The lyrics for this First World War marching song were written by George Henry Powell under the pseudonym of "George Asaf," and they were set to music by his brother Felix Powell. Although Felix was an enthusiastic staff sergeant in the British Army, George was a pacifist, and became a conscientious objector when conscription was imposed in 1916.
The British music hall stars entered "Pack Up Your Troubles" in a wartime competition for the best morale-building song. It won first prize and became very popular, boosting British resolve despite the horrors of that war. Felix didn't follow the song's advice, as he committed suicide in 1942.
Don't worry, the lyric "While you've a lucifer to light your fag" doesn't have any satanic connotations. A "lucifer" was a popular make of match, and "fag" is British slang for a cigarette.
The song was recalled in the title of the 1932 Laurel and Hardy film Pack Up Your Troubles where the duo are drafted in the First World War. "Pack Up Your Troubles" is also featured in the beginning of the 1970 American musical film, Darling Lili sung by Julie Andrews.
Among the artists who have recorded over the years are Helen Clark, Bob Crosby, Al Donahue, Spike Jones and Anthony Newley.
The two brothers at first thought Felix's tune was a load of hogwash. "I played the tune over to George", Felix recalled to a journalist later. "He, without hesitation, pronounced it piffle. Having mutually agreed it was rubbish, it was consigned to a drawer labelled 'Duds.'" The song was saved from oblivion the following year when Felix and George entered it into a competition "as a joke". Felix recalled: "A few months later a wire came up to us at the Grand Theatre, Birmingham: PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES FIRST PRIZE. It gave George and me the best laugh of our lives. On the following Monday we put the song into our own show at Southampton in order to 'try it on the dog' so to speak. By the middle of the week we were as amused as we were delighted to hear thousands of troops singing it en route for the docks."
The song was heavily sampled by British singer-songwriter Eliza Doolittle on her 2010 hit "Pack Up