November is a poignant month, especially for former enemies in Spain who now live in peace and harmony. It was harmony that brought the two sides together during World War Two for both sides loved the soldier song, Lili Marleen.
The wistful lyrics were composed in 1918 by Hans Leip (1893 – 1983), a German infantryman of the Great War. The words were written shortly before he left for the Russian front.
Lili Marleen is not one but two young ladies. Lili was Hans own sweetheart, the daughter of a local grocer: Marleen a comrade’s girlfriend, a young nurse.
Originally a poem, it was written to record the angst of barracks life and the pain felt by a soldier on being separated from his girlfriend. It was later published in a collection of poetry in 1937 under the title, ‘The Song of a Young Sentry’.
The poem’s pathos caught the imagination of Norbert Schultze, a popular German composer of operas, musicals, songs and military marches. In 1938 he set the words to music.
It had sold just 700 copies when in 1941 Belgrade Soldiers Radio began broadcasting it to the Afrika Korps; its singer the husky-voiced Lale Andersen. Such was its popularity Field-Marshall Erwin Rommel requested Radio Belgrade to incorporate the wistful lament into their broadcasts
British soldiers sang the German version and were condemned for doing so. The BBC described Lili Marleen as a German prostitute in an attempt to deflect the song’s popularity.
J. J. Phillips, a British song publisher berated tommies for singing the German version. “Then why don’t you write us some English words?” challenged a soldier. Soon after both Phillips and songwriter Tommy Connors came up with an English language version.
Forces near-favourite Anne Shelton brought popularity to Lili Marleen; Vera Lynne sang it over the BBC; the British Eighth Army adopted it.
Lili Marleen was also a chart buster. An anonymous chorus brought it to No.13 in 1944. It hit the US charts again in 1968 and the Japanese charts in 1986. It has been translated into 48 languages including French, Russian, Italian, even Hebrew.
This poignant off-the-cuff poem penned in a wistful moment by a twenty-five year old sentry pulled the heartstrings of soldiers across the world. It is the most popular wartime song ever recorded.
Outside the barracks by the corner light,
I’ll always stand, and wait for you at night.
We will create a world for two, I’ll wait for you,
The whole night through,
For you Lili Marleen, for you Lili Marleen.
Bugler tonight don’t play your call to arms,
I want another evening with your charms;
Soon we will say, goodbye and part,
I’ll always keep you in my heart,
With me Lili Marleen, with me Lili Marleen.
Give me a rose to show you really care,
Tie to the stem a lock of golden hair;
Maybe tomorrow you’ll feel blue,
But then will come a love that’s new –
For you, Lili Marleen, for you, Lili Marleen.
When we are marching in the mud and cold,
And when my pack seems more than I can hold;
My love for you renews my might,
I’m warm again, my pack is light
It’s you, Lili Marleen, it’s you, Lili Marleen.