For various reasons I have recently been 're-visiting' the story and history of the working class 'anthem' The Red Flag
It all started over a literary discussion that I was leading on the internet when I was explaining the history of the song to the mostly American members of the group and as I realised that perhaps there were a few British group members that may not have known the history I thought perhaps I could make the song the subject of a blog on here. So here goes.
The song 'The Red Flag' was/ some say still is the anthem of the Labour Party. It was written in 1889 by Jim Connell, an Irishman. Connell originally intended it to be sung to the tune of a pro-Jacobite Robert Burns anthem, "The White Cockade". Clicking on the blog title will take one to a web page set up to celebrate Connell and the song with versions of it sung by Billy Bragg. However it is normally sung to the tune of the German carol "O Tannenbaum" [O Christmas Tree] and usually only the first and last verses and choruses are sung [full version below] Personally I think the penultimate verse is particularly pertinent today! For the 'traditional' version sang to 'Tannenbaum' go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cj5_9mZY7Q&NR=1
The story of the origins of the Red Flag as a revolutionary symbol are varied, and although I always treat information on Wikipedia with caution there is quite a good page here:
This page shows the story of its British origins, which is the one I was always told, that in S.Wales in Merthyr Tydfil [which at the time was the capital of Wales]
Two red flags flown by marchers during the Merthyr riots of 1831 in South Wales were soaked in calf's blood. The red flags of Merthyr became a potent relic following the execution of early trade unionist Dic Penderyn (Richard Lewis) inDic Penderyn is a hero of mine so maybe the subject for another blog.....
August 1831 despite a public campaign to pardon him.
The 'Red Flag' was one of the 'lullabyes' I used to sing to my children [and grandchildren] when babies. They had a very eclectic mix of songs as lullabyes! When my mother was buried her coffin left the church to the tune of the Red Flag which was a proud and fitting moment as a tribute to a true Christian Socialist. I have stood underneath the red flags of the UNITE union when demonstrating for equality for workers.
The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.
Then raise the scarlet standard high. (chorus)
Within its shade we live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow's vaults its hymns were sung
Chicago swells the surging throng.
It waved above our infant might,
When all ahead seemed dark as night;
It witnessed many a deed and vow,
We must not change its colour now.
It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last;
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.
It suits today the weak and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place
To cringe before the rich man's frown,
And haul the sacred emblem down.
With head uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.
Picture above courtesy of http://blogs.fayobserver.com/blog.fayobserver.com/files/4f/4f491d57-ad53-4186-b576-233f9f8c67db.jpeg