When the Tigers Broke Free: Pink Floyd and the War

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Pink Floyd have long been hailed one of the most influential bands ever, with their experimental psychedelic sound paving the way in the progressive rock genre. They are perhaps best remembered for their classic albums The Wall (and its accompanying film), Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon. However, as the band evolved over time, they became known for their increasingly political stance, which was largely inspired by bassist and songwriter Roger Water’s connections to World War Two.

Eric Fletcher Waters, Roger’s father, was killed whilst serving as a second lieutenant in the 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in Italy during the Battle of Anzio in 1944, when Roger was just five months old. This had a significant impact not only on his life, but his music. His anti-war stance is explicitly illustrated throughout Pink Floyd’s 1983 album The Final Cut, a concept album exploring what he perceived as the betrayal of fallen British servicemen like his father. It was heavily influenced by the political climate at the time, directly addressing then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the onset of the Falklands War of 1982.

One of the most poignant songs of this era in their discography is the 1982 single ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’, which commemorates the death of his father, with the ‘Tigers’ referring to the German tanks which were used in the Anzio campaign. It depicts a sense of injustice, suggesting that when the commander tried to withdraw his troops he was refused and subsequently “the Anzio bridgehead was held for the price/ Of a few hundred ordinary lives”.

There is a palpable sense of the loss that families felt – the King sent his mother “a scroll/ with gold leaf and all […] and my eyes still grow damp to remember/ His Majesty signed with his own rubber stamp”. The comments on the YouTube audio of this song contain personal stories of other servicemen lost in this battle, and many listeners appear grateful for the representation Waters offers for the other tragic victims of war – those left behind. The heightened emotion of this song culminates in the bitterness of the final lines: ‘and that’s how the High Command took my daddy from me’.

On the seventieth anniversary, he unveiled a memorial on the spot his father died as an act of remembrance of the battalion. 

Whilst Pink Floyd always played with quite political ideas, the more controversial aspects of some of their later work eventually led to divisions within the band, and The Final Cut became their final album with Roger Waters. Of the album’s legacy, in an interview, Waters once said : ‘I was in a greengrocer’s shop, and this woman of about forty in a fur coat came up to me. She said she thought it was the most moving record she had ever heard. Her father had also been killed in World War II, she explained. And I got back into my car with my three pounds of potatoes and drove home and thought, good enough.’

Listen to Pink Floyd’s ‘When the Tigers Broke Free’ below, available via Pink Floyd Records:

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Second year English student and News Editor 2019/20. Can usually found listening to the same playlists and watching the same films over and over.

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