The Girl I Left Behind

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Barbara Anderson

The Girl I Left Behind

Everyone recognizes this tune, but few know the name of the song. The Girl I Left Behind is an ancient English folksong with a history laced with war, famine, naval lore, loneliness associated with military service, and a host of other maladies. Yet there are notes of faith, love, hope, and national pride.

Musicologists believe that the genesis of the song was in Ireland, and it came into English society as long ago as the reign of Queen Elizabeth. For generations, it was the tune used to send soldiers off to war or to send sailors out on sea duty.

Performer: KAY KYSER and his ORCHESTRA
Vocals: Sully Mason
Writer: Lover

There are dozens of variations, many for a single instrument like flute or other woodwinds, violin, and piano. The tune has been quoted at least twice in the classical repertoire, once by the Irishman Hamilton Harty (An Irish Symphony) and again by the American Roy Harris in a large-scale work for chorus and orchestra (A Folksong Symphony, No. 4) that he composed in 1939.

Other iterations have appeared by Civil War era composer Tom Wiggins and World War II bandmaster Glenn Miller.

As for the lyrics, there are also many and from various eras. Like the renditions, the lyrics vary from era to era, so for now we will present only the ones commonly used during and shortly after World War I:

All the dames of France are fond and free
And Flemish lips are really willing
Very soft the maids of Italy
And Spanish eyes are so thrilling

Still, although I bask beneath their smile,
Their charms will fail to bind me
And my heart falls back to Erin’s isle
To the girl I left behind me.

The Girl I Left Behind came to American postcards about 1904 (the date of a common law copyright by Pascal J. Plant of Washington, D. C.).

Plant was born in Canada in 1830. His family resettled in Washington in 1852. Even though he was married, Pascal enlisted for Civil War service in the Union Army’s 5th Militia Infantry formed in Washington in April 1861. Pascal received his United States Naturalized Citizenship papers on February 3, 1865. Pascal and his wife Mary had six children, four sons and two daughters. Among Pascal’s sons was Noah, who distinguished himself as an executive at the Union Pacific Railroad in San Francisco. Mr. Plant died at age 80 in 1911, two months short of his 81st birthday.

The family’s occupational traditions were in the printing business but always in terms of laborers, not owners. Nevertheless, from sketchy public records we have established that early in 1904 the family successfully established a printing business in Washington. They specialized in souvenir pamphlets and postcards.

The range of topics in which Plant dabbled was very narrow, although many of their products were novelty items that would sell in amusement arcades, neighborhood groceries, and public parks. Many of the postcards were romantic or “come along” cards and others were musical or illustrated songs.

Plant was 74 years old when the business started to flourish, but managed with the help of his son, Pascal, Jr., and his daughters to produce high quality items that were very popular. And, since most items published by Plant are quite scarce today, it will take a dedicated and devoted collector to assemble the set of song cards featured here. The Girl I Left Behind Me card has a “No. 31” under the image near the right edge. The number may represent the number of cards in a set, but we are not sure. Whether it is or not will only be discovered over time. The search for others in this set has gone on for years; there never seems to be any discovered in a dealer’s inventory or on Internet auction sites. Currently only two other titles are known: Maryland, My Maryland and Comin’ thru the Rye.

The Plant family resided in Washington during their early years on 9th Street, but later listings indicated a move to Georgia Avenue where they stayed for more than thirty years. No record has been located concerning the address of the business.

The copyright (1904) for this featured card came early in the company’s history. (It is postmarked in Schenectady, New York on August 13, 1906.) Sadly, the P. J. Plant Company was a short-lived enterprise; it was sold sometime in the summer of 1908. Surprisingly, the youngest daughter continued to work for the new owners.

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Fantastic card, and good history and MUSIC ! Let us see more great ones like this !!

The comparison of various regions’ females in the quoted lyrics remind of such later songs as Ricky Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man” and the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”

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