There’s a long, long trail a-winding
Into the land of my dreams.
Where the nightingales are singing
And the white moon beams.
There’s a long, long night of waiting
Until my dreams all come true;
Till the day when I’ll be going down
That long, long trail with you.
This is the memorable chorus of what was one of the most iconic songs of the WW1 era. Like the contemporaneous piece It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, this ballad seemed to capture the mood of the public in WW1 in Britain and later on in the U.S. as well. Tear-jerking in its sentimentality yet somehow not maudlin, it tells of happier times, special places and eventual reunions. People enduring the horrors of the war, whether at the Front or at home, drew comfort and strength from the message. It helped that the tune is very sing-able, too.
Also like Tipperary, Long, Long Trail has nothing to do with the war or anything military; and also like Tipperary it was written before the war. Although it enjoyed great popularity in Britain it was written by two Americans who were at the time seniors at Yale, Stoddard King (1889-1933) and Alonzo ‘Zo’ Elliott (1891-1964).
Many millions of copies of the sheet music were sold, but neither King nor Elliott pursued future success as songwriters.
King branched out to poetry, publishing six volumes, and wrote a daily column for the newspaper in Spokane, Washington up to his untimely death at age 43. You can read an excellent biography of King here.
Zo Elliot became a lawyer and dabbled in music as a hobby. In 1943 he composed the march British Eighth in honor of that unit’s victory over Rommel’s Afrika Korps in WW2. The British army has never included this piece in its repertoires, possibly due to its length, but it is a staple among American high school and college bands. If I could figure out how to transfer from a cassette tape to an mp3 file I would let you listen to a 1986 performance by the Louisiana State University Marching Band which includes my daughter on piccolo, but instead you can listen to a high school honor band performance here.
Unlike Tipperary, Long, Long Trail can’t be a march and so it never made it into the military songbook. Nevertheless it endured for decades in the public consciousness; it was performed by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby in the 1950’s, I saw it performed on the CBS TV show M*A*S*H in the 1970’s and the chorus was still in our Boy Scouts camp songbook as late as 1958.
Click here to listen to a modern performance of Long Long Trail from the finale of the 2014 BBC One television series The Crimson Field, a story about a group of nurses and VAD’s at a Casualty Clearing Station in France.