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The Sad Story of Felix Powell

April 10, 2017 , , , , ,

I have a special treat for my gentle readers today. My good digital friend Marjorie Clayman is my guest today.  We probably met on twitter, being a little silly, but over the years I have come to really appreciate Margie’s attitude.  She spends a great deal of her time crafting hand made items of the useable sort, which she donates to those who need it the most at the time.  She is not only a powerhouse of crafty artful blankets and hats, but also is pretty crafty as a wordsmith.  She works in public relations, so words are her stock in trade.  Margie adds her own personal commitment to a better world to all her communications.  She brings us a story about war and the way it leaves lasting impressions.  Without further ado, I bring you Ms Clayman:

Marjorie Clayman, guest author

Marjorie Clayman, guest author

The other day, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the US entering World War I, I attended a commemorative event filled with speakers and musicians. One of the singers sang a song called “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile.” The singer, in a laid back tone of voice common to folk singers, talked about how the song had been written by two brothers. One of the brothers, Felix Powell, performed the song for soldiers all along the WWI front. The song became popular again during the Second World War and resurfaced once more during the Vietnam War.

You are thinking that this is a feel-good story at this point. You might think that even more so when you learn, as I did via this article ( that the brothers submitted the song to a contest as a joke. They thought it was a dud. When they won first price they thought it was hilarious, and Felix decided to take that opportunity to win some fame. What are the chances?

Sadly, however, the story did not end happily for Felix Powell. This is not a story of rags to riches, per se. Rather, this is a story about the humbling and very real impact of gruesome warfare.

When Powell first got to the front lines, he felt really good about himself, as anyone would. His song was hopeful. Cheerful.

“Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, 
And smile, smile, smile, 
While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag, 
Smile, boys, that’s the style. 
What’s the use of worrying? 
It never was worthwhile, so 
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, 
And smile, smile, smile.”

Powell was giving these boys a happy message while they tried to survive, far from home.

As the war dragged on, however, Powell began to see just how tragic trench warfare was. He visited battlefield after battlefield, and it dawned on him that these boys were dying. Thousands of them were dying. They were undertaking the ultimate sacrifice, in fact, and he was strumming away at them asking them to smile smile smile. According to the singer at my concert, as well as the article posted above, Powell began to see the contradiction between his light-hearted message and the world he and these boys were actually living in. He became filled with regret, and he never really was the same.
Powell pursued some other writing opportunities after WWI, but he had a rough time of it. When the Second World War broke out and the song gained popularity with a new generation of fighters, you can imagine him grimacing. Now his song was going to be used to make light of more young men marching towards death.

In 1942, Powell, who had entered his town’s Home Guard, dressed himself in his uniform, took his assigned rifle, and aimed at his heart. It is a shocking mark of how much his experiences had impacted him, and perhaps how much regret had come to overshadow any level of success he had ever enjoyed.

I found this story to be deeply moving. Many entertainers, of course, have gone overseas to try to cheer up the troops. You never really think how that impacts those celebrities, though. How can you perform with joy and verve and cheer when you know that you are trying to raise peoples’ spirits who could be killed on the field? It puts war itself, as well as entertainment tied to war, into a very real, and oft overlooked, perspective.

What do you think?

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Wow.. that’s such a deep and (ultimately painful) story. There are things in life that happen that change us for the better and others for the worse. So sorry we lost Felix


Stevie Wilson (@LAStory)

April 13, 2017

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