Tonight we have another piece of sheet music form the Second World War to look at, this one though has one of the nicest covers I have seen on a piece of music with a wonderful illustration of planes flying over a fleet of battleships:‘Wings Over the Navy’ was a song written for an American propaganda movie about naval flyers called ‘Wings of the navy’ this film was released before the US entered the war and the song became instantly very popular in the UK, its words very much reflecting the mood of a nation at war. What is interesting however is that the words themselves were subtly rewritten for a British audience to reflect the Royal Navy rather than the US Navy. Comparing the words in a section of the piece line by line shows the changes made to the lyrics:
If you ever come to town
And Uncle Sammy offers you a job
Pick out the aviation
When you put your moniker down
Wings over the Navy, wings over the sea,
We’re top o’ the service,
The Navy’s cavalry
High over the oceans
Flying wide and free
The soldiers, sailors
And marines are demons
At eating pork and beans.
Or posing in the magazines.
But we’re the Navy’s eyes.
A sailor is a guy they call a tar
A tars a guy who sails the seas afar
But listen all you country boys, if you ever come to town
And if you want some pips up or a star
Pick out the aviation when you put your moniker down
Wings over the Navy
Wings over the Sea
We’re top of the service
The navy’s cavalry
High over the ocean
Flying wide and free
The soldiers, sailors and marines are demons at pinching all the scenes
Or posing in the magazines
But we’re the navy’s eyes
The Admirals fireflies
We’re sky high riding aeronautical guys
The film the song comes from is today regarded as a middle of the road piece for its era, with some excellent footage of US Naval aviation of the period. Seton Margrave reviewed the film for the Daily Mail in March 1939 when it came out and his comments on the movie were generally favourable:
Now we go up in the air with “Wings of the Navy” at the Warner Theatre.
For the Air Force attached to the American Navy this is a magnificent propaganda and it is also good film drama.
Probably British producers will say again that if such a film were made of the British Fleet Air Arm nobody in the united States would have seen it. Again they will tell us about the apologetic way in which British films creep into the United States and the Anschluss by which American films are shown in Britain.
But the truth is the British film industry has not yet developed a national conscience.
Wings of the Navy is not a big picture, it offers George Brent and Olivia de Havilland perhaps the most harmless parts they have played to date.
The story is the very old one about a nice girl being engaged to one young man and at the same time being in love with his brother. Not that I dislike this story. On the contrary, I have a special grievance against British film producers for not having made it into, what I know, would be the only serious rival in popularity to ‘Smilin’ Through’ by filming Francis Brett Young’s “My Brother Jonathon”.
Wings of the Navy still leaves the way open.
The production is reasonable enough in all respects, but the best of it is the performance put up by the men of the American Naval Air Service.
American naval stations at Pensacola and San Diego have contributed brilliantly to the making of Wings Over the Navy and once again we have a tale of heroism on the part of American airmen without any corresponding film of British airmen in sight.