In the spring of 1915, within days of a bungled British attempt to “knock Turkey out of the war” by an attack through the Bosphorus, World War I having not yet lasted a year, children in the streets of London were singing this song:
O the moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin
Whose boots are crackin’
For want of blackin’
And his little baggy trousers need a-patchin’
Before they send him
To the Dardanelles.
My father knew the song. He must have heard it in one of the vaudeville or music-hall shows that flourished then in every town and city in Britain. He was four years younger than Chaplin and came of age on the eve of the First World War. Years later he used to regale his family with it.
The song can be found in several books on Chaplin, though with slightly different words, and it...