by the composition of new songs to be incorporated into the Band of Hope’s official songbook. The revised edition of “Hymns and Songs for the Bands of Hope” from 1919 includes a whole section of “patriotic songs”. The expressive “The Warrior Band”, for example, has the whole Band of Hope going “to the war”.[10] Surrounded by “ranks of death” they hold high “the Tempr’ance Sword” to “free the land for ever” from “the curse of drink” as well as its other enemies. The national struggle and the fight against alcohol were equated to a degree that would have been unimaginable in the years prior to the war. And while the temperance movement’s final goal, the introduction of prohibition, could not be achieved either during or after the war, the legacy of the movement lasted well into the twenty-first century. [1] Teignmouth Wesleyan Band of Hope, in: The Western Times (Exeter, England), Saturday, May 01, 1915, p. 3. [2] Earlier Closing of Public-houses, in: Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (Manchester, England), Friday, August 28, 1914, p. 6. [3] Duncan, Robert: Lord D’Abernon’s “Model Farm:” The Central Control Board’s Carlisle Experiment, in: Social History of Alcohol and Drugs 24.2, 2010, p. 120. [4] Earlier Closing of Public-houses, in: Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (Manchester, England), Friday, August 28, 1914, p. 6. [5] Editorial, in: Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (Manchester, England), Thursday, December 17, 1914, p. 7. [6] Editorial, in: Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (Manchester, England), Thursday, December 17, 1914, p. 7. [7] Duncan, Robert: Lord D’Abernon’s ‘Model Farm’: The Central Control Board’s Carlisle Experiment, in: Social History of Alcohol and Drugs 24.2, 2010, p. 120. [8] South & East Devon News, in: The Western Times (Exeter, England), Friday, December 04, 1914, p. 14; District News, in: Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette (Exeter, England), Friday, December 18, 1914, p. 15. [9] For examples see: District News, in: Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette (Exeter, England), Friday, July 09, 1915, p. 10; Don’t Wait, in: The Western Times (Exeter, England), Friday, July 23, 1915, p. 9; Lynton and Lynmouth, in: The North Devon Journal (Barnstaple, England), Thursday, June 07, 1917, p. 8. [10] Committee of the United Kingdom Band of Hope Union: Hymns and Songs for Bands of Hope, London 1919, p. 179.