“God help me, I was only 19” – ‘I was only 19’ by Redgum ‘I was only 19’ effectively protests against the use of conscription during the Vietnam War. It also evocatively and vividly describes the impact of the war on the surviving men. Written in 1983, the song follows the experiences and trauma of a young, 19 year old Australian man from the gruelling military training to the deadly jungles of Vietnam. The song also powerfully illustrates the after effects of his experience in Vietnam. With a descriptive name, ‘I was only 19’ is a folk song. The first 3 verses describe the military training and going on the voyage to Vietnam.
The chorus conveys the terror that still lingers, even years after the war. The next 3 verses vividly illustrates the horror and pain of warfare. The final verse expresses the central character’s bitterness that the ANZAC legends never warned them of the pain, blood and gore that is nicknamed ‘War’.
Repetition of the chorus reinforces the feelings of the surviving men. ‘I was only 19’ includes a range of effective language features. An important feature is alliteration. For instance, in the first line of the song, alliteration is evident here with ‘passing-out parade at Puckapunyal’. Another effective language feature is the use of rhymes.
For example, in the fifth verse each of the words on the end of a line rhymed with the next; ‘swore’ and ‘roar’ as well as ‘moon’ and ‘June’. The Key and Meter of ‘I was only 19’ stay the same the entirety of the song. The dynamics of the song are quite simple but it is effective with conveying the serious nature of the song. During the last chorus the beat picks up just slightly. Redgum also layers his own voice to harmonize with it. The meaning of this song is to protest the use of conscription and to demonstrate the feelings and trauma of a 19 year old Australian man who served in the Vietnam War.