Music has that amazing ability to transport you back in time and to another place. Whether it is listening to, reading, or watching; music is a powerful way of expressing thoughts and emotions from a different time.
While the music collection here at the Air Force Museum is on the smaller side, we can still learn so much about the music that was played, sung, and listened to during the last 100 years. Most of the collection contains music from pilots who served in the Pacific during World War Two, as well as aviation milestones.
Music was an escape, a way for soldiers and pilots to forget about the horrors they were currently enduring and instead remember past happier occasions and memories of home. Music provided an outlet to help cope with the traumas and stresses that were brought on by war, and one way of achieving this was by using humour.
Musical lyrics, the lyrics or words of a song, give an interesting insight into life during the wars. Many of the lyrics in the collection are parodies of popular songs. The collection contains a parody aptly named An Air Force Farewell, which is sung to the World War II song made popular by Vera Lynn, Bless ‘em All. The parody
‘An Air Force Farewell’
‘Isa Lei – a Fijian Melody’
The collection also contains sheet music. One very cool example is the music Isa Lei, a Fijian melody, and an accompanying foxtrot, written and arranged by Lieutenant A. W. Caten, the Bandmaster from the Fijian Defence Force. The song contains three verses and one chorus in Fijian and with an English translation and was performed by the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) band on its tour in the Pacific during World War Two. The front cover has been signed by members of the RNZAF band, and inside is a handwritten list of the islands in the Pacific the RNZAF band visited during World War Two, including many islands in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia.
‘Flower of the Sky’
Another interesting piece of music is Flower of the Sky, with words and music by Elaine Moody and Jack Maybury. This song was written and composed to celebrate the extraordinary and record-breaking accomplishment of Rotorua born Jean Batten’s solo flight from England to New Zealand in 1936. The song title’s name Flower of the Sky is named after a nickname she received after she became the first woman to fly across the South Atlantic, flying from England to South America in 1935.
‘Chansons de la BBC’
Songbooks, books that contain many song lyrics are also found in the collection. One particularly fascinating songbook is titled, Chansons de la BBC: Les chansons que vous avez entendues à la radio vous sont apportées par vos amis de la R.A.F. This roughly translates to Songs of the BBC: Songs you heard on the radio are brought to you by your friends from the RAF (Royal Air Force). This musical propaganda would have been dropped over France by the RAF during World War Two and would have been an encouragement to listen to the BBC, rather than listen to German radio stations. The songbook contains many different songs referring to Hitler and the Nazis, with each song containing a small coloured illustration, a single melodic tune, and the remaining verses underneath.
Music is a fascinating way to study how people thought and felt and allows us to take a journey back in time.
Guest Blogger – Eleanor King
Eleanor King is based in Christchurch. She has just completed a Post Graduate Diploma in the Information Studies Program of the School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, and is wanting to pursue a career in managing archives. Earlier in 2018, she spent some time working in the Air Force Museum Archives learning some practical archival skills, which included cataloguing and housing out sheet music and lyric collections.