Title: Guide to the Concert and Theatre Programs Collection, First World War, 1914-1918
Date range of collection: 1914-1918
Collection number: Souvenirs 2
Extent: 6 boxes, (1.2 metres).
Repository: Australian War Memorial
Location: Published Collections, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.
Abstract: The Concert and Theatre Programs collection contains hand-drawn and commercially printed programs produced to complement or advertise concerts, plays, musical evenings, recitals, pantomimes and revues. These events were arranged to entertain troops, as well as to raise money, or to mark an occasion like Christmas or New Year. Most programs list the names of cast members. Some contain nominal rolls. The professionally produced programs contain advertising and editorial material. The earliest items are from 1914; the latest is dated 1931, but refers to an event during the war. The programs were produced in many different countries, including England, Australia, France and Egypt.
Provenance: Items for this collection have been transferred to the Australian War Memorial since the First World War and come from a variety of sources.
Accruals: Concert and Theatre programs dating from the First World War are still being added to this collection on a case by case basis.
Access: Open. The collection is accessible in the Research Centre Reading Room on the lower ground floor of the Memorial during the Reading Room opening hours. The opening hours are Monday to Friday from 10 am to 5 pm and on Saturdays from 1pm to 5pm. The Reading Room is closed on Sundays and ACT public holidays. Researchers can contact the Research Centre to plan a visit. To access the collection the user will need to register as a client and agree to the Reading Room’s conditions of use. To contact the Information Services department or to make an appointment to visit the Reading Room call 02 62434315 or send an email to email@example.com
Restrictions on use and reproduction: There are no restrictions on access to this collection although the preferred means of access is via online digital copies rather than physical items. For reproduction and copyright enquiries, contact the Senior Curator, Published and Digitised Collections.
Preferred citation: [title of item], Souvenirs 2, Concert and Theatre Program Collection First World War 1914-1918, Australian War Memorial.
Digital Images: This collection has been digitised and links to the images are available here: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/PUBS002/
Related Collections: Related materials for First World War concert and theatre programs are held at the Australian War Memorial in the following collections:
- Published Collections
- Private Records
- Official Records
Programs or play bills have long been produced to advertise productions and to serve as a reference for the audience during the show. As a class of document, they have survived in great numbers, as people are naturally inclined to collect mementoes of pleasurable occasions.
Theatre programs in the First World War
The programs in this collection include both amateur and professional productions, and give an indication of the shows and concerts a soldier on leave in London or Paris might see, as well as how soldiers at the front, in hospital or travelling on troop ships were entertained. There are also programs from shows held in Australia, mostly connected to fund raising; they are an interesting counterpoint to the programs produced by the troops.
Concert parties and field theatres flourished in the British Army in the First World War. The English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Canadian, New Zealanders all had their groups of performers. By late 1917, in the Australian Imperial Force, "every Division now had its concert party, almost every Brigade had its entertainers, while even the Battalions were beginning to organise troupes which were to be set apart to do nothing more than keep up the spirits of the war-weary men..." (Harvey, 1920, p. 202)
The concerts allowed the soldiers respite from the constant threat and the monotony of the trenches, but also reminded them of what life could be like. Siegfreid Sasson describes a show: ..."It wasn't much; a canvas awning; a few footlights....[the performers] were unconscious, it seemed to me, of the intense impact on their audience - that dim brown moonlit mass of men. Row beyond row, I watched those soldiers, listening so quietly, chins propped on hands, to the songs which epitomized their ... longing for the gaiety and sentiment of life." (quoted in Fuller, 1990, p. 104)
Far from being seen as a luxury (although this was a problem in some quarters for a little while (Fuller, 1990, p. 95)), the idea of entertainment for the troops was supported by the authorities. Amongst the Australians, the field theatres were seen as a necessity; they provided "mental recreation" (Aussie, March 8, 1918, p. 4).
Humour, especially that which spoke directly to the soldiers in the front line, and made fun of their situation, as well as songs to sing along with, were very popular, as were the female impersonators. (Morrow, 1934, p. 105). Sentimentality had its place, but the main aim of the field theatres and concert parties was to send men away happy, laughing, and having felt like they had a good time, some respite from the war.
It is clear from the programs in this collection that there was a wide variety of acts, turns, or performances. Those programs produced by units, as opposed to things organised at Division level, seem to be hilarious, even ribald. Fuller states that "the divisional concert parties were held to a standard of propriety; the brigade and battalion troupes much less so." (Fuller, 1990, p. 107)
Fuller, J G , Troop morale and popular culture in the British and Dominion armies, 1914-1918 (Clarendon Press: Oxford,1990)
Harvey, W J , The Red and White Diamond: authorised history of the Twenty-Fourth Battalion A.I.F (A. McCubbin for the 24th Battalion Association, : Melbourne, )
Morrow, Edgar , Iron in the fire (Angus and Robertson: Sydney, 1934)
Harris, Phillip L.; Australia. Army. Australian Imperial Force (1914-1921) , Aussie : the Australian soldiers' magazine. (A.I.F. Printing Section : "In the Field"], 1918, March, April and June)
Scope and Content
Using the collection: This collection consists of six archive boxes of material, as well as several oversize items, dating from 1914 through to 1931. There are ten series within this collection which are arranged chronologically, by unit or by geographical location. All of these items have been accessioned on the Memorial's collection database and can be found here. Items related to the First World War concert program collection can also be found in other parts of the Memorial’s collection. These include the Anzac Day souvenirs, books, greeting cards, leaflets, menus, postcards and troopship serial collections that are managed by Published Collections. Some of the subjects that are covered in these programs include concert parties, concerts, cinemas, entertainers, entertainment, variety shows, female impersonators, music and theatre.