Good riddance to bad ditties

Good riddance to bad ditties

When I heard that a verse in a military song with a line about rape had been banned from the approved list that national servicemen have to sing, I thought it was a great start. Ban the whole song and another two dozen or so terrible songs, and we would be on to something.

There are a lot of things I had to become aware of when I entered national service. The main thing I learnt was how important it was to look busy all the time, especially when not doing anything at all, and how to stretch out a simple easy job because it prevented you being assigned more difficult jobs.

The other thing I was not aware of was how much singing there was going to be, and just how terrible the lyrics were.

You have to sing on the way to eat, on the way to training, while sitting on the ground waiting for a lorry to take you somewhere. The reason for this constant rhythmic yelling was that it built up soldierly values, increased camaraderie, and made my instructors happy, because if we were singing, we men would be too preoccupied to perform acts that might undermine our abilities as soldiers, such as thinking.

The songs we were taught back then were of two types.

There were the approved patriotic songs (dull but correct) and the unofficial ones (stupid but fun). It quickly became clear that if nothing else, the approved songs helped us tell which guys were the ones we could not trust: They were the ones who would start singing the approved songs, hoping to score points with the officers. The rest of us preferred to sing the dumb songs, or not sing at all.

When I say they were dumb songs, I mean they were childish and silly.

In my time, Purple Light had no sexual meaning, probably because, like most of the other unofficial songs, it came to us from guys who sang them in the Scouts or National Cadet Corps. I doubt there was much call for M18-rated sex and violence imagery around secondary school campfires. The other tunes we sang were pirated and modified versions of marching songs from other countries.

I googled Purple Light - the song with the offensive verse - and found another verse based on the old joke about not letting one's soap fall on the floor while in the barracks showers. So, if it is any consolation to Aware - the women's group which petitioned for the banning of the song - the rape reference in there is equal opportunity.

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