The song is more commonly known as Suvla Bay. A 1944 Australian copyright on a song called Suvla Bay is held by the otherwise unknown Jack Spade and three other songwriters. The 1948 sheet music advertises it as “Sung by Tex Morton Australia’s yodelling boundary rider.” In January, 1949, the Sydney Sunday Herald reported that the song had “suddenly become the rage in Britain,” and as of March, 2015, a century after the Gallipoli campaign it commemorated, a lush recent recording of Suvla Bay by Ray Kernaghan had received more than 17,000 hits on YouTube. That version includes a final stanza in which the soldier’s sweetheart happily weds one of his former comrades while never forgetting her first love. Suvla Bay may well have been composed anonymously during the First World War, but no pre-1944 publication record exists. That is despite latter-day assertions that the Australian government made its singing in 1915-18 “illegal.”
Its broadcast popularity in Britain and Australia after World War II may have led to the simple updating of “Suvla” to “Dunkirk,” as in Mr Smith’s version, though the assigning of Dunkirk to the “autumn” is an error (“Suvla Bay” was in “April.”) Souda Bay in Crete is the site of an Italian naval assault in 1941 that sank HMS York; Bill Scott, editor of the Second Penguin Book of Australian Folksongs, heard the Souda version in Brisbane in 1944. The tune varies and elaborates the well-known nineteenth-century forebitter “Rolling Home” (latterly “Kevin Barry”). Whenever “Suvla Bay” may have been written, its style is very much that of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century music hall.