Smile, even though you’re…going to war! A tale of two songs and a hymn!

Do you know the song ‘Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag’?  It was sung by soldiers during the First World War, and has flourished as a morale-booster for troops in many wars since.

The Independent recently published the story of what it calls the song’s “colourful, and ultimately tragic, history.”  Shortly after it became a surprise hit and massive money-earner for brothers George and Felix Powell, the article says the brothers went their separate ways. “While George became a pacifist and conscientious objector (and ultimately a Christian Scientist), Felix decided to go and do his bit on the front line, which in his case meant entertaining the troops.”

An initial “amusement and delight” Felix felt at the way soldiers would sing his song on their way into battle didn’t last and he “had a kind of nervous breakdown in the trenches” the Independent says, adding “Indeed the idea of encouraging men with “what’s the use of worrying?” and urging them to “smile, smile, smile” as they prepared to be mown down by machine-gun fire or atomised by shells, must have been horrifying to such a sensitive man as he toured the Western Front in 1917 and 1918.”

This makes the following video of the brothers’ song poignant knowing, as we watch, the horrors of war these men would go on to endure.

It is interesting to note that George penned these cheerily optimistic lyrics well before he became a Christian Scientist.  That juxtaposition of sunshiny optimism while a terrible tragedy is brewing or occurring is at times mistakenly stated as being the Christian Science approach to dealing with life’s challenges. You could call this the head-in-the-sand (mis)interpretation of the healing theology articulated by Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Christian Scientists tend to be peace-loving and peace-pursuing, both through prayer and through whatever practical actions prayer might help them see to take.   However, there is nothing in the teachings of Christian Science to support a rose-tinted optimism in the face of the world’s evils.  Indeed, the habit of looking to the words and healing works of Jesus to gain a clear sense of what real goodness looks like tends to make one very alert to the approach of evil and the need to actively engage in countering it.  The Christian Science Monitor, for instance – published by the Church of Christ, Scientist – was ahead of the curve in recognising and warning of the looming threat of Adolph Hitler. More recently, the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing details of the Srebrenica Massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A step in the direction of the Christian Science approach to dealing with evil is the thought behind another twentieth century song whose lyrics poignantly capture a sense of smiling despite consciously knowing all about the sorrows of life.  Its music was composed by the master comedian/director Charlie Chaplin. Here is a version of “Smile” performed by Michael Jackson, beautifully illustrated by excerpts from Chaplin’s own movie masterpieces.

Christian Science, however, takes one further step beyond smiling despite the honest self-awareness of one’s own woes and the world’s.  It gives a credible explanation of a reason for “smiling” – that is, remaining confident in the face of adversity – irrespective of whatever negatives seem to be crowding into one’s experience.  Namely the presence and power of an all-good God who is not inscrutable but knowable, not distant but accessible.  Better still, it offers practical, but visionary, instructions of how to change storms to calm through grasping that the spiritual basis of being offers a better weather vane by which to gauge what is really going down than can the changing winds of merely material perception.

Does any of that help in war time?  Many soldiers and civilians have found it can.  Accounts of how spiritual reasoning and Christian actions have helped individuals face and overcome both the brutality and privations of war can be found in accounts published in Christian Science magazines about many of the conflicts from the past century. I recall, for instance, being moved by an account of how a Christian Scientist prayed to love a Vietcong soldier about to torture him and found, to his joy, that the “enemy” put down his torture instruments and let the man go.

Many, many more such turnarounds of evil are needed in the world today.  But stereotyping Christian Science as ignoring evil can lead to its casual dismissal by people who would love it and would use it to help others. Such stereotyping, therefore, is unhelpful to humanity, who need and deserve a powerful healing message of how to gain – in words of poetry penned by Mary Baker Eddy, and turned into a hymn – heaven’s “aftersmile” in place of earth’s (too many!) tear drops.

Here is a sweet a cappella version of that hymn, called Mother’s Evening Prayer.


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Categories: Christian Science

Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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2 Comments on “Smile, even though you’re…going to war! A tale of two songs and a hymn!”

  1. November 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    Excellent point: Many, many more such turnarounds of evil are needed in the world today. But stereotyping Christian Science as ignoring evil can lead to its casual dismissal by people who would love it and would use it to help others.
    Mrs. Eddy wrote: Either here or hereafter, suffering or Science must destroy all illusions regarding life and mind, and regenerate material sense and self. (296:6-9)
    So in conclusion, let us ever and freely Give them a cup of cold water in Christ’s name and never fear the consequences …Those ready for the blessing you impart will give thanks. (570:16-18)
    P.S. Will share this backstory post with the USMC Recruits on Sunday in prep for Thanksgiving.


  1. Eliza Doolittle – connecting the dots between the Google/Twitter age and World War 1… | "Oh, Lord, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" - January 4, 2011

    […] an earlier blog, Smile, even though you’re…going to war! I touched on these issues, and on the diverse spiritual journeys of the writers, the Powell […]

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