Bury St Edmunds: Rosie gets inside story on iconic song ‘Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile’

Rosie Grant and Dorothy Cunningham. Rosie Grant and Dorothy Cunningham.

Friday, April 4, 2014
8:43 AM

In a time of immense hardship and suffering, the catchy tune of Pack Up Your Troubles provided inspiration and solace to soldiers sacrificing their lives to the First World War.

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But the efforts of John Cuninghame, who went by the name Jack, in composing the song’s soothing sounds were in danger of being overlooked until fate brought a 93-year-old Bury St Edmunds resident and a talented teenager together.

Mr Cuninghame’s daughter-in law, Dorothy, lives at The Martins care home in The Vinefields, and tells quite a tale of his escapades during the war, which also included being shot down in a special mission.

Mr Cuninghame, who was also a dab hand at photography, composed the tune on his trusty banjo during his time in the trenches.

And while Felix and George Powell are widely credited with composing the song, Mrs Cuninghame says it was her father-in-law that actually came up with the tune, before turning down the chance to commercialise the catchy ditty.

“When they saw how popular it was, the other officer said if we get this right we could get quite a lot of money,” said Mrs Cuninghame.

“Well, my father-in-law scoffed at the whole idea. He was of the generation when one talked of officers and gentlemen. The gentleman part wouldn’t put up with making money out of something. It was looked down on– he didn’t want anybody to think his family needed money.”

One of those fascinated by Mrs Cuninghame’s stories was Rosie Grant, who volunteers at the care home as part of her Duke of Edinburgh award.

Having interviewed Mrs Cuninghame and carried out further research, the 15-year-old County Upper School student entered an article into ITV Anglia’s School Report competition, where students from across the east of England were invited to submit stories marking 100 years since the fighting started.

Rosie’s story was then selected as one of a handful of winners from hundreds of entries, and a TV crew visited The Martins this week to capture both Mrs Cuninghame and Rosie’s remarkable story, with the talented teenager enjoying her on-screen debut.

Rosie said: “I was much more nervous than I thought I would be before, but it was very relaxed, very chatty and very exciting. It’s definitely been really fun, and I think I might have caught the bug.”

Mrs Cuninghame also enjoyed her time on camera, adding: “It’s all part of remembering World War One – the awful side and the funny side – and sharing that with a new generation.”

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