I Was Only 19 re-recorded by John Schumann from Redgum and The Waifs after 40 years.
John Schumann (centre) with The Waifs, (from left) Donna Simpson, Josh Cunningham, and Vikki Thorn.()
After four decades since its initial release in 1983, the iconic song “I Was Only 19” by John Schumann, the lead singer-songwriter of Redgum, has been re-recorded. Recognized by The Australian War Memorial as “the quintessential song of the Australian Vietnam War veteran,” the song was originally unveiled during a time of deep division in public opinion regarding the Vietnam War.
The newly recorded version of the song brings together the original artist, John Schumann, with the West Australian folk rock band The Waifs, and features the expertise of acclaimed producer Shane Nicholson. The collaborative effort aims to capture the essence of the original while infusing a fresh perspective into the narrative.
“I Was Only 19” draws inspiration from the experiences of Schumann’s brother-in-law, Mick Storen, a Vietnam War veteran who served with The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) in 1969. Reflecting on the song, Schumann expressed, “I Was Only 19 made us stop and realize: ‘These blokes, they did it so tough’ — they deserved more.”
In an effort to support the children of Australian Defence Force families involved in recent conflicts, all artist royalties from the re-created song will be donated to the Commando Welfare Trust (CWT). Schumann emphasized that the contributions would address needs such as the kids’ activities and services not covered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).
The Waifs, known for their storytelling prowess and distinctive Aussie accent, brought a new dimension to the song, according to Schumann. He praised their ability to convey the war experience with sensitivity and authenticity, noting, “They just had a nice sensibility, the way they told stories, the Aussie accent … so I jumped at that.”
The decision to incorporate a female voice in the reimagined version was intentional, with Donna Simpson of The Waifs lending her vocals to open the track. Schumann emphasized the importance of capturing the perspective of mothers, wives, sisters, and girlfriends who endured the pain of watching their loved ones march away.
With the addition of various instruments, including the dobro played by Shane Nicholson, slide guitar by Josh Cunningham of The Waifs, and harmonica by Schumann, the re-recorded version achieved a unique and mournful sound.
Shane Nicholson, the producer, recalled being moved by the song as a child and felt a sense of responsibility to acknowledge its 40th anniversary in a significant way. Reflecting on the experience, Nicholson highlighted the enduring power of the song and the respectful approach taken in building upon its legacy.
Retired Major Steve Pilmore OAM RFD, an ambassador for the Commando Welfare Trust, commended John Schumann’s deep understanding of veterans’ experiences. Major Pilmore emphasized that the CWT focuses on supporting those affected by war, acknowledging the challenges faced by returning veterans and the importance of maintaining a robust support structure.
As the re-recorded version of “I Was Only 19” pays tribute to the original while contributing to a meaningful cause, it stands as a testament to the enduring impact of the song and its ability to resonate across generations.