Break the News to Mother


Break the News to Mother

Whilst the shot and shell was screeming Upon the battle field

The boys in blue were fighting their noble flag to shield

Came a cry from their brave Captain, look boys our flag is down,

Who’ll volunteer to save it from disgrace.

I will, a young voice shouted, I’ll bring it back or die,

Then sprung into the thickest of the fray,

Saved the flag but gave his young life, all for his country’s sake,

they bought him back and softly heard him say.


Just break the news to Mother; They say there is no other;

Ant tell her not to wait for me, for I’m not coming home.

From a far but noted General had witnessed this brave deed.

“Who saved our flag, Speak up lads, ’twas a noble brave, indeed. “

“There he lies, sir” said the Captain, “he’s sinking very fast”;

then quietly turned away to hide a tear.

The General in a moment knelt down beside the boy

Then gave a cry that touched all hearts that day.

‘Tis my son, my brave young hero! It thought you were at home. “

“Forgive me father, for I ran away.”


“Just break the news to mother….”

Just say there is no other to take the place of mother

And kiss her dear sweet lips for me and break the news to her.


My apologies to the author if I’ve misquoted and misspelled – I’ve just copied the  little pencil written note that I have in my hands:

I found this little handwritten song that was tucked into pile of Mother’s news clippings. I wonder now if they were clippings about grandmother’s family friends and their losses during the first war. This little heart and hand drawn piggy softly watercoloured in, was stuck to it. They seemed to belong together, though the clippings are now separated from the drawing.
It was a heart rendering song, the kind that was meant to rally the troops, give them patriotic fervo, and to keep the home fires kindled and ablaze for the war efforts.

We look at it now and scoff a little at the sentimentality. Neither of mom’s brothers went to the war of 1914-1918 – they were just children still.

During the Gulf war, I sat across the table from my two nephews whom I was just beginning to care for in Mother’s home. They were seventeen and eighteen. I looked at their innocent faces, their fresh young skin and their boisterous well being and thought what a travesty it would be if they were called upon to serve. Cannon fodder. Lives stopped before they have time to live out even a modicum of their potential. And yet, one of my nephews – Lizbet’s boy, at twenty two – was doing exceedingly well in the military and loving it. He was ready for the fray – quite a different fray from that of 1914. He will go to Afghanistan in February.

Life seems to be a continuum. After the war to end all wars, there has been a war somewhere, doggedly continuing in the world, wreaking havoc on the countryside and killing our youth.

And so, the poem, the song, bears a heavy emotional charge. Lizbet talks often about what would happen to her if her tall, brave son were to die in a war.
“I put it out of my mind as much as I can” she said to me the other night, “or else I would go crazy. I don’t know how I could live if I did not know my son was out there in the world, alive and well,”


18 Responses to “Break the News to Mother”

  1. Wynn Adlington Says:

    I am 60 years old and I remember my mother singing this song to us as children. Today, 29th December 2007, for some reason the chorus of the song came to me. I remember asking my mother to write out the words for me. This was never done, however, this morning I decided to look on the internet to see if anyone else knew this song. I found your website. Thank you so much, this song is a happier part of my childhood even though it is such a sad song. Thanks again for doing something my mother forgot to do.

  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for the comment. I found this song very bittersweet. It’s amazing what I am finding amongst my mother’s belongings. I was so glad that I didn’t hasten to chuck everything. There are some treasures…

  3. Holger Terp Says:

    Dear friends,

    This might be one of the oldest peace songs on a grammophone record. It’s from 1899!

    The occation of the song seems to be the Spanish-American war.

    It can be downloaded here:

    The original text:

    Break the News to Mother

    While shot and shell were screaming
    Across the battlefield,
    The boys in blue were fighting,
    Their noble flag to shield.
    Then a cry from our brave captain
    Said, “Boys, the flag is down.
    Who’ll volunteer to save it from disgrace?”
    “I will,” a young boy shouted,
    “I’ll save the flag or die!”
    Then rushed into the thickest of the fray,
    Saved the flag, but gave his young life,
    All for his country’s sake.
    We carried him back and heard him softly say,

    Cho: “Just break the news to Mother —
    She knows how dear I love her —
    And tell her not to wait for me,
    For I’m not coming home.
    Just say there is no other
    Can take the place of Mother,
    Then kiss her dear sweet lips for me,
    And break the news to her.”

    From afar, a noble general
    Had witnessed this brave deed.
    “Who saved the flag? Speak up, boys.
    ‘Twas a noble and brave deed.”
    Then a cry from our own captain said,
    “Sir, he’s sinking fast,”
    Then slowly turned away to hide a tear.
    The general in a moment
    Knelt down beside the boy,
    And gave a cry that touched all hearts that day:
    “‘Tis my son, my brave young hero.
    I thought you safe at home.”
    “Forgive me, father, for I ran away.”

    From the Collected Works of George J. Gaskin, 1899.

    Words and Music by Chas. K. Harris. Arr. by Jos. Clauder.
    Milwaukee, Wis.: Chas. K. Harris, 1897

    Frontpage of the original front cover.

    With kind regards,
    Holger Terp

  4. V Heal Says:

    I was so very happy to find all the lyrics to this song. When I was about 5 years old (about 1950), my grandfather would often entertain me with magic tricks. One day he became tired of “finding” quarters behind my ears & tucked between my toes—I guess he felt it was time to learn something other than play. He spent several minutes trying to impress upon me the importance of studying hard and learning as much as I could. I recall that he was tapping a finger on the side of his head when he said “You can lose everything. They can take away everything you have except for what you hold in your head.” He said he would teach me a song that would always mine & that I would have forever.

    I remember struggling to learn the words and thanks to his patience, to this day I can still sing most of them.

    It was shortly after that time period when my Grandfather moved away. He was one of the few bright spots in my childhood but he left me a lesson and a song to pass along to my children and grandchildren.

    Thank you!

  5. Looking for beauty Says:

    Dear V. Heal
    Thanks for your comment. It’s always good to know I have made a connection with someone through my writing.
    We must be from about the same era. I only had one grandfather (the other died just before my parents were married) and I didn’t have that close a connection with the one I knew. You were lucky to have him and I’m sure you cherish your memories of him. It’s great that the song is a trigger for that.
    All the best

  6. Gordon West Says:

    I remmber this song well, my mother taught it to me I believe it’s origins where
    rooted in the American civil war, cf. the blue and the gray uniforms…this song as with others my Grandfather taught his children, he was also invoved in The Great War ( Sargent James Gilmore, mentioned in dispatches, Lancashire & Yorkshire vollanteers, sniper and messenger… a very humble and modest man,
    he walked to london twice 1932 1934, hunger marches, to sue for work to feed his family, He one day on Christmass Eve, saw a German soldier break his cover to reach out for a small rabbit, they were all starving on both sides, he shot the rabbit and not the man… this was my Grand father, of Irish decent..

    With shot and shell the boys were fightin’ to save their flag and shield,
    Who’ll vollanteer to save us from disgrace,
    I will there cried a young man I’ll save the flag or die,
    so he dived into the thickest of the fray,
    He saved the flag but he lay die-ing upon that Battle field,
    and saddly he did say,
    Just break the news to mother and tell her that I love her,
    And tell her not to wait for me, for I’m not comming home,
    this was sung with an Irish accent, very emotionally phrased..

    this is what I remembered, If there are omitions or mistakes in the text
    I’m sorry but this is how this song came to me I was Born in 1948
    with kind regards one and all gewest…

  7. Gordon West Says:

    sorry just break the news to mother and kiss her sweet lips for me, just break the news to her

  8. clip on hair extensions Says:

    Good day! I know this is somewhat off topic but
    I was wondering if you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my
    comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one? Thanks a lot!

  9. Gordon West Says:

    regretably I’m not able to help in this regard, good luck in your search it’s a little out of my depth, with respects gord.

  10. Ronnie Says:

    My beloved Grangfather used to sign this to us on many a night. It will live with me forever. Ronnie

  11. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Ronnie. I bet that left a lovely lasting impression.

  12. Geoff P Says:

    This song used to be sung by various members of the Rookery Cycling Club back in the late forties/early fifties. It was affectionately known as the 4 wheel brake song.

  13. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Geoff, thanks for commenting. It’s a lovely connection you’ve made with the song.

  14. Patrick McGirr Says:

    I am now 75 and as a child my Dad used recite this as a poem and I am surprised to see it was a song.He use to finish as the father of the dying son saying “Lay him away on the hillside down with the bold and the brave Inscribe his name on the roll of fame in letters of purest gold”Thank you for your enlightenment and the commeents which followed Cheers

  15. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Patrick, Thanks for your comment. I’ve been surprised and heartened by the number of people who have responded to this post. Every time I get a comment, I remember the lovely child-like drawing that I found it on amongst my Mother’s affairs.
    I think our family lost a few young lads in the 1st and 2nd World Wars, like so many.
    Every time I hear war mongering now, I shake my head. Do we never learn?
    Again, thank you.

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