Eric Bogle’s “Green Fields of France”

World War I in Song

The Douaumont Ossuary, Battle of Verdun memorial in France

STUNNING LOSS: The magnitude of death in World War I is captured at the Douaumont Ossuary, a national memorial in France to the 230,000 men who died in the nearly year-long Battle of Verdun. What is so humbling about this memorial is that the 151-tall monument actually contains the bones of at least 130,000 of the soldiers who perished there, mingled in the tomb from both sides of the conflict. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

World War I gave the world an experience of slaughter unlike anything experienced by humanity to date. The peak of human civilization at that time produced a charnel house of horror, including a single battle in which as many as one million men were killed or wounded. The toll was unimaginable, and for a war that began with so much bluster and celebration on both sides. Killing inventions like the machine gun, the tank, the ocean-going submarine, the airplane, and poison gas all debuted at incredible human cost.

Eric Bogle’s “Green Fields of France,” also known as “No Man’s Land” captures the emotional struggle over the terrible toll of war as the songwriter walks through a military cemetery and reflects at the grave of Willie MacBride. Who was he? What did he experience? Who loved him, and what is he to those people now?

To justify the monumental loss of life World War I (as we know it now) was termed the war to end all wars. Bogle asks Willie MacBride if he believed that cause, then answers:  “The suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame, the killing, the dying, ‘twas all done in vain, For Willie MacBride it all happened again, and again, and again, and again, and again.” What more can be said?


The Fureys and Davey Arthur perform Eric Bogle’s “Green Fields of France”

Version by Dropkick Murphys