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Let’s Mobilize!


"Where are your sons?"

- A.M. Klein, For Camellien Houde


LET’S MOBILIZE (words and music Mike Ford 2008)


There’s a big kerfuffle overseas and it’s spreading just like a disease

Blitzkrieg boys are on attack, so lets rally ‘round the Union Jack

Get the Airfield’s hummin’ - and the drums a drummin’ - the Canucks are comin’


To the bugle call we’re havin’ a ball


To the reveille we jitterbug and that Hitler’s grave is already dug

Got ration cards, scrap metal drives, these are the best years of our lives

Napanee to Nanaimo, Okotoks to Esquimalt, Chilliwack to Richibucto


Those Wrens and Wacs are cuttin’ the slack


LET’S MOBILIZE ! Let’s walk the walk

LET’S MOBILIZE ! No careless talk

LET’S MOBILIZE ! And punch the clock

Pass the puck to Chuck and Janey Canuck


Ils veulent encore nous mettre à genou

Regardez bien autours de vous

Ou sont vos fils o vous chères mères

Parti en guerre en Angleterre

C’est fou ! C’est fou ! C’est complètement fou !


Halifax to Haileybury

We’re in a great big hurray

To fight the Führer’s fury




Key Terms & Phrases


A term describing the act of assembling and organizing national resources to support national objectives in time of war or other emergencies.


A word of Scottish Gaelic origin describing a disorderly outburst, disturbance, commotion or tumult. Synonyms include agitation, disruption, disturbance, excitement, fuss, hoo-ha and hurly burly.


In German, Blitzkrieg means lightning war (Blitz-Krieg). Blitzkrieg was named so because it included surprise attacks, "Lighting fast" rapid advances into enemy territory, with coordinated massive air attacks, which struck and shocked the enemy as if it was struck by lightning. The German military in World War 2 achieved most of its great victories with the Blitzkrieg tactic.

Rally ‘round the Union Jack

As in the First World War, when Britain declared war on Germany, Canada did so as well - but this time with a big  difference. Whereas in the previous conflict Canada was automatically at war with Germany as soon as Britain made the declaration, in World War II Canada decided on its own (and a full seven days after Britain) to commit the nation to defeating the Nazis. Despite the delay (some might call it political dithering), Canada was nevertheless at least as committed to Britain as it was to defeating Hitler, and to this end Canada “rallied ‘round the Union Jack” - the nickname for Great Britain’s flag.

Get the airfields hummin’

Arguably Canada’s single-most important contribution to the Allied victory in World War II was its role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Run on Canadian soil (removed as it was from the fighting), the BCATP trained tens of thousands of Allied pilots and aircrew who were instrumental in bringing down Nazi Germany. Canada funded and ran this program almost entirely on its own, and along with the formidable contribution of the Royal Canadian Air Force enabled the Allies to gain control of Europe’s skies and thus turn the tide of the war.


The sounding of a bugle early in the morning to awaken and summon people in a camp or garrison. Also, The first military formation of the day. (from the French for ‘to wake up’).


The name of a popular dance craze in the late 1930’s – a strenuous dance performed to quick-tempo swing or jazz music and consisting of various two-step patterns embellished with twirls and sometimes acrobatic maneuvers.

The term The Best Years of Our Lives underscores the age-group of those Canadians who were most affected by the war (the soldiers), and is also the name of an Academy Award winning movie that came out at the war’s end, dramatically portraying the challenges faced by returning soldiers and their families.

Got ration cards, scrap metal drives

The homefront in both World Wars played a massive and indispensable part in supporting the war efforts of all major countries involved in the fighting. The song Let’s Mobilize! speaks to the Canadian government’s mobilization of the citizenry to pool energy and resources for the war effort. Without these ordinary civilians - and women in particular – who ’manned’ the war factories; harvested crops; gathered and saved scrap metal to be used for weaponry and machinery; and who with nary a complaint submitted to government-issued ration cards that limited their consumption of food and other essentials - without these people the Second World War could neither have been waged nor won.

Wrens’ and ‘Wacs

While Canadian women were instrumental on the homefront in civilian roles, they also made great contributions in a military capacity, serving in non-combatant posts as secretaries, mechanics, cooks, and other administrative or supportive positions. With Canada’s massive expansion of its army, navy and air force in WWII, the creation of women’s divisions in these three branches freed up many men to serve elsewhere and helped address an acute personnel shortage. The ‘Wrens’ and ‘Wacs’ referred to in Let’s Mobilize! were the nicknames given to the women who served in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) and the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), respectively. (If you’re wondering where the missing ‘c’ is, ‘Wrens’ and ‘Wacs’ were the nicknames first given to the equivalent British branches, which were identical in name except for the ‘Canadian’ part, and Canada simply adopted the moniker.)

No careless talk

Refers to the campaigns and slogans on the homefront reminding the population that unguarded talk might give useful information to the enemy – that spies might pick up troop locations or attack plans from overheard comments by relatives or munitions workers back home. The most famous slogan in this regard (often used on attention-getting posters) was “Loose Lips Sink Ships”.

Janey Canuck

This was the pen-name used by Womens’ Rights activist Emily Murphy (Who was also the first woman magistrate in the British Empire as well as being one of the ‘Famous Five’ – see the song ‘Tea Party’). The Janey Canuck books were best sellers – she was inspired to write them after hearing disparaging comments about Canadians while on an Atlantic ship crossing. While the books celebrate a resourceful and optimistic ‘Canadian’ spirit, they also display some of the author’s views on immigration and other topics – views probably not uncommon at the time but definitely offensive to many today.

Ils veulent encore nous mettre à genou…

With the French verse in Let’s Mobilize!, Mike Ford draws in a not uncommon French Canadian perspective on the conscription issue in WWII (Francophones were overwhelmingly against conscription, and the opposite was true of English Canada). The French-language section of the song are meant to echo commets by Montreal mayor Camillien Houde from a speech he gave in August 1940 urging young men to resist national registration, which Houde saw as a first step towards forced enlistment. Astonishingly, in what is grievously unknown to most Canadians, Houde was arrested by the RCMP on charges of sedition and was held in internment camps until August 1944!

Below are Ford’s French song lyrics translated:

! Once again they want to bring us to our knees

! Look all around you:

! Where are your sons, dear mothers?

! Gone to war in England!

! It’s crazy, it’s crazy; it’s absolutely crazy!





Composer's Notes

I am fascinated by the massive human and industrial energy, financial wherewithal and speed of mobilization into war – the example of Canada in 1939/40 is no exception. Where does all the money suddenly come from? The resources? I have nothing to compare such a phenomenon in my experience growing up in peaceful late 20th century Canada. Perhaps these historical mobilizations are the only model possible for the massive industrial and social transformations needed in this environmentally unsustainable 21st century.

The mobilization for war requires a massive combined effort of government, industry, capital and media. The sudden changes needed require a widespread gung-ho attitude from the population. I used my song to show that attitude, and the phrase-making and music that served it. From my comfortable vantage-point 70 years later, the sometimes forced enthusiasm of such a drive seems almost manic – in personal accounts of the era it often comes off as quite exciting. I wanted my song reflect that kind of growing frenzy – but I also wanted to nod to one of that mass movement’s opposite frenzies. 

To see another side of that mass celebration of mobilization, We can start by looking at the (largely unknown to English Canadians) event of the arrest and wartime internment of Montreal mayor Camillien Houde. At the beginning of the Second World War, Camillien Houde declared, in the presence of journalists, his opposition to the National Registration Act, which, in his opinion, was a first step towards conscription. He was arrested for his comments and interned for the next four years (He was given a heroic welcome upon his release in 1944, and re-elected Mayor of Montreal without opposition). At the time of his arrest, a debate erupted in Canadian press circles and Parliament over the boundaries of free speech and censorship – Houde’s anti-registration and anti-British comments were mostly censored from publication. Here we have the not uncommon phenomenon of a politician for whom race equals power. Whatever one’s opinion about the justness of Canadian war effort at the time, of conscription, and of ‘playing the race card, it is not hard to see that defiance of such a declared national direction is no trivial matter, and that control of the press becomes crucial leading up to and during wartime.

The first I ever heard of Houde was in reading the A.M. Klein poem, Political Meeting (for Camillien Houde) – a searing piece quite evocative of a specific place, time and mood. From the poem I was driven to research and discovered a fuller picture of the above events and dynamics.

From: A.M. Klein: Complete Poems (I & 2). ed. Zailig Pollock.

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990. 2.657-8.

Political Meeting (A.M. Klein) For Camillien Houde


On the school platform, draping the folding seats,

they wait the chairman's praise and glass of water.

Upon the wall the agonized Y initials their faith.


Here all are laic; the skirted brothers have gone.

Still, their equivocal absence is felt, like a breeze

that gives curtains the sounds of surplices.


The hall is yellow with light, and jocular;

suddenly some one lets loose upon the air

the ritual bird which the crowd in snares of singing


catches and plucks, throat, wings, and little limbs.

Fall the feathers of sound, like alouette's.

The chairman, now, is charming, full of asides and wit,


building his orators, and chipping off

the heckling gargoyles popping in the hall.

(Outside, in the dark, the street is body-tall,

flowered with faces intent on the scarecrow thing

that shouts to thousands the echoing

of their own wishes.) The Orator has risen!


Worshipped and loved, their favourite visitor,

a country uncle with sunflower seeds in his pockets,

full of wonderful moods, tricks, imitative talk,


he is their idol: like themselves, not handsome,

not snobbish, not of the Grande Allée! Un homme!

Intimate, informal, he makes bear's compliments


to the ladies; is gallant; and grins;

goes for the balloon, his opposition, with pins;

jokes also on himself, speaks of himself


in the third person, slings slang, and winks with folklore;

and knows now that he has them, kith and kin.

Calmly, therefore, he begins to speak of war,


praises the virtue of being Canadien,

of being at peace, of faith, of family,

and suddenly his other voice: Where are your sons?


He is tearful, choking tears; but not he

would blame the clever English; in their place

he'd do the same; maybe.


Where are your sons?

The whole street wears one face,

shadowed and grim; and in the darkness rises

the body-odour of race.


Musical Style

To underscore the importance of media and entertainers in such a mobilization, I chose to create a song sound in the then burgeoning Big Band style, as if coming from a radio of that period. In the song’s middle, the dial is twisted to a French-language Montreal station, where we find (an imagined) Camillien Houde addressing a crowd, over a Manouche (30’s hot jazz, guitar based) style.


Over the excellent period-style drums and piano (Mark Mariash and David Matheson) I was able to bring in a trio of Canada’s finest horn players (Will Sperandi – trumpet, Tara Davidson – Sax, Will Carn, trombone) who were able to improvise and record their brilliant parts in a matter of minutes. I also learned from drummer Mark that the nick-name ‘traps’ for a drum kit’s added percussion, comes from the term ‘contraption’ – an array of exotic bells, gourds and blocks he peppered with fills to accompany the rhythmic place-names like Okatoks, Chilliwack, etc.


I wanted the lyrics to reflect catch phrases and lingo from the time, and to come off a bit like the advertising copy of a mindless radio commercial. I had fun sprinkling each pre-chorus with coast-to-coast place names, to show the pan-Canadian reach of the Mobilization drive. Mention is also made of the ‘Wrens’ and ‘Wacs’ – the first being the familiar name used for members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service (or Women’s Royal Canadian Navy Service) and the second is the United States equivalent, the Women’s Army Corp.




Activities & Lesson Ideas

Class Discussion Questions

 Let’s Mobilize – design a good frenzy

In the 1960’s, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson proposed a ‘War on Poverty’, declaring that the quest would have the ‘moral equivalency of war’ – in other words, that the initiative would have the intense focus, overriding national priority and resources directed to it that are usually only mustered for a nation’s war effort. Regardless of that particular project’s successes or failures, it does raise a big question: Why are countries suddenly able to direct everything the have to a war, and yet can seemingly never direct similar energies to other crises – Economic, Environmental, etc.



Suggest an issue worthy of ‘Mobilization’.

- Why is this issue crucial, urgent

- What is its scope? Area? Demographic? Level of Government? Time Span?

- What societal measures should be taken?

- Restrictions, rations, emergency measures, laws?

- What methods will help encourage your ‘Mobilization’ (media, art, events, songs…)

- What Industries could be marshalled – What has each player (industrial, citizen, environment, culture) have to gain or lose in the endeavour. What breakthroughs/dividends are possible? What pit-falls?


- Make song, poster, youtube, storyboard, event proposal, to encourage your Mobilization.