Mademoiselle From Armentières
A Legend In Song

Today we continue our brief post from Sunday, providing the historical context to the popular trench song Mademoiselle From Armentières. 

Although not from Armentières, two “mademoiselles” serve lunch to Canadian officers at their estaminet near Mericourt.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-004503.

The town of Armentières was a major hub for the rest and relaxation of troops pulled off the line. Brimming with estaminets and pubs, it became a legend of the First World War experience. In the midst of such revelry, a song began to circulate through the ranks. Circulating from unit to unit, printed in the trench newspapers, or picked up by new recruits passing through rear areas, “Mademoiselle From Armentières” was universally-known amongst the Commonwealth troops. Despite this, (or very well because of it), the song’s origins are largely unknown. As each group heard it sung, they began to adapt it for their own, adding local names, sayings, or entire verses. As the war went on and men were wounded, killed, or transferred from their original units, nobody could clearly recall where it came from, but most insisted it was from somewhere or someone in their nation’s ranks. In his memoir In The Trenches, 1914-1918Canadian Frank S. Iriam lays claim to at least some of the song for Canada: 

“[in February 1915] we were billeted in barns out in the country and used to walk into Armentières in the evenings just to see what we might see. The song was apparently sprouting at that time or in the formative stage. I remember we invented several lines to fit the air while walking back to our billets at night after visiting the town… The fact that these particular lines are still in common use seems to indicate we may have been the originators of the main body of that soldier’s ditty. I have read several very misleading articles in current papers and periodicals in regards to this song… I do not claim that we were the originators of this song and I do not remember just how it came to us. I do know that quite a few of those lines were invented by us at that time while walking back to the billets at night, and those lines are still in common use by ex-soldiers who sing it at times when they obtain sufficient lubrication to cause them to bust loose.” (Iriam, In The Trenches, 1914-1918, p. 27-28). 

British and French soldiers playing cards outside a family-run estaminet. Braisne, 16 October 1914.
© IWM (Q 53337)

In this reel from the Imperial War Museum,  1917 recording of sounds from behind the lines has captured troops lustily singing trench songs, including Mademoiselle From Armentières. For those interested, the entire reel provides a haunting opportunity to “listen-in” on the First World War one hundred years later. 

Listen here: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80000964
2:45 – It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag
3:37 – Mademoiselle From Armentières 
© IWM, Catalogue number 970 

We are only providing a few verses here but it should be noted that some versions of the song reached as many as twenty-six individual verses, while very well hundreds may have been written! As usual, the song’s wording poked fun at the French language and the English inability to pronounce much of it properly. Moreover, this is a relatively “clean” version – a product of the front line, some versions were wickedly obscene and coarse. 

Today, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry continue to use the tune of Mademoiselle From Armentières as part of its regimental march. 

Mademoiselle From Armentières 

Mademoiselle from Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Mademoiselle from Armentieers, parlay-voo,
Mademoiselle from Armentieers,
She hasn’t been kissed for forty years,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

Our top kick in Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Our top kick in Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Our top kick in Armenteers
Soon broke the spell of forty years,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

The officers get all the steak, parlay-voo,
The officers get all the steak, parlay-voo,
The officers get all the steak
And all we get is a belly ache,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

(Lyrics taken from the version found in Max Arthur When This Bloody War Is Over – Soldiers’ Songs of the First World War, p. 76)