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The Bard’s Fourth Folio – Shakespeare at 450

Shakespeare, W. Mr William Shakespear’s Comedies, histories & tragedies…Unto which is added, Seven plays, never before printed in folio…1685.

In the week that we celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare, we take a glimpse into The London Library’s most precious volumes housed in the Safe and the Library’s Fourth Folio volume of ‘Shakespear’s Plays’ from 1685. This is just one example of our many treasures that remind us of the beauty of the physical book and the symbolic significance of the Folio format in relation to discussions of authorship, cultural prestige and the origins of the literary book trade.

From the earliest days of printing, the folio format (large tall volumes) was reserved for prestigious volumes, works of reference and for the collected writings of important authors. In the 17th century, plays of the English Renaissance theatre were printed as collected editions in folio. However, plays written for the public theatre were generally viewed as trivial works of popular entertainment and not taken seriously as literature, and during Shakespeare’s lifetime stage plays were not considered worthy of being collected into folios, instead printed as quartos. Of the plays now accepted as either wholly or partly by Shakespeare, eighteen have survived only because the First Folio was published. The First Folio of 1623 published 7 years after Shakespeare’s death – Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies – was not only the first collected edition of Shakespeare, it was the first folio book ever published in England that was devoted exclusively to plays. It has been called “incomparably the most important work in the English language.” (Pforzheimer).

The First Folio contains 36 plays, 18 of which were printed for the first time and was compiled by John Heminges and Henry Condell (fellow actors in Shakespeare’s company), and arranged into comedies, histories and tragedies. The Folio is no more a definitive text than the quartos; many of the plays in the folio omit lines that can be found in quarto versions, and include misprints and textual corruption.

The Second Folio appeared in 1632 and The Third Folio was issued in 1663. To the second impression of the Third Folio (1664) seven plays were added, including Pericles, Prince of Tyre and six others not now considered authentically Shakespearean: Locrine, The London Prodigal, The Puritan, Sir John Oldcastle, Thomas Lord Cromwell, and A Yorkshire Tragedy.

The Fourth Folio appeared in 1685. The Library’s copy was bought at a Red Cross sale in 1916 by Philip Arthur Cohen, a Library member, who donated this and many other valuable volumes over the course of many years. Like the Third, it contains 43 plays and served as the base for the series of eighteenth-century editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Nicholas Rowe used the Fourth Folio text as the foundation of his 1709 edition, and subsequent editors—Pope, Theobald, etc.—both adapted and reacted to Rowe’s text in their own editions.

The London Library houses over 700 works by Shakespeare, with volumes on the open shelves for browsing and borrowing dating from 1728.  There are more than 4,000 writings about Shakespeare.

Tolstoy’s 1906 literary criticism on Shakespeare

Shakespeare Fourth Folio, title page

London Library literature stacks

One of thousands of subject areas in the Library’s rich collections of Shakespeare holdings

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This April marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and in our latest blog post, Library cataloguer Anna Gonzalez Fort delves into shelfmark H. Spanish Civil War to find some remarkable volumes acquired during the conflict in the 1930s.

The Spanish Civil War was fought from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939 between the Republicans, who were loyal to the established Spanish Republic, and the Nationalists, a rebel group led by General Francisco Franco. The Nationalists prevailed, and Franco ruled Spain for the next 36 years, from 1939 until his death in 1975.

The London Library holds a collection of books about this tragic episode in the recent history of Spain, which can be found under the shelfmarkH. Spanish Civil War. Many of the books were published and acquired by the Library while the conflict was going on, and some of them were published outside Spain, because there were very poor means for publishing them there, and also because they intended to attract international support for the Spanish Republic.

Of special interest are the books that include graphic materials, such as photographs taken during the conflict, showing the War fronts and the effects of the War on the Spanish cities and population. An example of this is the book entitled The Spanish People’s Fight for Liberty, a compilation of images from different photographic and press agencies, including Alliance Photo, Keystone Press Agency, Wide World Photos and Associated Press Photos, published by the Spanish Embassy in London in 1937. The images were taken at the beginning of the War and the selection pays special attention to the Republican side. Another interesting book is Guernica: Crimes Committed by Fascism (1937), a testimony of the aerial attack on the Basque town of Guernica on 26 April 1937, which is considered to be one of the first raids in the history of modern military aviation on a defenceless civilian population. The book includes several photographs of the complete destruction of the town caused by the Condor Legion bombings as well as the testimony of an eye witness.

On the other hand, the collection includes speeches and addresses by important figures of both sides of the conflict. For instance, the bookPalabras de Franco, published in Bilbao in 1937, collects a series of addresses made by the General in key moments of the first year of the War; and we can find an example of the Republican side in the bookFor the Independence of Spain, for Liberty, for the Republic: Union of all Spaniards!, the complete text of the report to the plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain in 1938, by Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionaria”, the communist leader best known for her defence of the Second Spanish Republic and the famous slogan ¡No Pasarán! (“They Shall Not Pass”), pronounced in a speech during the Siege of Madrid in 1936.

Finally, we can also find some literary works about the War, such asPoes ías de Guerra (1937), a collection of poems that was published by the “Quinto Regimiento de Milicias Populares”, a famous military body of volunteers of the Second Spanish Republic. The Fifth Regiment of the People’s Militias was created as an initiative of the Spanish Communist Party and the Unified Socialist Youth, and it had a strong antifascist ideology. Some famous communist writers and poets were enlisted by or connected with the Regiment, for instance Rafael Alberti and Miguel Hernández, who wrote some of the poems in this anthology. Other examples of literature and the Civil War are the works by foreign authors that worked as war correspondents or fought as volunteers in the conflict, such as Arthur Koestler, Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. Of the latter, the library holds the first edition of his acclaimed book Homage to Catalonia, published in April 1938, an account of his personal experiences during the War in Catalonia and Aragon from December 1936 until June 1937.

This collection in H. Spanish Civil War has not been fully transferred to the Library’s online catalogue yet. If you wish to help us accelerate the Retrospective Cataloguing Project, you can support us either by making a general donation or by contributing to the cataloguing of a specific collection of books. You can find more information on the Project on our website: 

The Spanish people’s fight for liberty / compiled by A. Ramos Oliveira (1937)

Guernica: Crimes Committed by Fascism (1937)

Un an de lutte pour l’indépendance et la liberté / par Joan Comorera (1937?)

El Movimiento Nacional / G. Orizana, J. M. Martín Liébana (1937?)

British Battalion, XV International Brigade memorial souvenir (1939?)

18 de julio! : historia del alzamiento glorioso de Sevilla / Guzmán de Alfarache (1937)

Sangre y fuego : Malaga / Angel Gollonet Megías y José Morales López (1937)

People in a shelter in Madrid’s metro, taken from The Spanish people’s fight for liberty (1937)

Women militians, taken from The Spanish people’s fight for liberty (1937)

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In our latest blog post, Dunia García-Ontiveros, Head of Bibliographic Services at The London Library gives insight into the religious and political statements made by 16th Century Catholics and Protestants who disseminated their ideas and influence through printed manifestos. Examples are seen in some of the significant, rare volumes housed in The London Library. This blog is adapted from an article in a series commissioned by History Today on the treasures of the Library in 2011. (click on thumbnails for larger images. If using Internet Explorer images may not appear larger – we recommend you try an alternative browser to view in detail.)

The use of images in religious and political propaganda is not a 16th century invention but during the Reformation Catholics and Protestants alike made use of their printing presses to disseminate their ideas and these printed manifestos were sometimes accompanied by striking illustrations. The images aimed either to ennoble the author through heroic associations or to insult and ridicule the author’s opponents through irreverent caricatures.

The London Library holds several books with examples of both Catholic and Lutheran visual propaganda.

An example of Catholic Tudor propaganda can be found in Assertio septem sacramentorum aduersus Martin. Lutheru[m], a book written (or perhaps only commissioned) by Henry VIII and printed in London in 1521 in reply to Martin Luther’s On the Babylonian captivity of the Church. The title page of Henry’s book, where he defends the Seven Sacraments, depicts the legend tof Gaius Mutius ‘Scaevola’. According to legend, Mutius was a Roman hero from the 3rd century BC, who entered the camp of the besieging Etruscan king, Lars Porsenna, in order to murder him. The right-hand side of the illustration shows Mutius mistakenly killing the wrong man. The left depicts the moment when the captured Mutius is interrogated by Porsenna and shows the incompetent assasin placing his right hand in the fire to prove his courage, while telling the Etruscan king that 300 other men have sworn to die in defence of Rome. The legend says that Porsenna, impressed by this show of bravery, decided to abandon his campaign and to release Gaius Mutius who was thereafter known as ‘Scaevola’ (left handed).

Henry’s message to the Pope through this iconography was very clear. He was identifying with this legend to portray himself as an heroic defender of Rome in the hope of gaining favour with the Pontiff at a time when England was a lesser European power. He commissioned a special presentation copy to be given to Leo X who, after reading it, conferred the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ upon the English king.

Martin Luther’s reaction to this book was quite different to that of the Pope and the very next year he printed a reply in Wittenberg under the title Contra Henricum regem angliae, where he refers to Henry as a comic jester, a frivolous buffoon, a damnable and offensive worm and a Thomist swine. The look and layout of the title page is similar to that of Henry’s book but instead of having a narrative scene at the bottom it is flanked by two figures: an ugly jester or troubadour on the left blowing on a wind instrument and fat cleric with a pig’s head on the right.

Compared to Henry’s use of imagery, Lutheran propaganda printed in Wittenberg is much more direct, even crude. The chief illustrator of the German Reformation was Lucas Cranach the Elder, court artist in Wittenberg and close personal friend of Luther’s (facts which did not stop him from working for Catholic patrons as well as Protestant ones).

The Library holds a more extreme example of the contempt Luther felt for a figure and an institution which he saw as being thoroughly corrupt. His Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel gestifft, (Against the Papacy founded by the Devil) was printed 1545, only a year before the Reformer’s death. The title page depicts the Pope with ass’s ears sitting on a pyre erected in the mouth of Hell, represented by an enormous monster. The Pope, with hands held together in prayer is surrounded by demons who fly around him and hold the papal tiara above his head.

Another two savage depictions of the Pope are to be found inside the book. In the first we see him riding on a sow while holding out a hand filled with steaming excrement. The accompanying text reads: The Pope grants a council in Germany. Sow you have to let yourself be ridden, and [with] spurs on both sides. You want to have a council: for that, have my merdrum (a typo for merdum, as in the Latin merda). Next to this is another illustration of the Pope, this time shown as an ass playing the bagpipes in a luxurious canopied bed. The accompanying text reads: The Pope, a teacher of theology and master of the faith. The Pope alone can interpret scripture: and sweep out error, as the ass alone can pipe and strike the note correctly.

Henry VIII and the Pope were not the only subjects of Lutheran ‘cartoons’. In the second half of the 16th century theological differences created a growing conflict between Lutherans and Calvinists. Zacharias ‘Rivander’ Bachmann, a Lutheran clergyman, wrote Lupus excoriatus (the wolf stripped of its skin), which was printed in 1591. The title of the book alone leaves us in no doubt as to the opinion orthodox Lutherans had of Zwinglians and Calvinists. Inside the book we find an illustration of the ‘Calvinist wolves of discord’ dressed in monks’ habits and devouring a sheep labelled ‘concordia’. The sheep represents the Concordia Wittenbergensis, a failed attempt at bringing Lutherans and Zwinglians together in 1536. The caption below the illustration reads:Matth. 7.: Beware the false prophets coming in sheepskins to you, but inside they are rapacious wolves etc.

Looking at all these images together we see two very different styles, which is only to be expected considering the two very different purposes of the men who commissioned them. On the one hand we have Henry Tudor, the consummate politician, appropriating ancient legends to gain favour with Rome. To this end he used a subtle message that only an educated elite would have been able to decipher. Luther and his followers on the other hand, do not seek any material gain. Luther was only concerned with the correct interpretation of the Scriptures and with making religion more accessible to ordinary people. The only purpose of his visual propaganda was to expose the corruption he saw in his enemies. For this he used simple images of savage clarity that anyone would have been able to understand instantly.

Assertio septem sacramentorum aduersus Martin. Lutheru[m]

Contra Henricum regem angliae

Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel gestifft

Lupus excoriatus

Lupus excoriatus

Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel gestifft

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The Library is the host venue for this year’s Rossica Translation Prize 2014, an annual award which promotes the best of Russian literary culture in the English-speaking world, rewarding and encouraging the translation of a broad range of authors, genres and periods. The judges have chosen from a shortlist of Russian literary writing, past and present, with a prize of £3000 awarded to the winning translation. The Rossica Young Translators Award winner will also be announced at the Library, a prize set up to encourage the next generation of aspiring translators. Claudia Ricci, London Library Russian Specialist, has written a blog on the fascinating story behind one of the Library’s most valuable Russian volumes from the early 20th century, one of over 13,000 held in the Library’s Hans and Marit Rausing Russian Collections.

Among the many little gems that lie undiscovered in The London Library collections there is one that holds a special secret unlikely to be unravelled. We can only attempt to shed some light on it and in thus doing we hope to bring back to life a forgotten page of Russian history.

I am referring to The London Library’s own copy of the original manuscript of one of Sergei Esenin’s most famous works, the poem “Pugachov”, a short drama in verse, which we own partly in manuscript (Images 1-5) and partly in typescript (Images 6-8), bound in one little unassuming volume. Another version of this manuscript is held by the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, but our version must be the latest, as it contains few corrections and matches word for word the final version as it was published in 1921-1922. Our manuscript bears the dates “March-August 1921” and several reliable sources, including the diary entries of the author’s dearest friend Anatoly Mariengof, confirm that Esenin had been reading extracts from his draft during those months. According to another friend, the poet Taras Machtet, on Aug. 30th Esenin announced that he had finished working on “Pugachov” and from Aug. 31st he started preparing the manuscript for publication .

Sergei Esenin (surname often spelt “Yesenin”) was a Russian lyrical poet born in the rural village of Konstantinovo (Ryazan province) in 1895 to a peasant family. After receiving a typical Russian Orthodox education, as was still customary in the Russian provinces at the time, and trying his hand at several jobs, including those of proof-reader and butcher’s assistant, he moved to Petrograd in 1915, where he met Alexander Blok, Nikolay Klyuev and Andrey Bely, and with their help he entered the literary circles of the capital. The following year he published his first collection of poems, Radunitsa (All Soul’s Day), which gave him great popularity, and started his collaboration with fellow poet Anatoly Mariengof. Together in 1918 they proceeded to move to civil war-torn Moscow, where they founded Imaginism, the literary movement, which had its own publishing house and whose exponents held poetry readings in the bohemian café-tavern Stoilo Pegasa.

Between December 1921 and January 1922, the drama in verse “Pugachov” was published by two separate independent publishers in Moscow, Imazhinisty, the movement’s own publishing house, and El’zevir (the date on the title page is given as 1922 in both), and by the end of the year he had given away signed copies of his work to family and friends. Esenin also signed a deal with the state publishing house Gosizdat in February 1922, but that edition never saw the light of day. His biographer Alla Marchenko points out that there were also plans to stage it in a Moscow theatre and Esenin had given the script to the theatrical producer and director Vsevolod Meyerkhold, but having read it, Meyerkhold stated that it was totally unsuitable for the stage, as it had “no action, no gestures, no setting to speak of”. It was at this time that Esenin’s second wife, Zinaida Reikh, became romantically involved with the theatre director. In the autumn of 1921, just as Zinaida was about to leave him for Meyerkhold, Esenin met the American dancer Isadora Duncan. She was 18 years his senior, spoke no Russian and at the time was living in Moscow on Prechistenka Street, where she was starting her new school of dance following an invitation from the Soviet authorities, for whom she had great admiration. The couple fell in love and were married on May 2nd1922. As soon as Sergei managed to receive his emigration papers, they left Russia for a long honeymoon, which would take them on a grand tour of Europe with stops in the major cities where Isadora was scheduled to give ballet performances. In Berlin, Esenin negotiated deals with various publishers for the publication of his poetic works. The rights of Pugachov were acquired by Russkoe Universal’noe Izdatel’stvo in mid-May, and their edition appeared in July of that year (The London Library has a copy of this edition bought shortly after its publication). This leads us to believe that our manuscript must have travelled with Sergei and Isadora to the German capital, but probably no further than that. The newly-wed couple moved on to Paris later and eventually arrived in the United States in October 1922. The manuscript was most likely left behind, perhaps forgotten by our poet, who was infatuated with his world-wide famous American wife and with the prospect of reaching the American shores.

The dramatic work Pugachov takes its name from the Russian peasant rebel Emelyan Pugachev, who led a Cossack insurrection in 1773-1774 during the reign of Catherine the Great and was later put to death in Moscow in 1775. Esenin focuses on the last weeks of the rebellion and Pugachev’s arrival in Yaitsk, where his supporters betrayed him to the Russian authorities. The work, which consists of a series of lyrical monologues, was criticised for lacking in scenic action and failing to be faithful to the historical events, but was praised for being “Intensely lyrical and rich in language” .

After the highlight of the European tour Sergei Esenin’s life took a turn for the worse, divorce awaited him and Isadora at their arrival in the States, followed by his return to the Soviet Union in August 1923 and increasingly frequent bouts of drinking. During his last years, Esenin went on to publish more poetry, to break up with Imaginism and Mariengof, to father a son with the poet Nadezhda Volpin (he already had three from previous relationships) and to marry one of Leo Tolstoy’s granddaughters, Sofiya Andreevna Tolstaya. He was found dead in his room at the Angleterre Hotel in Moscow in December 1925, presumably having taken his own life.

Meanwhile his manuscript of Pugachov must have remained in Germany, probably passing through various hands until, in 1934, it found its way into Charles Hagberg Wright’s hands. He was the Librarian of the London Library at the time, a polymath with a keen interest in Russian as well as German books. In the aftermath of the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War the established links with the Russian book trade were no doubt severed and Hagberg Wright would have had difficulties in travelling to Soviet Russia as he had done until 1917, so he resorted to buying most of his Russian titles from the émigré bookshops in Berlin and Paris. In the 1920s-1930s Esenin would have been practically unknown to the general public outside of Russia, but Hagberg Wright was a connoisseur of Russian Literature and the Library already possessed various editions of Esenin’s works at the time, including a four volume set of his Collected poems (1926-1927). Besides, Esenin had published some of his early work in journals associated with the Socialist Revolutionary Party (Es-Ery), an organisation that our then Librarian had been following quite closely judging by our collection of pamphlets acquired before 1917. We have no records of how much he paid for this now precious manuscript, or who he bought it from, but we assume that it must have been a purchase, because the library records all donations and gifts of books and this volume is not mentioned among them. The manuscript and the typescript were bound together in a red cover and the accession stamp on it is dated 22 Aug. 1934.

Since becoming aware of this gem, we have contacted various experts at the Moscow Literary Museum and the Russian Academy of Sciences, who have confirmed the authenticity of the manuscript from photographs posted to them. They have also been able to decypher an inscription on the verso of the last page, which records the name of Esenin’s native village (Konstantinovo), but also an address, which is likely to be in Moscow: Myasnitskaya 53-3. We appeal to anyone who can give us any clues or possible explanations as to who was living at that address at the time (summer 1921) or why Esenin may have needed to write it down in his own hand on the back of his manuscript.

Finally, one last appeal. We are aware that his youngest son, the poet and mathematician Alexander Esenin-Volpin, is alive somewhere in the United States. It would be a great honour if we could at least inform him of the existence of this manuscript, which is preserved for posterity in our library.

[1] Letopis’ zhizni tvorchestva S.A. Esenina . Edited by M.V. Skorokhovod and S.I. Subbotin 5 v. (Moscow: IMLI RA, 2003-2010)

[2] Marchenko, Alla. Put’ i besput’e (Moscow: Astrel’, 2012)

[3] McVay, Gordon. Esenin : a life (London: Hodder and Stoughton,  1976)












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There is a small but significant book in the Library’s collections calledTommy’s Tunes: A Comprehensive Collection of Soldier’s Songs, Marching Melodies, Rude Rhymes, and Popular Parodies, Composed, Collected and Arranged on Active Service with the B.E.F., by F.T. Nettleingham, 2nd Lt. R.F.C.  This comprehensive collection of soldiers’ songs was collected and arranged while on active service during the First World War and published in October 1917.  It was acquired by the Library on 1 January 1918 and has been in action on the Library’s shelves ever since.  The songs bristle with camaraderie, irreverence and poignancy.The social history and cultural significance of the book was fully realized in the hands of Charles Chilton in 1961 in his groundbreaking BBC Radio 4 radio documentary The Long, Long Trailwhich told the story of the First World War through soldiers’ songs. This forgotten radio masterpiece packed a powerful cultural punch and inspired the stage musical Oh! What A Lovely War. It is the richly deserved subject of an Archive on 4 BBC Radio 4 programme (also called The Long, Long Trail) which will be broadcast on 4 January at 8pm in which Roy Hudd and Ian Hislop, among others, consider its significance and during which many of the soldiers songs are sung.  Charles Chilton’s game-changing original documentary will also be broadcast on Radio 4 Extra on Sunday, 5 January 2014, at 1.30pm.

Also from the archive on the theme of the First World War the joining forms to the Library of Laurence Olivier, Ford Madox Ford and Siegfried Sassoon.  Olivier joined the Library in 1945 and won a BAFTA award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of British Expeditionary Force Leader General Sir John French in the film Oh! What A Lovely War in 1969.  Both Sassoon and Madox Ford channeled first-hand experience of the First World War in their work. Between 1924 and 1928 Ford published a masterpiece with the War at its core: a tetralogy known as Parade’s End. In the Preface to No More Parades the second novel in the tetralogy Ford wrote: All novels are historical, but all novels do not deal with such events as get on to the pages of history.  This No More Parades does.”

Siegfried Sassoon joined the Library in 1922 nominated by E.M. Forster and gave at that time his occupation or position as “None”. One of the most acclaimed of the First World War poets, known as “Mad Jack” for his feats of bravery in the field Sassoon was awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry” saving men under heavy fire. His open criticism of the War printed on the pages of The Times and discussed in the House of Commons was a considered and calculated counter-attack to Establishment ignorance and complacency about the human cost of the War.

“I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers.”[1]

It is often said that there is no town or village in Britain that was left untouched by the First World War and this is also true of the Library.  Hagberg Wright, Librarian from 1893 to 1940 was involved in the Books For Troops Scheme and the Library was a dropping off point for books for distribution through the Red Cross War Library. Advertisements instructed those sending books to the Library for this purpose to label them clearly “For Wounded”. On July 30, 1916 a short piece in The Times reported that 15 members of London Library staff were on active service.  The search is currently underway to discover who they were and how they fared. We will announce and acknowledge them on Remembrance Day 2014.

© Helen O’Neill             Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian

For more on Archive on 4 BBC Radio 4 The Long, Long Trail see:

[1] The Times Tuesday July 31, 1917, p. 8.


Siegfried Sassoon, an acclaimed First World War poet, joined the Library in 1922 giving his occupation or position as “None”. He was introduced to the Library by E.M. Forster.


Ford Madox Ford joined the Library in 1907. Between 1924 and 1928 he wrote a masterpiece about the War – a tetralogy called Parade’s End.


Laurence Olivier joined the Library in 1945. He won a BAFTA award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of British Expeditionary Force Leader General Sir John French in the film Oh! What A Lovely War in 1969.

Tommy's Tunes

Tommy’s Tunes: A Comprehensive Collection of Soldier’s Songs, Marching Melodies, Rude Rhymes, and Popular Parodies, Composed, Collected and Arranged on Active Service with the B.E.F., by F.T. Nettleingham, 2nd Lt. R.F.C. London: Erskine Macdonald 1917. In the hands of Charles Chilton Tommy’s Tunes made a game-changing cultural impact.

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