Mother When the Whistle Blows

We don’t know much about the composer of this song, George Strattman. We know that he was a composer of the industrial age and an active supporter of the OBU (One Big Union). As well as being in Cape Breton and the Springhill and Westville areas of Nova Scotia, he also spent time in Minto New Brunswick.

LYRICS

Mother, when the whistle’s blowing
Is then Father coming home?
Yes my darling, answered mother,
Daddy comes when whistles blow.

Satisfied with Mother’s answer,
Darling smiles and stays to play;
For he knows when whistles’s blowing
Daddy will be back to stay.

Mother starts to tend her duty,
Washes, cleans, with smile and song
for she known when whistle’s blowing
Her husband soon will be along.

One by one the hours are passing,
Till the clock shows half-past three.
And the child looks out the window,
so that he can better see.

And the child is watching closely
To see Daddy by first chance,
But in place of seeing Daddy
On comes, there the ambulance.

Who is inside of your wagon,
With the red cross marked upon?
child and Mother ask together,
Speak, O Driver, answer soon.

But at last a Brother Miner
Said, Dear Sister, let you know
That your husband dear was wounded
Just before the whistle blew

That’s our lot, remember, miners
Never safe where we might go.
Facing danger all around us,
And hunger after whistles blow.

But don’t ask for life protection,
For pension or a living wage-
Then they call you peace disturbers,
And out of order, common Reds

Don’t demand for wife and children,
comfort, education, bread.
That’s too much for you, remember.
That’s out of order, common Red

MLH, 17 May 1924

By CAROLYN LIONAIS

 CAROLYN LIONAIS – VOCALS AND HARMONIUM, MORGAN CURRIE – VIOLIN, BACKUP VOCALS AND ACOUSTIC GUITAR 

About Carolyn Lionais

Carolyn Lionais is a local twenty-something. Born and raised in beautiful Bras d’Or, she grew up surrounded by music in her family home. She learned to play the guitar around the age of 11 and has been writing and singing ever since. Never professionally, for the joy of it only. Professionally, Carolyn has been practicing nursing since 2007. Her voice and music can be heard in quiet bars, living rooms, long car rides, short films, background vocals and local EP’s circa. 2004.

Resources

Dawn Fraser was a prolific and influential bard/poet in the 1920s. We know about Fraser because of the scholarly work done by historians David Frank and Don MacGillivray (Frank and MacGillivray, 1976). Although not well known today, his collections were widely read in the 1920s. However, there were numerous other songmakers at this time about whom we do not know much including A.L. McNiven of Sydney, J.P. MacNeil, F.T.R., “The Mixer,” William Waterford, Dannie Boutilier of Springhill, George Straatman of Westville and Florence. These poets of the industrial age followed from the preindustrial bardic tradition bearers of Cape Breton Island discussed by Charles Dunn in the Highland Settler: A Portrait of the Scottish Gael in Cape Breton and Eastern Nova Scotia. (Dunn, 58-73). We don’t know much about Strattman. We know that he was an active supporter of the OBU (One Big Union). As well as being in Cape Breton and the Springhill and Westville area, he also spent time in Minto, New Brunswick. Allen Seager points out that in 1926 he was listed as heading an OBU Unit in Newcastle Bridge, New Brunswick (Seager 1980). In a letter to the OBU Bulletin George Straatman indicates he was born a Dutchman and emigrated to Canada. He expressed concern that some anti-OBU miners at a meeting in Westville called him a foreigner who did not own property there. Straatman took aim at Eli Harris, an anti-OBU miner in a letter he wrote in January to the One Big Union Bulletin:

… contrary to the wishes of Eli Harris, I honestly do agree with the ‘prophet’ that I do not own a shingle or spike in the town of Westville, that I belong to the class of the workers who do not possess and therefore again I am entitled to join the ranks of the poor, the workers, and if Eli Harris is such a big possessor of wealth, he should stay among his own tribe, the rich.[1] The composer of “Mother When the Whistle Blows” was George Straatmen. The song captures the thoughts of women in mining towns who live by the whistle, waiting for the miner to come home from work. It also speaks of the ever-present danger found in mining communities with accidents and injuries regularly occurring. Miners fighting for a living wage were sometimes labeled “reds” by other members of the community at this time. References Dunn, Charles W. (1953). Highland Settler: A Portrait of the Scottish Gael in Nova Scotia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Frank, David, and Don MacGillivray. (1976).Introduction to Echoes From Labour’s War: Industrial Cape Breton in the 1920s, by Dawn Fraser, 1-16. Toronto: New Hogtown Press. One Big Union Bulletin, January 22, 1925. Seager, A. (1980). “Minto, New Brunswick: A Study in Class Relations Between the Wars.” Labour/LeTravailleur 5 Spring: 81-132.

[1] OBU Bulletin 22 January 1925, p. 3

The Ballad of Slim McInnis // The Ballad of Slim McInnis - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  1. The Ballad of Slim McInnis // The Ballad of Slim McInnis - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  2. Doscomocracy // Doscomocracy - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  3. Trampin’ Down the Highway // Trampin’ Down the Highway - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  4. Quaint Harbour // Quaint Harbour - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  5. Blackheart’s of the Company // Blackheart’s of the Company - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  6. Stand the Gaff // Stand the Gaff - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  7. Michael’s Tune // Michael’s Tune - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  8. Arise Ye Nova Scotia Slaves // Arise Ye Nova Scotia Slaves - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  9. Whatever It Takes // Whatever It Takes - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  10. The Wearing of the Red // The Wearing of the Red - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  11. Down at Sydney Steel // Sydney Steel - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  12. Stronger then Steel // Stronger then Steel - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  13. Steel Winds // Steel Winds - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  14. A Cape Breton Lament // A Cape Breton Lament - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  15. An Seann Tigh Sgoil // An Seann Tigh Sgoil - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  16. Friday Evening // Ian MacDougall - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  17. The Voice of the Worker // The Voice of the Worker - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  18. Daughters Awake // Daughters Awake - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  19. Cape Breton Miner and Besco // Cape Breton Miner and Besco - Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  20. Miner’s Wife // Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest
  21. Steel Workers Lament // Songs of Steel, Coal and Protest