I found myself whistling this morning, one of those annoying earworms that the night’s revolutions dredged up from my slumber. The tune turned out to be the theme song from Bridge over the River Kwai, which as it turns out is a song called Colonel Bogey’s March, dating from the First World War.
What I thought was interesting was that as I whistled it, my brain returned some alternative lyrics which I learned as a child
Hitler has only got one ball.
That one, is very very small.
Himmler has something similar
And Goebbels has no balls at all.
As it happens, I know exactly where I learned these lyrics – in the school playground in Carlton in the 1980s. That’s pretty strange when you think about it – a primary school aged child learning a dirty song from two generations earlier, regarding a man who lived and died on the other side of the world.
Given the distance in time and space, it’s interesting how prominent the Second World War was in people’s thinking back then. It had finished forty years earlier, but it was always “the war”, as if none of the others that had occurred since then were important. This was even true of my parents, who were of the Vietnam War generation – for them their parents’ war was the key conflict defining the world.
It makes me a little sad to think that the last few people who lived through that time are now dying. When I started working as a paramedic ten years ago it was common to treat old soldiers or their wives. I’d often ask them about where they served and their wartime experiences and they were generally immensely proud of what they’d done and keen to talk. But there are few left these days, and those who are still with us are in their 90s.
For my children, I certainly hope that war becomes more of an abstract concept (although I rather doubt it). But in a way it’s sad that the good things about the War, which in many cases have outlasted the bad, are almost gone. My children will never know the story of that song unless they have an interest in ancient films, although they’ll probably know the tune. That’s the nature of earworms.