93-year-old man sings a song from his childhood – and it’s completely lovely

20 November 2017, 14:40

By Lizzie Davis

Leonard Minkes’ Polish father taught him this song over 80 years ago. Now, 80 years later, he’s passing it on again

Meet Leonard. Leonard was born and brought up in Cardiff by a Polish family.

His father, Jacob, was from Eastern Poland and when he was a young man he served for three years in the Tsar’s army on the border of Siberia.

To pass the time (and keep warm!), Jacob and his fellow soldiers sang a sardonic song about the Tsar and his ambitions. And when his son was born, Jacob taught it to him – in Yiddish and Russian.

Leonard meanwhile grew up, became and academic and worked around the world – London, Geneva, Birmingham and Hong Kong before retiring to Oxford.

Just last year, Leonard returned to Cardiff to live in a residential home and became a member of the Forget Me Not Chorus, conducted by Kate Woolveridge.

Leonard told Kate about the song and they decided to sing it together. The words roughly translate as follows: 

Sing, swallow, sing
Port Arthur is not yours
Manchuria is all you think about,
Stay at home and go to the devil!

What is the Forget Me Not Chorus?

Kate Woolveridge and Sara Teagle set up the chorus in 2012 to help families living with dementia.

“I believe passionately in the power music music,” says Kate. “Singing together in a relaxed and fun environment has immense therapeutic benefits for both those suffering with dementia and their families.”

“Often you hear people saying how lovely it is when people with dementia sing old war songs and their memories come back. That’s not who we are or what we are about. It’s not about recalling memories, it’s about engagement, safety and fun.”

Find out more about the Forget Me Not Chorus here. The Chorus is taking part in The Big Give, so any donations they receive from midday on 28 November to midday 5 December will be doubled. Find out more about The Big Give here