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A Michael Walsh - UK News Desk Feature



The soldier's song Lili Marlene was the ballad that crossed the trenches and won the hearts of soldiers of both the Allied and Axis armies during World War 2. The lyrics were composed in 1918 by Hans Leip, (22.9.1893 - 6.6.1983), a German infantryman of the Great War. The words were written with feeling shortly before he and his comrades left for the Russian front.

Contrary to pernicious propaganda Lili Marlene was not one person, nor was she a prostitute. Lili Marlene is not in fact a single young lady but two. Lili was Hans Leip's own sweetheart, the daughter of a local grocer. Marlene was a comrade's girlfriend, a young nurse.

Lili Marlene was originally a poem written simply to record the angst of barracks life and the pain felt by a soldier on being separated from his loved one. It was later published in a collection of poetry in 1937 under the title, 'The Song of a Young Sentry', Hans Leip.

The poem's evocative pathos captured the imagination of Norbert Schultze, the popular German composer of operas, musicals, and songs, and in 1938 he set the words to music.

It was no more than mildly popular and had sold just 700 copies when German Forces Radio began broadcasting it to the Afrika Korps in 1941. Its popular singer was the enchanting Lale Anderson. Such was its immediate popularity that Field-Marshall Erwin Rommel requested Radio Belgrade to incorporate the song into their broadcasts, and they duly obliged.

Norbert Schultze was incidentally the composer of the backing music to such German period films (and battle songs) as 'Bombs for England' (Bomben auf Engeland) and Tanks Roll into Africa'. (Panzer Rollen in Afrika!). Indeed he composed many military battle songs and marches, operas and musicals.

After the war the 'liberators' classified Schultze as a 'sympathiser', banned his music, and forbade him his profession. He then worked in heavy construction and later worked as a gardener before eventually resuming life in the song writing disciplines.

British soldiers were roundly condemned when the song caught their imagination and they too enthusiastically sang the German version. It was then that the official BBC Bush House line erroneously described Lili Marlene as 'a German prostitute' in a failed attempt to deflect the song's growing popularity.

The libel hardly dented enthusiasm for the two young German ladies, Lili and Marlene, until J. J. Phillips, a British song publisher berated tommies for singing the German version. "Then why don't you write us some English words?" challenged one mutinous soldier. Soon after both Phillips and songwriter Tommy Connors came up with an English language version.

Forces near-favourite singer Anne Shelton brought instant popularity to the German poem re-born as a sad ballad. Vera Lynne the forces favourite sang it over the BBC and the British Eighth Army quickly adopted it.

Lili Marlene was also a chart buster. An anonymous chorus brought it to No.13 in 1944. It hit the US charts again in 1968 and the Japanese charts in 1986.

There are a number of versions of Lili Marlene in a diversity of languages. It has been translated into 48 languages including French, Russian, Italian, and surprisingly, Hebrew.

This poignant off-the-cuff poem penned in a wistful moment by an eighteen-year old Hamburg-born sentry who pulled the heartstrings of soldiers across the world is by far the most popular wartime song ever recorded.

Lili Marlene

(English Version)

Outside the barracks by the corner light,

I'll always stand, and wait for you at night.

We will create a world for two, I'll wait for you,

The whole night through,

For you Lili Marlene, for you Lili Marlene.

Bugler tonight don't play your call to arms,

I want another evening with your charms;

Soon we will say, goodbye and part,

I'll always keep you in my heart,

With me Lili Marlene, with me Lili Marlene.

Give me a rose to show you really care,

Tie to the stem a lock of golden hair;

Maybe tomorrow you'll feel blue,

But then will come a love that's new -

For you, Lili Marlene, for you, Lili Marlene.

When we are marching in the mud and cold,

And when my pack seems more than I can hold;

My love for you renews my might,

I'm warm again, my pack is light

It's you, Lili Marlene, it's you, Lili Marlene.

Lili Marlene

(German Version)

Vor der Kaserne,

Vor dem grossen Tor

Stand eine Laterne

Und steht sie noch davor

So woll'n wir uns da wieder seh'n

Wie einst Lili Marlene, wie einst Lili Marlene


Unsere beide Schatten

Sah'n wie einer aus

Das wir so lieb uns hatten

Das sah man gleich daraus

Und alle Leute soll'n es seh'n

Wie einst Lili Marlene, wie einst Lili Marlene


Schon rief der Posten,

Sie blasen Zapfenstreich

Das kann drei Tage kosten

Kam'rad, ich komm sogleich

Da sagten wir auf Wiedersehn

Wie gerne wollt ich mit dir geh'n

Mit dir Lili Marlene, wie einst Lili Marlene


Deine Schritte kennt sie,

Deinen zieren Gang

Alle Abend brennt sie,

Doch mich vergaus sie lang

Und sollte mir ein Leids gescheh'n

Wer wird bei der Laterne stehen

Mit dir Lili Marlene, wie einst Lili Marlene


Aus demm stillen Raume

Aus der erde Grund

Hebt mich wie im Traume

Dein verliebte Mund

Wenn sich die spaten Nebel drehn

Werd' ich bei der Laterne steh'n

Wie einst Lili Marlene. wie einst Lili Marlene

A Michael Walsh - UK News Desk Feature

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