Meaning Behind the World War I Song 'Over There'

Infantry Running with Tank
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The song "Over There" was one of the most famous songs of World War I. "Over There" proved to be an inspiration both to the young men who were being sent to fight the war as well as to those on the home front who worried about their loved ones.

The Meaning Behind the Lyrics

On the morning of April 6, 1917, newspaper headlines across America announced the news that the United States had declared war on Germany. While most people who read the newspaper headlines that morning tried to comprehend how their lives were going to change, one man started humming. That may seem like an odd reaction to most people, but not for George M. Cohan.

George Cohan was an actor, singer, dancer, songwriter, playwright, and Broadway producer who had composed hundreds of songs, including such famous songs as “You're a Grand Old Flag,” “Mary's a Grand Old Name,” "Life's a Funny Proposition After All," “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

So it is perhaps not completely surprising that Cohan's reaction to reading the headlines that morning was to hum, but few might have expected Cohan's humming to be the start of a very popular song.

Cohan continued to hum all morning and soon began to compose a few lyrics. By the time Cohan arrived at work that morning, he already had the verses, chorus, tune, and title of what became the very popular "Over There."

"Over There" was an instant success, selling over 2 million copies by the end of the war. Perhaps the most popular version of "Over There" was sung by Nora Bayes, but Enrico Caruso and Billy Murray sang beautiful renditions as well.

The song "Over There" is about the "Yanks" (the Americans) going "over there" (across the Atlantic) to help fight the "Huns" (what the Americans called the Germans at the time) during World War I.

In 1936, Cohan was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for writing the song, and it experienced a revival in World War II when the United States again faced Germany in war.

Lyrics to 'Over There'

Johnnie get your gun, get your gun, get your gun
Take it on the run, on the run, on the run
Hear them calling you and me
Every son of liberty

Hurry right away, no delay, go today
Make your daddy glad to have had such a lad
Tell your sweetheart not to pine
To be proud her boy's in line.

CHORUS (repeated twice):
Over there, over there
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drums are rum-tumming everywhere

So prepare, say a prayer
Send the word, send the word to beware
We'll be over there, we're coming over
And we won't come back till it's over over there.
Over there.

Johnnie get your gun, get your gun, get your gun
Johnnie show the Hun you're a son of a gun
Hoist the flag and let her fly
Yankee Doodle do or die

Pack your little kit, show your grit, do your bit
Yankees to the ranks from the towns and the tanks
Make your mother proud of you
And the old Red White and Blue.

CHORUS (repeated twice):
Over there, over there
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drums are rum-tumming everywhere

So prepare, say a prayer
Send the word, send the word to beware
We'll be over there, we're coming over
And we won't come back till it's over over there.
Over there.