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Music

The Story Behind The Song: How Pink Floyd created 'When the Tigers Broke Free'

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters lost his father as an infant, a mournful moment which has plagued his mind since childhood. In ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’, Waters chronicles his father’s death during World War II and tries to make sense of a tragedy that has inadvertently shaped his life.

Tragically, Waters was only five months old when his father was killed in 1944, and he’s discussed the death in many songs over the years. Additionally, the incident also made him take a passionate anti-war stance after being personally affected by the conflict, which stopped him from ever having a relationship with his father.

One of the most intriguing lyrics in the song, “His Majesty signed with his own rubber stamp,” is a reference to a condolence letter his family recieved from George VI. Waters stumbled across the letter when he discovered – and tried on – an old uniform which belonged to his father.

Waters found it insulting that it wasn’t signed by hand, considering he died for his country. Instead, they lazily rubber-stamped the letter following his father’s passing on duty at Anzio, Italy.

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In the 2015 documentary The Wall, Waters visits Anzio Beach for the first time. He explained to Rolling Stone: “I’ve never tried to visit because my father’s body was never found. I never really knew the circumstances of his death in any detail. We’d been in southern Italy, filming in the memorial garden at Cassino — a lot of people gathered, including a news crew”.

Adding: “A British expat named Harry Shindler, living in Italy, saw it on his TV. He went,’ I might be able to help that person.’ He traces people from the war who are missing, and tries to fill in the gaps. He called me and I went,’ Well, that’s nice.’ Bugger me – he found the spot where he was actually killed. The bit in the film that is just me looking at the sea, that is actually Anzio Beach. It was very moving to be there, but the whole trip was very moving.”

While at Anzio Beach, Waters examined the letter that he refers to in ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’, and it was highly emotional for the Pink Floyd founder to read those words in the location where his father drew his final breath.

“I’d only ever looked at that letter once before in my life, about ten years ago, and I put it where I never looked at it again,” he said.” I gave it to director Sean Evans and said, ‘I will look at it somewhere over there.’ That’s where we did it. And I’ve never looked at it again.”

For as long as he lives, Waters will likely hold a level of resentment about that letter. Even though the musician filmed The Wall documentary over 30 years on from when he wrote ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’, the same feelings that fuelled that song were still eating away at him, but visiting Anzio Beach managed to provide Waters with a grain of comfort.