“I'll Return, Mother Darling, to You”


"A mother was saying good-bye to her boy, Who was ready to start for the war." She asks if they are parting forever. He promises to return "When the roses of springtime are blooming." Eventually the boy returns and declares he will never more part fromher


The cover of the sheet music to this makes the mother look truly ancient; presumably the idea was to give the impression that the boy was her last son. Since the song was written in 1915, clearly the war is World War I. In a proper folk song, he probably would not have come back, but this item is too cheery to note the millions of casualties, or the many soldiers who came home blind, brain damaged, or missing one or more limbs.

Often not even the bodies returned home. John Keegan, _The First World War_, Alfred A. Knopf, 1999, pp. 421-422, notes, "Few Russian or Turkish soldiers were ever decentrly interred andmany German and Austrian soldiers killed on the shifting battlefields of the Eastern Front imply returned to earth.... Of the British Empire's million dead, most killed in France and Belgium, the bodies of over 500,000 were never to be found or, if found, not identified. a similar proportion of the 1,700,000 Frenh war dead had also disappeared."

Keegan, p. 423, "To the million dead of the British Empire and the 1,700,000 French dead, we must add 1,500,000 soldiers of the Habsburg Empire who did not return, two million Germans, 460,000 Italians, 1,700,000 Russians and many hundreds of thousands of Turks; their numbers were never counted.... Male mortality exceeded normal expectations, between 1914 and 1918, seven to eightfold in Britain, and tenfold in France, in which 17 per cent of those who served were killed.... [M]en who were between 19 and 22 when the ware broke out... were reduced by 35-37 per cent." - RBW

James L. Stokesbury, _A Short History of World War I_, Morrow, 1981, makes the figures even more grim. On p. 310, he calculates, "All the Allies together mobilized a total of just over 42 million men. They counted as casualties those who had been killed or died while in service, wounded, prisoners, and mising. The total of these was slightly more than 22 million, or about 52 percent.... Russia... had mobilied 12 million men and had 9,150,000 casualties, or 76 percent. The British Empire had mobilized 8,904,000 and suffered more than 3 million casualties, about 36%. Italy had 39 percentlosses among her 5.5 million servicemen. France, by contrast, had put under arms half a million fewer than the British empire, 8,400,000, but had a far higher ratio of losses, over 6 million, or 73 percent, the highest of any of the surviving states." (Russia, of course, had collapsed under the strain, hence the distinction between non-survivors and survivors.) Stokesbury calculates American casualties as a relatively trivial 8%, and that on a relatively small force of 4,355,000 men.

Stokesbury, p. 310, "The Central Powers sacrificed as many men losing the war as the Allies did winning it. Of 23 million men mobilized they had 15 million casualties, 15 more than the Allies. Germany lost more than 7 million of her 11 million fighting men. The worst record for the entire war was Austria-Hungary's, for she mobilized 7,800,000 and lost 7 million of them, an astonishing 90 percent."

Stokesbury, p. 309, notes that the was was estimated to have cost $337,980,579,560 -- and that's in 1920 dollars!

Bottom line: A million and a half British mothers had to face either losing a son or having him come back permanently maimed. - RBW


  1. Dean, p. 113, "I'll Return, Mother Darling, to You" (1 text)
  2. Roud #21719
  3. BI, Dean113A


Author: Words: Casper Nathan / Music: E. Clinton Keithley (1880-1955)
Earliest date: 1915 (sheet music copyrighted)
Found in: US(MW)