On the 28th March 1916 the premiere performance of Hubert Parry`s “Jerusalem” was played at a “Fight for Right” rally. “Fight for Right” was a campaign to support the war effort and to boost national morale. When the First World War broke out in 1914 Germany was the greatest military power in Europe. Its reputation as a ferocious force on the world stage lead to a nationwide call for strong and brave recruits to defeat the might of this formidable foe.
However this was an era characterised by conformity and deference, and the initial call to take “the King`s Shilling” was met with considerable enthusiasm, but after two years of conflict support for the cause was waning. 1916 would become one of the worst years in terms of fatalities, at the Battle of the Somme nearly 20,000 British soldiers died in just one day.
Consequently traditional allegiances to King and Country were loosening. The Government brought in the Military Service Act and it was passed in January 1916. Conscription became law and the penalties for avoiding compulsory military service were harsh. Bertrand Russell was imprisoned for his pacifist stance. A growing sense of demoralisation was seeping into the populace.
The lyrics of “Jerusalem” were written by William Blake. Blake`s words were inspired by John Milton and his desire for national unity in the wake of the English Civil War. The original poem is a plea to return to the spiritual values of a nation scarred by conflict. It was apt that such an emotive example of English verse was utilised to help lift the spirits of a nation. In the aftermath of the Great War more modern political notions were supplanting conformist beliefs, but the British people maintain a deep seated affection for history and this is the reason why Parry`s masterpiece is regarded with such fondness, even today.