Makeshift music in World War I

The Great War epitomized the dark side of the modern, mechanical age, turning warfare into a grinding machine spitting out broken men and women in unprecedented numbers. A theme that emerges over and over from World War I is the attempt of individual soldiers, nurses, doctors, refugees, and others to keep their humanity intact in the face of such horror. One of the ways they did this was through music.

It’s hard to imagine many traditional instruments made it to the front or survived conditions there very long, but people are endlessly creative. The Museum of the Great War in Meaux, France, has these examples of homemade musical instruments used on the Western Front:

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They used helmets, canteens, and scrap wood – along with an impressive understanding of how to lay out the strings and frets – to make music in the midst of war. I like to think it helped them think of better times, past and future, and hold on to their humanity while the world around them fell apart.

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