“Break the News to Mother”


"While shot and shell were screaming Across the battlefield, The boys in blue were fighting, Their noble flag to shield." The flag falls. A boy volunteers and rescues the flag; he dies asking that someone "break the news to mother"


Charles K Harris wrote "The Brave Fireman" in 1891. He rewrote it as "Break the News to Mother" in 1897.

Brett Page in "Writing for Vaudeville" quotes Harris: "When Gillette's war plays, 'Held by the Enemy' and 'Secret Service' caught the national eye, I caught the national ear with 'Just Break the News to Mother.'"

Realist playwright Gillette's "Held by the Enemy" was a hit in 1886; "Secret Service" opened in New York October 5, 1896 and ran for a year. Both are set in the Civil War.

Harris wrote "Just Break the News to Mother" in 1897 and it became a big hit the following year with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.

It became a hit again in 1917 when the World War I field uniform was no longer blue; in fact, blue uniforms were being phased out by 1898.

Harris's text can be found on the Mudcat Cafe site - BS

Cross references


  1. Greenleaf/Mansfield 179, "While the Boys in Blue Were Fighting" (2 texts)
  2. Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 175-176, "Break the News to Mother" (1 text, 1 tune).
  3. Roud #4322
  4. BI, GrMa179


Author: Charles K. Harris
Earliest date: 1897 (sheet music)
Found in: Canada(Newf)