“The Brave Fireman (Break the News to Mother Gently)”


A fireman, mortally injured while rescuing a child, makes his last request: "Break the news to mother gently, Tell her how her son had died, Tell her that he done his duty...." His family and colleagues grieve but honor his memory


Spaeth (Read _Em and Weep_, pp. 175-176) has another song built around the line "Break the news to mother." The plot, however, is completely different, and involves a soldier boy killed while rescuing a company's battle flag. That piece is by Charles K. Harris - RBW

The Spaeth song is Harris's 1897 rewrite, "Break the News to Mother," of his own "The Brave Fireman." - BS

Randolph's appears to be the only printed version of this piece taken from oral tradition, but it appears to have been found elsewhere. Tim Murphy contacted me about a fragment of the song he heard from his grandmother, Francis Mary Lawlor Skinner, born in 1880 in St. John's, Newfoundland; she later migrated to the United States. Based on Mr. Murphy's comments, it may be that the song was repeated in fire houses. In any case, it was known somewhere in eastern North America. - RBW

Cross references


  1. Randolph 687, "The Brave Fireman" (1 text)
  2. Roud #7371
  3. BI, R687


Alternate titles: “Break the News Gently”
Author: Charles K. Harris
Earliest date: 1891 (sheet music)
Found in: US(So)