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Year:
1965
Publisher:
Andre Deutsch
Language:
english
ISBN 10:
0836969669
ISBN 13:
9780836969665
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THE
LONG
TRAIL
JVhat the British Soldier Sang and Said in The
Great War of
1914-18

JOHN BROPHY
AND

ERIC PARTRIDGE

ANDRE DEUTSCH

/ *0
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THIS
REVISED AND REWRITTEN EDITION

1965

BY ANDRE DEUTSCH LIMITED

105

GREAT RUSSELL STREET
LONDON WCl

COPYRIGHT ©

1965

BY ERIC PARTRIDGE AND JOHN BROPHY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
TONBRIDGE PRINTERS LIMITED
TONBRIDGE KENT

Explanatory Preface

book is a new presentation of So?igs and Slang of the British
Soldier 1914-18 and likewise bears Eric Partridge’s name
beside mine as joint editors-cum-authors. In character and in
substance The Long Trail is the same as the third edition of
Songs and Slang but certain passages have been removed and
others replaced, new passages have been written in, and the
retrospective point of view has been changed throughout from
that of 1931 to that of 1964. I have done this with Eric
Partridge’s consent though not necessarily with his approval
in detail.
As the text which formed the basis of The Long Trail was
itself a third edition, not an impression, it may be as well to
put on record here, at least in outline, how the joint editorship
varied from time to time.
Songs and Slang 1st edition. We both worked, by frequent
consultation, on establishing the songs and their texts, and
the Glossary. I contributed under my own name an Intro¬
duction (of which very little remains in The Long Trail,
incorporated into 'After Fifty Years’), and discourses on
‘Chants and Sayings’ and ‘Songs Accompanying Bugle Calls’
which are now in the Appendix.
Songs and Slang 2nd edition. This edition was Eric Partridge’s
work throughout. Twenty pages were added at the end of the
previous text, of additional songs, chants, sayings, slang and
non-slang terms suggested by various correspondents.
Songs and Slang 3rd edition. This almost doubled the length
of the book. 157 pages were added at the end, compiled from
extra items and variant readings suggested by corre¬
spondents. Again all the editing was done by Eric Partridg; e.
I contributed an essay on ‘Music Hall Songs’ (which survives
in this book) but otherwise saw neither ‘copy’ nor proofs.

This

5

In 1964 circumstances seem to have been reversed. Eric
Partridge has been unable to spare time from other commit¬
ments and, unwillingly, muttering under my breath like a
soldier on parade, I have undertaken first a part, then another
part, and finally the whole of the job of reorganisation, revision,
rewriting, and supplying new passages and new entries. Except
for the songs, or most of them, there is not one page that has
not been heavily revised. I am grateful to Mr Oliver Stonor for
some useful preliminary editing and querying and to Mrs Rose
Kloegman for providing an excellent typescript out of near
chaos. I also owe a great debt to an old friend, Captain Liddell
Hart, who, despite the pressure of his own work, 'read’ galley
proofs and made a number of important corrections. For any
surviving errors, omissions or oversights, the responsibility is
mine.
John Brophy

6

Contents

Explanatory Preface
After Fifty Years:

5

john

9

brophy

PART ONE: SOLDIERS’ SONGS
EDITED

BY

JOHN

BROPHY

AND

ERIC

PARTRIDGE

I

Songs Predominantly sung on the March

31

II

Songs Sung on the March, but more often in Billets
and Estaminets

53

III Chants and Songs rarely, if ever, sung on the March

63

PART TWO: SOLDIERS’ SLANG
JOHN

BROPHY

AND

ERIC

PARTRIDGE

Glossary

73

Note to the Glossary

209

APPENDIX :
OTHER KINDS OF WORDS AND

MUSIC

JOHN BROPHY

I

From the Music-Hall

213

II

Chants and Sayings

222

III Songs Related to Bugle Calls

232

Bibliographical Note

237

Preface to the First Edition

239

7

Illustrations

There are sixteen pages of illustrations showing many aspects of the Great
War, between pages 128 and 129.

All illustrations by courtesy of the Imperial War Museum zvith the
tion of: ‘Arf a Mo, Kaiser’, by courtesy of Mr Bert Thomas;
Bairnsfather’s ‘So Obvious: Oo made that ‘ole?’ by courtesy
Tatler and Bystander; ‘Armistice Day in London,’ by courtesy
Radio Times Hulton Picture Library

excep¬
Bruce
of the
of the

AFTER FIFTY YEARS
JOHN

BROPHY
1

To those who have survived so long, things which happened
half a century ago can be vivid in memory and yet dreamlike,
unreal. The paradox may be a result of the vast accumulation
of later experiences, for in the twentieth century the pace of
history has, notoriously, quickened. It is not only the amount
and the detail of later memories which tend to make the five
years 1914-18 a little hard for those who, as the French say,
assisted at the event to believe, in retrospect: the fact is, we
who have survived are not, in many ways, the same people
that we were. In August 1914 we were young, perhaps very
young, and now we are so old that every cell in our bodies has
been renewed over and over again and, with many of us, both
the content and the processes of our minds have been modified
drastically. The youngsters of 1914-18 sometimes look to us
more like ancestral figures than earlier versions of our present
selves.
While it was in bewildered progress, the 1914-18 war was
generally called ‘the war’ and large numbers who took part in
it earnestly believed that it was ‘the war to end wars’. Only
when, after two decades of untranquil peace, Hitler made
political-military seizures of territory from Austria, Czecho¬
slovakia and Poland, did the 1914-18 conflict slide into
historical perspective as World War One. Now there is a
generation of men and women, well on in their thirties, to
whom even Hitler’s war, World War Two, is something
which happened before they grew up, something belonging to
the historical past. All this, plus international communism,
space travel and stockpiles of cataclysmic bombs, has been
crammed into the past fifty years. Some of the younger historians
consider a half-century a convenient measurement for marking
off the way in which the recent becomes the historical, and are
now making re-assessments of various aspects of the 1914-18
9

war. They are right to do so, for while they can consult an
immense stock of ‘documents’, much of it contemporary with
the events, much put down, as reminiscences, fiction and
commentary, during the 1920s and 1930s, they have the further
advantage, which historians almost always lack, that there are
living survivors of the period who can check, and if necessary
correct, the factual records from which history proceeds or
ought to proceed.
This book, of which the original version was published in
1930, has a dual nature: it is a document of social and military
history and yet has the informal, personal and highly detailed
quality of oral reminiscence. It was also closely examined,
criticised and amended, through two subsequent and enlarged
editions, by readers whose wartime memories were then com¬
paratively fresh and unconfused. It began as a casual suggestion
made when I offered Eric Partridge (at that time a small but
enterprising, almost one-man publishing firm in Museum
Street) a collection of essays, which he duly published the same
year as Fanfare. One of these essays was called ‘Ribaldry in
Soldiers’ Songs’: it quoted, in snippets, eleven of the songs
here set out. I cannot be sure, for I have never been one to keep
records of such things, but I believe the essay had been turned
down by several periodicals - some professing to be shocked and the collection as a whole politely declined by another book
publisher. I had already, the previous year, added an elevenpage glossary, which included a number of slang terms, to an
anthology, The Soldier’s War, which I edited for Dent’s. It may
therefore seem inevitable that the idea of a book recording what
soldiers sang and what words and phrases they used among
themselves should spring up in conversation between Eric
Partridge and myself, but it was by no means inevitable that
the book should get into print, be published and in time become
quite famous. That was due to the enterprise and publishing
courage of Eric Partridge, who, I am pretty sure, had no idea, at
the start, that the venture was to entice him into a distinguished
career as lexicographer.
2
That was in 1929 and 1930, the years of The Recession in the
United States which a little later hit this country as The Slump.
10

Hitler was almost ready to achieve absolute power in a
Germany we still thought of as defeated and down and out. If
it is difficult to remember the atmosphere, the feel of things, in
that brief period when the post-War 1920s were yielding place
to the indubitably pre-War 1930s, it seems downright impos¬
sible to recall and convey the air, the feel, the mental climate
of early 1914. From the here and now of 1964 it looks almost
like another country and another age. Or so it seems to one
who was then a schoolboy, still two years short of ‘Matric’ and
highly excited by glimpses of what was apparently about to
happen in the adult world. He was provincial in a sense that
hardly applies to anyone nowadays when news is almost
instantaneous with the event and, on the domestic television
screen, the whole pageant of contemporary celebrity, from pop
singers and teenage courtesans to the heads of all the great
states, is paraded in loquacious close-up. Fifty years ago not
one person, adult or child, in ten thousand had any direct
evidence from his own senses concerning the people who ran
the country. The 'average man’ was aware of statesmen, land¬
owning dukes, financiers and manufacturers, bishops and
bankers through formal photographs and caricatures reproduced
in the press, possibly as brief flickers jerking across the primitive
cinema screen, or on the stage as conventionalised types in
farce or musical comedy. What would now be called the image
of the upper class might or might not be romanticised: it was
always distorted, incomplete and unreal. Although the feudal
system had long broken up in its lower strata, at the top it
remained intact in the sense that wealth and power belonged
to a very few. The fact that some of those few considered
themselves to be ‘democratic’ in outlook because they knew
the names of their cottagers and were affable to the shopkeepers
they patronised did little or nothing to bridge the gulf of un¬
acknowledged ignorance separating them from the mass of the
people.
What the schoolboy in early 1914 thought was about to
happen, as a major addition to modern history, was the same as
the majority of people expected to happen. He was strongly in
favour of both the much predicted events, to the scandal of his
schoolfellows and of his grandfather, whose whiskered face
would grow purple with rage whenever the boy, poised to
11

evade the flourish and downswing of a heavy walking stick,
appeared and shouted ‘Votes for Women!’ followed by ‘Home
Rule for Ever!’ Women got the vote five years later, with
practically no fuss, and three years after that Ireland, all but
the Six Counties, got a good deal more than the mild measure
of local government known as Home Rule, but not without the
civil war which had been prophesied for the later months of
1914. The assassination of an Austrian archduke at Sarajevo,
then in Servia, proved, fantastically, to be an event of greater
and more immediate consequence to the British people than
either the arrests of suffragettes outside Parliament, the secret
arming of Orangemen in Ulster or the refusal of senior officers
in the British Army to move against them. 1914 was to belong
to the whole of Europe, not merely to a group of islands off
the western coasts of the continent. Few suspected it in the
early summer of 1914, my grandfather, I dare say, least of all.
3
The popular tradition of war, as seen through civilian eyes in
Britain, makes an emphatic distinction: military battles, how¬
ever picturesque and moving, are never in the same class as
battles at sea. Tennyson might versify the Charge of the Light
Brigade and Kipling (taking a kerbside, civilian-spectator view
of a marching column) pound out a spondaic rhythm about
boots, but it was Nelson and his Jolly Jack Tars (many of them
kidnapped into the Navy by the Press Gang) who dominated
the popular songs of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
1914 changed all that, and not only because the war at sea,
though immensely successful from the start, was undramatic by
comparison. In 1914 Britain began to turn young men into
soldiers and went on doing so, on a scale unprecedented,
throughout the following four years until she had three and a
half million men under arms at the end of a war in which, on
the Western Front alone, two and a half million British
soldiers had been killed, wounded or otherwise put out of
action. More than nine hundred thousand died. It is not true
that a whole generation of males was wiped out, but the inci¬
dence of death was far higher than decimation. On the Western
Front out of every nine soldiers five became casualties, but if
12

only troops in forward areas are taken into account - infantry,
field artillery, trench engineers and so on - it is probable that
out of every nine men eight became casualties, and three or
even four of those - perhaps after being wounded several times
- eventually were killed or died of wounds. The war was a war
not only of physical endurance but of nervous and moral en¬
durance. For the men who survived it, it became in retrospect
an experience to be thrust out of memory most of the time, an
experience impossible for the mind to digest, and, for many,
tolerable only when some of the less distressing events were
selected for recall and dressed up with sentimental emotions.
In 1914 and early 1915 many men were so eager to enlist
that the Army’s organisation was overwhelmed. Seven divisions
of Regulars had gone to France to fight on the left flank of the
French, the Territorials were mobilised, and there was every¬
where a shortage of uniforms, equipment and weapons for the
volunteers. There was just as great a shortage of men able to
play, even in an out of date style, the part of drill instructors
and junior commanders. With so much improvisation, a few
months passed before those who enlisted in newly created
battalions discovered exactly what it was they had let them¬
selves in for. They had engaged to serve, twenty-four hours a
day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks in the year, for an
undetermined number of years, as private soldiers in a complex
organisation incidentally designed to enforce the will of each
and every superior on those in the lowest rank of all, to make
them jerk into action at the word of command, stand still at
the word of command, go anywhere and do anything at the
word of command. In order to carry out what they had con¬
ceived, for the most part romantically and generously, as a
patriotic duty, the young civilians were compelled to undergo
a preliminary process not unlike what would now be called
conditioning. It involved an almost total surrender of personal
liberty and an immediate, unconsidered obedience to orders.
Military discipline was not new in history but some of its 1914
characteristics were fairly modern and probably derived from
late nineteenth-century deference to the success of Prussian
methods in the field: significantly it was after 1870 that parade
helmets topped with metal spikes and a jerky, noisy kind of
drill were adopted by the British Army. This was the process
13

through which first a hundred thousand, then a million, even¬
tually several million civilians were hurriedly passed to be
transformed into soldiers.
The penalties for disobedience ranged from a temporary loss
of leisure, if any, a temporary loss of pay and some extra
duties, through pack drill - mostly marching at speed with rifle
and full equipment (which weighed about sixty pounds) to
specialised forms of punitive imprisonment and, on active
service, Field Punishment No. 1: this involved the offender
subsisting on a diet of bread and water and, lashed by hands and
ankles to a wheel or a gate, being exhibited to his comrades in
one of the ancient postures of crucifixion. Ninety-nine men out
of a hundred never ran any great risk of the more drastic
punishments but this was only because the spirit in which King’s
Regulations were administered was more flexible and humane
than the spirit and letter of the regulations themselves. The
possibility of severe punishment hung perpetually over the
private soldier and indeed some Regular N.C.O.s boasted that
if they really wished to do so they could make sure that any
man under them would be sent to a military prison. As soon as a
private soldier realised the power of the organisation to which,
body and soul, he now belonged, he realised also that, while
he might learn certain ways of outwitting it, outwardly he had
no choice but to submit. Any form of direct defiance was worse
than useless.
It is noteworthy that while many of the songs sung by the
troops were sentimental in content and in melody, few have the
lilting light-heartedness so characteristic of the late Victorian
and Edwardian period which immediately preceded 1914. Even
ragtime, which had the attraction of novelty and a transatlantic
brashness as well, was comparatively little sung by the troops,
perhaps because its rhythms were not always easy to march to,
but perhaps also because it was too individual, too self-assertive.
The Army rarely allowed a private soldier to be an individual:
he was a name and a regimental number, and on returns of
strength was likely to be shown as one of so many ‘rifles’. If
and when he were killed or wounded, another man took over
the rifle. It is all understandable but, to the private soldier of
1914-18, left alone for a few rare moments with his own
thoughts, hardly reassuring.
14

4
The songs here set out were universally sung in British
Expeditionary Forces at one time or another during 1914-18.
They come from the ranks, especially from the private soldiers
without ambition to bear office or special responsibility. The
very roughness of the metre, the assonances, the faulty
rhyming and the occasional omission of rhyme indicate their
illiterate or semi-literate origin. They are the songs of homeless
men, evoked by exceptional and distressing circumstances; the
songs of an itinerant community, continually altering within
itself under the incidence of death and mutilation.
Like mediaeval ballads, these songs are anonymous, and
even the method of their composition is a mystery. Much
speculation and a deal of scholarship has failed to prove how
the ballads originated. One theory is that each of them was
composed by an individual poet, now unknown; and that repe¬
tition by professional minstrels merely polished the text and
altered a word here and there. Another theory holds that the
ballads were community songs, in building which each person
present would add a line or a stanza at a time. The same induc¬
tions may be applied to these soldiers’ songs and - although
they are so recent - with as little hope of final proof. The only
author to whom they can be attributed is ‘Warrior, or Warriors,
Unknown’. Most units included at least one man with some
literary experience: a small journalist, a writer of Christmas
card verses or parish magazine poetry, or someone with a gift
for personal abuse, who would produce, for the battalion or
battery concert-party, jests and ditties about topics of the
moment or outstanding personalities of the unit. Songs of that
kind correspond to the ‘family’ joke abhorred by visitors. They
lack universality of spirit and application, but they may be a
clue to the origin of true Army songs, many of which are
parodies. The men who composed battalion songs, and other
men, satiric or jocular but not able to produce a complete and
original composition, would often find an opportunity so to twist
and rearrange a line of a popular concert or music-hall song as
to travesty its sentiments or satirise some aspect of the
common lot. The wit, delighted with his inspiration, would
shout it aloud, louder than his comrades singing the original
15

words. If the variation was appreciated, it would be taken up
generally, and other minds, expanding the idea, might improve
the phrase and possibly add to it.
That this is a likely origin for many of the songs may be seen
from one or two aborted parodies. In 1917—18 there was
current a ‘ragtime number’, The Black Eyed Susans, and it
became customary at one part of the refrain to sing instead of
the proper couplet:
The Orderly Sergeant knows I’m coming,
I can hear him softly humming.
There for some reason the afflatus ceased, and the parody was
never completed. Similarly with Colonel Bogey, probably the
most frequently heard marching tune in the Army. Some bars
of the refrain went very well to a percussive repetition of the
word ‘ballocks’, which could be hurled against the Warwickshires or any other regiment whose name would fit the metre.
The rest of the tune was too intricate and, although it was
known, whistled and hummed everywhere, no further words
were ever attached to it. Songs that were invented were either
snatches of nonsense or satire, or pseudo-ballads that told a
story - usually a bawdy one. These may be more convincingly
ascribed to a single author, but who that author was is now
quite beyond proof. Some were inherited from the professional
Army of pre-1914 and may derive from an oral tradition
reaching back to the press-gangs and prisons of the eighteenth
century. They sprang into being at different stages of the war Mademoiselle from Armenteers, for example, is a 1915 song, /
Wore a Tunic is 1917. The majority are period songs and
became obsolete, mere souvenirs of departed comradeship and
never-to-be-repeated adventures, the moment the war ended in
1918. It is as such unique memorials to a unique event that they
are here collected.
5
It would be difficult to the point of impossibility to establish a
date when any one of these songs was sung by one battalion,
battery, brigade or division while still unknown to the rest of
the B.E.F. Radio was in use, but it sent telegraphic messages
16

only, by long and short ‘buzzes’, and there was no amplification
by loudspeaker at the receiving end. Songs such as these were
never sung in music-halls or concert halls, and never put on
gramophone records. No more than a few bowdlerised frag¬
ments got into even ephemeral print. The rapid and thorough
propagation of soldiers’ songs through the Army was due to
the intermingling of men from different units in billets and
estaminets behind the line, and in hospitals, base-camps and
troopships. After July 1st, 1916, the system of restoring an
invalided man to his own battalion or battery broke down;
‘Base Details’ were sent ‘up the line’ to those formations which
at the moment were most in need of reinforcements. A man
who enlisted in the Devons might, after being wounded or sick,
find himself in the Border Regiment or the Northumberland
Fusiliers, and, after another wound, in a nominally Lancashire
battalion composed of former Munsters, Scots Fusiliers,
Middlesex, Norfolks and possibly every regiment in the Army.
Most of the songs fall readily enough into one or other of
seven categories.
Satire on war, and mock heroics. Plain-speaking about war, the
cold eye and the literal tongue turned upon what lies beyond
the flag-waving and speech-making, the deliberate lowering of
exalted spirits - this sort of realism is often supposed to be the
discovery of the 1914-18 soldier. The warriors of previous ages
are understood to have conducted themselves as romantically as
the conditions of their warfare allowed. Seemingly, they
believed the patriotic songs, and were slaughtered in very pretty
attitudes, decorating the background effectively for their more
fortunate comrades who survived with no more than a few
romantic rents in the scarlet tunic or a becoming bandage
round the head. Thus the witness of Clio. The disillusionment,
the bitterness, the grousing of the soldiers of the past are not
much on record and we are incited to believe (as they them¬
selves perhaps believed, once the danger and the fatigue were
over) that the martial spirit in the ‘days of old’ took no account
of lice or the smell of corruption. It is hardly probable. As
C. E. Montague pointed out, the stubborn, strictly agnostic
spirit which ruled in the dangerous places of 1914-18 is to be
found in Shakespeare’s Henry V, in the foot-soldier Williams.
17

Even a Great War does not utterly transform national charac¬
ter: it can but expose the foundations, the conflicting stresses
and inertias on which it is built. If British soldiers half a century
ago were jesting about the death which slew their comrades
and seemed their own certain fate, if they cheated hysteria with
songs making a joke of mud and lice and fear and weariness, it
must have been because their forefathers had evolved the same
ironic method of outwitting misfortune. When the victims can
mock Juggernaut even as they writhe under the wheels, then by
so much do they subtract from his victory. That a man should
be familiar with Hush! Here comes a Whizz-Bang or the second
stanza of If the Sergeant Steals Tour Rum did not, during a
bombardment, alter or diminish the incidence of shells that
burst around him, but knowledge of such songs may well have
reduced the emotional distress caused by fear, and aided him,
after the experience, to pick his uncertain way back to sanity
again. Similarly, when the romantic conception of war proved
false, out of date, useless, the man in the line was helped in his
daily endurances if he could ridicule all heroics and sing, with
apparent shamelessness, I do?it Want to he a Soldier or Far Far
fro?n Tpres I Want to Be. These songs satirized more than war:
they poked fun at the soldier’s own desire for peace and rest,
and so prevented it from overwhelming his will to go on doing
his duty. They were not symptoms of defeatism, but strong
bulwarks against it.
Satire on the military system. A great part of Army procedure
was (or so it seemed to a private soldier) devised for parade
purposes. Polishing brass buttons, presenting arms, adjusting
alignment on the parade ground, saluting officers with the hand
further away, and keeping one’s thumbs in line with the seam
of the trousers, all this appeared somewhat irrelevant to the
main purpose of winning the war. The new recruits were
assured that punctiliousness in such trifles had a miraculous
moral effect, and in some unspecified manner would make them
into efficient soldiers. As soldiering was a new science to them,
they were compelled to believe the professors until their own
experience let in a great flood of naked light and the old colonels
and majors were seen to be maunderers speaking from the
book, blind to reality. By that time it was too late. Military
18

discipline in 1914-18 was so hierarchic and rigid that it could
be altered only by revolution - and a revolution would have
meant defeat. The British soldier continued to suffer the
absurdities and irritations of a system designed, a century or
more before 1914, to transform tramps and wastrels into pretty
puppets. He did not suffer silently. His comments off parade,
and occasionally sotto voce on parade, were incisive and im¬
polite. The very discipline against which he rebelled kept his
opinions out of his songs, although some indication of his
thoughts and feelings about the handling of the New Armies
may be found in JVe Are Fred Kamo’s Army and At the Halt on
the Left For in Platoon.
Satire on superior officers. The soldier’s resentment against the
system to which he was subjected often took the form of reflec¬
tions on a particular person in authority over him, who seemed
to typify the general stupidity or who was notoriously ineffi¬
cient or domineering. Superior rank was, by its own nature, a
target for satire: chiefly the colonel, the sergeant-major, the
quarter-master sergeant and the sergeant. The colonel figures
in songs of this kind because he was the supreme authority the
private soldier knew, but officers generally escaped satire; not
that the private failed to recognize that they had a much more
comfortable time than he, but because they belonged to the
excessively privileged class, the barons, so to speak, of the
anachronistic feudal system in which the private soldier was
serf, scullion and load-carrier. The sergeant, however, along
with the sergeant-major and the quartermaster-sergeant were
close at hand, and all the rant and bluster in the world failed to
conceal a single defect. With the colonel they are the comic
villains of The Old Barbed IFire, while the C.S.M. had one song
all to himself - The Sergeant-Major’s Having a Time — and the
platoon sergeant two - We Haven’t Seen the Sergeant, and that
terse objurgation which is called in these pages, Greeting to the
Sergeant.
Panegyrics of Civilian Bliss, Past and Present. Present ex¬
perience always subordinates what is distant in time or space.
Yesterday is never real as today is, and if we stand in Oxford
Street the most vivid imagination in the world will hardly bring
19

Whitehall before our eyes in any comparable fashion. The very
fact that men became soldiers, enrolled themselves in a mascu¬
line community and were bandied about northern Europe and
the least attractive quarters of Africa and Asia inevitably made
their own civilian past and the normal civilian routine of
England (which newspapers and letters showed to be con¬
tinuing) seem unreal. Siegfried Sassoon speaks of soldiers:
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats.
And mocked by hopeless longing to regain
Bank-holidays, and picture-shows, and spats,*
And going to the office in the train.
The poem is appropriately called Dreamers, for to the soldier
civilian life appeared only in the disproportionate and deliciously
fantastic quality of a dream. The life imposed on a man by the
War was so unnatural, and at the same time involved such a
complete enslavement of body and mind, that his presoldiering
past became as incredible as the possibility of an undisturbed
and liberated future. The most ordinary details of normal life
were longed for more intensely than saints on earth have
desired the benefits of their paradise. I Want to Go Home, the
soldier sang, mockingly perhaps, but without pretences. That
was what he wanted most of all, though some more obscure
aspiration fixed him in his trench until certain conditions should
be fulfilled. He kept the hard-flogged flesh going with ribald
promises, listed in When This Blasted War is Over. There was
little envy of civilians avoiding the perils and discomforts of
war. The soldier had his opinions and stated them bluntly. After
that, the matter was done with. I Wore a Tunic stands alone,
and it had but a ‘limited run’.
Celebration of Drink and other Comforts. Even teetotallers will
join boisterously in the chorus of a good drinking song, and it
must not be inferred from Here’s to the Good Old Beer and
Glorious! that it was an army of drunkards which won the
War. Remarkably few soldiers were reduced to bestiality by
* Spats is short for spatterdashes, worn over shoes or over the upper parts of
boots as a protection against mud or rain. They were secured with a strap under
the instep and buttoned on the outer side with pearl buttons. They were made of
grey or buff woollen cloth, or white or grey canvas. ‘Picture-shows’ were (silent)
films.

20

their experience but all felt a renewed zest in animal pleasures —
among which the quenching of thirst and the warming of chilled
bodies rank high. Hence the celebration of beer and rum.
Nonsense and Burlesque. There is a long British tradition of
nonsense, and such refrains as Inky-Pinky Parley-Vous and
Skibboo are in the direct line from the Elizabethan Hey Nonny
Nonny Noes. They are no more than singable sounds invented
to go with a tripping tune. Down by the Sea and Wash Me in the
Water are examples of irrational fooling: examine them and
there is no content at all, but sing them in good company and
they satisfy some deep, unsuspected thirst of the spirit. Such
songs annihilate logic. Others burlesque the human capacity for
gratifying the mind with high-falutin’ sentiments, and more
formal literature has produced nothing better in this kind than
She was Poor but She was Honest and I Have No Pain, Dear
Mother, Now.
Sex Ribaldry. Contrary to a common supposition, only a
minority of Army songs are improper in subject or in language.
Nevertheless when the original version of this book was pub¬
lished in 1930, Eric Partridge and I, after taking advice, could
publish the text of certain songs, as we and other ex-soldiers
remembered them, only by a fairly lavish use of printer’s
dashes. Since then custom and opinion have changed and, as the
songs are now my responsibility, I feel justified in restoring to
the text a number of words which are quite often found in print
nowadays. Such words seem to me to be open to no more
serious objection than that they are coarse and, in the old phrase,
unfit for polite society. The words are: arse, balls, ballocks,
piss and shit. One other word, not quite of the same kind, I have
restored at appropriate places - bugger. In its remote origin it
meant a sodomite but is never used, except perhaps by lawyers
and pedants, in that sense nowadays because it has become a
virtually meaningless term of abuse. That is how it was used
in the Army and because it also is nowadays frequently found in
print and regarded apparently as unobjectionable I have
restored it.
Two other words I have jibbed at and they are replaced in
the text by the traditional asterisks, although similarly prece21

dents could be found, in books from respectable publishing
houses, for printing them in full. The convention in these
matters is always a current one, that is to say it is always
changing and during the present century the changes have been
almost all towards an increased freedom for author, publisher
and printer. I myself do not believe that this freedom can ever
be absolute and I therefore think it important that the code of
what may and what may not be printed without objection from
the Law should be specific and practicable. If, for example, it
were laid down that certain words should not appear in public
print - with exemptions for scientific and scholarly books — and
that certain things and processes, notably sadistic practices,
should not be described, authors might grumble but they would
at least know where they were.
Such a code does not exist and, partly because of that, I have
decided to continue to omit two words which, anyhow, I myself
find disgusting. Each of these words was used in the 1914-18
Army as both noun and verb. Each is of four letters but was
often adapted to make adjective and adverb by adding -ing or
-ing well. The words are not old and I doubt if they came into
common use, by word of foul mouth, much more than a hundred
years ago. Like Blake’s ‘dark Satanic mills’ they may be
regarded as memorials to the Industrial Revolution. Senseless
repetition has taken the edge off their meaning. They are
synonyms for the man’s part in the act of copulation and for the
female genital organ. As terms of abuse they are predominantly
urban. In this abusive function they probably originated with
men who, finding themselves trapped in the nineteenth-century
wage slavery of factory towns, spilled their resentment over
into self-hatred and then turned that self-hatred, by a trick of
the mind we are all capable of, into hatred for women and sex.
I think I could justify the use which James Joyce made of these
two words in Ulysses, but with other authors, notably Frank
Harris, the intent, in my view, is crudely pornographic. Lady
Chatterley’s Lover, taking into account Lawrence’s statement of
his aims — and his lifelong deficiency of humour — must be
reckoned an exception. He believed that he could use the words
so that their sordid associations were sloughed off, but in my
judgement he failed, and not only because Lady Chatter ley is
weak in characterisation and sloppily written. The words are
22

beyond redemption. Like the slum property surrounding so
many Satanic mills, they are overdue for demolition.
6
Immediately after the Armistice of 1918 it was an eerie
experience, in Flanders or Picardy, to walk in daylight, from
what had been a back area, past reserve and support trenches
to the old front line, moving above ground and every now and
then pausing where a few months earlier it would have been
impossible to stand upright and survive. It is almost as fan¬
tastic, now that four decades and six years have gone by, to
visit the same or other old battlefields, tidied up, restored to
cultivation, unrecognisable, some with full-grown trees, planted
since 1918, now thirty feet high where nothing but roots and
stumps had been left in the rent and polluted earth. What is
most disquieting on such a visit is to realise how little space eighty miles perhaps - separated the line, the soldier’s troglo¬
dyte world, the world which might have been another planet,
from home, from England, from sanity.
If soldiers sang at all in the front line it was one at a time
and under the breath, unless they had reached a tacit and
reciprocal arrangement with the Germans opposite. When they
sang on the march it was during a route march for exercise or to
shift quarters, and only after the successive commands had been
given ‘March at Ease’ and ‘March easy’. These permissive
orders, like the provision of a band at the head of the column,
were the Army’s way of encouraging troops to sing in the
belief that it was good for morale. Singing, with intervals of
silence or of whistling or humming, provided a distraction from
the long, slow count of the heavy laden miles. How many miles
could not be calculated in advance because it was very rare for
troops to be told where they were going or for what purpose.
If they were told, the information usually proved to be false.
Many of the songs soldiers made up for their own entertain¬
ment are songs of weariness, disbelief and exasperation.
During training, in camps and billets behind the line, and
whenever soldiers had the opportunity, and the money, to visit
estaminets, a different sort of song was also in demand, more
of a set piece for one man, or perhaps a trio, to render: such
23

songs sometimes told a story, a ribald story as likely as not,
but sometimes they were clearly incomplete, no more than
snatches from substantial lays, handed down by earlier genera¬
tions of pub-singers and half-forgotten. Songs of these kinds
were not universal favourites and were sung, to make a change,
during brief intervals in conversation and in the predominant
singing of music hall songs, old and new, not otherwise con¬
nected with the Army or the War.
Every unit, almost every platoon or battery, had in its ranks
a few men who cherished a repertoire of popular songs and
fancied themselves as soloists or leaders of unecclesiastical
choirs. Most of them could and would render, with emotional
histrionics, The Lost Chord, Trumpeter, What are you Sounding
Now and Sweet and Low. These were all taken very seriously,
as things of beauty, joys for ever. Towards nightfall, when they
were off duty and out of the line, the troops tended to become
sentimental, and anyone then attempting ribaldry or even
facetiousness might earn a communal reprimand. As the evening
wore on, the songs chosen often had a soothing lilt of the
lullaby about them and their themes were domestic - true love,
home, mother and the roses round the cottage door. This may
not be easy to reconcile with the coarseness of some, and the
callousness of a few, of the songs here recorded. In retrospect,
however, there may be something poignant in the lullaby
sweetness of some of the tunes. The soldiers of 1914-18 were,
after all, young men, many of them very young. Anyone in the
ranks who was over thirty-five was regarded as elderly, and in
the later years of the war most of the infantry reinforcements
were eighteen-year-olds.
The typical British soldier - one perceives now - looked
boyish when he went into the Army and, if he survived, boyish
when he came out. Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, the Ypres Salient,
the Somme and Passchendaele may belong to history but that
history was not often perceptibly written on the faces of those
who made it. That may be because it is a national characteristic
of the English - and I think the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh
have it also - to retain a good deal of their adolescent ways long
after they are physically, and legally, mature. Or it may simply
be that the convention of those days against making a fuss was
more powerful than even the experience of war. In February
24

1964, Lord Attlee, being interviewed for television, was asked
about Gallipoli, where he had served in the infantry. At once
his face was transformed, and instead of an elder statesman there
appeared a subaltern of 1915, complete with debonair smile and
period jargon, who was disarmingly resolved to pretend that
Gallipoli had been only a kind of natural history expedition,
involving a certain amount of sleeping rough but on the whole
quite interesting.
7
The troops of 1914-18 did little or no singing when they were
in the line or on their way to the line. Coming out after a tour
of duty in the trenches was another matter. Nerves began to
relax after days or weeks of tension and as soon as the company
had a mile or two of road behind them a kind of sotto voce
singing or some soft whistling would begin. The tune was all
that mattered then, not the words. In battle no one thought of
singing. The pattern of Western Front battles, crude, cumber¬
some, conducted in time rather than in space, is as familiar now
to most people as the shape of a mastodon to a palaeontologist.
A continuous strip of No Man’s Land, at places only fifty yards
or less wide, wound from the Channel coast inland to the French
frontier with Switzerland. In certain parts the ‘front line’ was
nominal, defended by wire entanglements, mines, and spacedout emplacements, keeps and redoubts, but in general it is true
to say that No Man’s Land was bounded on each side by
systems of interconnected trenches, six, eight, ten feet deep,
revetted and sandbagged and dug zig-zag to limit the effect of
explosions. The trenches and emplacements on both sides were
occupied continuously by infantrymen who, according to time
and place of circumstance, suffered light or heavy casualties as
the price of holding the ground. Battles were long in prepara¬
tion, and might continue long after everyone involved in them
knew that there was no hope of attaining their purpose. While
the trench deadlock held, and it held for four continuous years,
any advance had to be made across No Man’s Land which was
cluttered with formidable obstacles constructed of barbed wire,
and the attackers were exposed, the moment they ‘went over
the top’, to artillery fire from a distance and to rifle fire and
25

especially machine gun fire at short range. On the Somme in
1916 battalions which at dawn were 800 or 900 strong were
reduced by afternoon to 100 men.
The following year tactical formations were modified but the
essentials of a deadlock situation remained. Preliminary bom¬
bardments intended to facilitate the attack made the ground
impassable to the attackers who, because they had been sub¬
jected to a counter-bombardment, were generally disorganised
and often demoralised before they began. The War had become
an enormous institution with the prestige of a barbaric religion.
It demanded unquestioning devotion and, as if the serpentine
trench lines of the Western Front were a fire-breathing monster,
it demanded daily sacrifices of human lives. At Passchendaele
many infantrymen who were wounded or whose strength gave
out drowned slowly in liquid mud. Millions of shells burst on
the Western Front but the machine gun still commanded the
devastation. The defence was broken only twice. At the end of
1917, attacking without the dubious benefit of a preliminary
bombardment, British tanks broke through in front of Cambrai
to a depth of five miles. Open country lay beyond, with the
prospect of a decisive war of manoeuvre, but G.H.Q. had pro¬
vided no reserves to follow up. The following spring the
Germans attacked, using gas shells and infiltration tactics, and
forced the British Fifth Army into a prolonged retreat. The
Germans got so far and no further, perhaps because they were
without cross-country vehicles. The British and French had
acquired a new ally, the United States, coming belatedly into
the War and deploying troops slowly but providing, as it were,
a vast overdraft of manpower. It was, many consider, because
they knew this that the German armies were at long last forced
out of the trench systems where so many millions had died, and
compelled to sue for a Cease Fire.
The carnival celebrations of ‘The Armistice’ - a word often
pronounced with the second syllable accented - neatly timed for
the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of
1918, were held, spontaneously enough, in London, Paris, New
York and other cities. On the Western Front the advancing
troops were too tired for junketing and too sceptical: there
had been false alarms of peace before. The Allies halted: the
Germans withdrew out of sight and out of range of rifle,
26

machine gun and artillery fire. This agreed ‘disengagement’
brought about a sudden relief from mental and nervous
tension, after four and a half years, which constituted for most of
the surviving soldiers the first sign that their soldiering days
were almost over. There were some minor celebrations, how¬
ever. One battalion, marching into a liberated village, found
themselves greeted by the inhabitants waving Union Jacks.
The flags, it appeared, had been sold to the villagers, under
some duress, by the quarter-master sergeant of the German
rearguard just before it left. And at one hospital, not far from
Etaples, a Scottish R.A.M.C. officer recklessly signed an order
- which was duly posted in the wards - declaring: ‘To celebrate
the conclusion of hostilities every patient will be allowed an
extra piece of bread and jam with his tea.’

27

Part One
SOLDIERS’ SONGS

SOLDIERS’ SONGS

1914-18

Edited by John Brophy and Eric Partridge

I. Songs Predominantly Sung on the March

PAGE
FRED KARNo’s ARMY

33

APRES LA GUERRE

33

we’ve

HAD NO

AT THE

34

34

SHE MARRIED
yes!

,

BEER

HALT ON THE LEFT

and

we

A MAN
can do it!

35
35

OLD MAN

37

TIDDLEYWINKS,

we’re HERE BECAUSE

37

NOBODY KNOWS

37

DOWN

BY THE

SHE WAS

SO

WE BEAT

’EM

SEA

38

GOOD

38

BARNEY

39
39

JOHN

40

BROWN’S BABY

THE MOON

SHINES BRIGHT

40

BEHIND THE LINES

40

here’s TO THE GOOD OLD BEER

41

ROLLING HOME
I

HAVE NO

43

PAIN,

DEAR MOTHER,

NOW

THE OLD BLACK BULL

43
44

WHAT DID YOU JOIN THE ARMY

FOR?

45

RAINING

45

THEY WERE ONLY PLAYING LEAP-FROG

46

WE haven’t SEEN THE

SERGEANT

I WORE A TUNIC
IN THE
THE

EVENING BY THE MOONLIGHT

SON

OF A

47
47

GAMBOLIER

48
48

WE KNOW OUR MANNERS

48

MARCHING

49

ORDER

31

MADEMOISELLE FROM ARMENTEERS

49

MADAME,

49

HAVE YOU . . . ?

THE SERGEANT-MAJOR’S

HAVING A TIME

SKIBBOO

50
51

32

Fred Karno’s Army
Air: ‘The Church’s One Foundation’
We are Fred Karno’s army,
The ragtime infantry:
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
What earthly use are we!
And when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say,
‘Hoch, hoch! Mein Gott,
What a bloody fine lot
Are the ragtime infantry!’
This varied in a few details from unit to unit. Australians and
New Zealanders, for example, sang ‘A.N.Z.A.C.’ for ‘rag¬
time infantry’, and ‘rotten lot’ was often substituted for the
sarcastic ‘fine lot’, in the penultimate line. Fred Karno was a
popular comedian whose performance, ‘The Mumming Birds’,
was a crescendo of imbecility and absurd incompetence. It was
a sketch in which several minor comediant appeared, among
them, at one time, Charlie Chaplin and Harry Weldon - both
of whom continued and made famous the pathetic-comic
tradition of ineffectiveness.

Apres la Guerre
Air: ‘Sous les Ponts de Paris’
AprEs la guerre finie,
Soldat anglais parti;
Mam’selle Fransay boko pleuray
Apres la guerre finie.
Apres la guerre finie,
Soldat anglais parti;
Mademoiselle in the family way,
Apres la guerre finie.
Apres la guerre finie,
Soldat anglais parti;
Mademoiselle can go to hell
Apres la guerre finie.
Brutal and cynical: a traditional masculine jest. The tune was
delightful and gay; the words went without much thought,
and more often than not were omitted in favour of whistling.
B

S3

We’ve Had No Beer
Air: ‘Lead, Kindly Light’
We’ve had no beer,
We’ve had no beer today,
We’ve had no beer!
We’ve had no beer,
No beer at all today.
We’ve had no beer.
This was sung lugubriously and low, often at the end of a long
route march. With a variation, We’ve Had No Duff, it belongs
properly to the period of training in England. The song is so
simple in structure that innumerable variations could be made
to suit the occasion. Really indignant battalions would go
through the whole range of monosyllabic drinks, stanza by
stanza, adding to the list of deficiencies stout, gin, ale, wine,
port, etc. In France the song was usually forgotten except
when an expected issue of rum failed to appear.

At the Halt on the Left
Air: ‘Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue’
At the halt on the left, form platoon!
At the halt on the left, form platoon!
If the odd numbers don’t mark time two places,
How the hell can the rest form platoon ?
This was a pre-War Regular Army and Territorial song,
taken up by the New [7 Kitchener's’] Army early in 1914. It
conveys with some precision the querulous tone as well as the
drill-book phraseology of an exasperated officer or N.C.O.
endeavouring to teach this complicated evolution. To form
platoon a column of men four abreast was, as a preliminary,
required to adjust itself into a column two abreast. The
alternate men - the ‘odd numbers’ - had to mark time, i.e.
lift their feet without moving forward - while the others, the
‘even numbers’, slipped into place beside them. Then the whole
platoon turned and began to swing round into line.
Some units added:
If he moves in the ranks, take his name! (bis)
You can hear the Sergeant-Major calling:
‘If he moves in the ranks take his name.’

34

She Married a Man
Air: ?
squire had a daughter, so fair and so tall,
She lived in her satins and silks at the hall,
But she married a man who had no balls at all.
No balls at all,
No balls at all,
She married a man who had no balls at all.
The

Almost certainly a pre-War folk-song turned to Army use
and profit. The verse tune is faintly reminiscent of Bonnie
Dundee.
It may be related to, or derived from, an old civilian
song about Sammy Hall who ‘only had one ball’, which
Charles Whibley says was the song sung by Captain Costigan
in the ‘Cave of Harmony’ at the beginning of Thackeray’s The
Newcomes. Originally it was a scoundrel’s funeral oration, Sam
Hall, or the Body Snatcher, but its military popularity caused
it often to be known as Captain Hall. Each verse ended with
Damn your eyes, blast your soul,
Damn your eyes.
According to other accounts Sammy Hall dates from 1848,
when it was sung by W. G. Ross, a Scotch low comedian. An
old version and an account of the song’s reception are given in
Hayward’s The Days of Dickens, and a twentieth-century
American version appears in Godfrey Irwin’s American Tramp
and Underworld Slang.

Yes! And We Can Do It!
Air: ‘In and Out the Window’ (“Nursery Song(]
out of barracks!
Breaking out of barracks!
Breaking out of barracks!
As you have done before.
Breaking

Parading all unbuttoned!
Parading all unbuttoned!
Parading all unbuttoned!
As you have done before.
35

Take
Take
Take
As

his name
his name
his name
you have

and number!
and number!
and number!
done before.

Up before the C.O.!
Up before the C.O.!
Up before the C.O.!
As you have done before.
Fourteen days detention!
Fourteen days detention!
Fourteen days detention!
As you have done before.
Pack-drill, bread and water!
Pack-drill, bread and water!
Pack-drill, bread and water!
As you have done before.
Yes, and
Yes, and
Yes, and
As we

we can do
we can do
we can do
have done

it!
it!
it!
before.

To appear on parade with a button unfastened was to be
‘naked’ - a punishable offence. The officer who detected the
offence could - and often did - order an N.C.O. to ‘take his
name and number’, i.e. to make a note in his notebook of the
man’s regimental number and name.
A variant, though not clearly connected with the main text,
was a single stanza, to the same tune, sung to reprove some¬
one boasting or exaggerating:
His comrades don’t believe him.
His comrades don’t believe him,
His comrades don’t believe him.
He’s such a bloody liar.

36

Tiddleywinks, Old Man
Air: ‘Hornpipe’
Tiddleywinks, old man,
Find a woman if you can,
If you can’t find a woman,
Do without, old man.
When the rock of Gibraltar
Takes a flying leap at Malta
You’ll never get your ballocks in a corn beef can.
The text is slightly bowdlerised. This nonsense song is a
pretty nasty scrap of folklore, and was sung chiefly by those
who wished to show off their own toughness. Generally, the
words stopped after the first line and the rest of the tune was
whistled.

We’re Here Because
Air: ‘Auld Lang Syne’
We’re here
Because
We’re here
Because
We’re here
Because we’re here.
Sung with great gusto because - ninety-nine times out of a
hundred - the men who sang it had no idea why they were
‘here’, or where ‘here’ was, or how long they would continue
at it.

Nobody Knows
Air: ?
Nobody knows how tired we are,
Tired we are,
Tired we are;
Nobody knows how tired we are,
And nobody seems to care.
Often ‘dry’, was substituted for ‘tired’. An end-of-the-march
song.

37

Down by the Sea
Air: ?
Down by the sea
(Down by the sea!)
Where the water-melons grow
(Where the water-melons grow!)
Back to my home
(Back to my home!)
I dare not go
(I dare not go!)
For if I do
(For if I do!)
My wife will say:
(My wife will say!)
‘Have you ever seen a cow with a green eye-brow,
Down where the water-melons grow ?’
The repetitive lines were intoned very softly, and the whole
piece of nonsense was sung slow and sweet, till the last two
lines, which went with speed and gusto. Although most
soldiers did not realize it, this was almost certainly a pre-War
American ditty.

She Was So Good
Air: ?
She was so good and so kind to me,
Just like one of the family,
I shall never forget
The first time we met,
She was—
She was—
She—

was so good and so kind to me, etc, etc,
(and so on interminably, or as long as
patience held out).
Almost certainly, in pre-War days, a folk-recitative.

38

We Beat ’Em
Air: ‘Coming Through the Rye’
We beat ’em on the Marne,
We beat ’em on the Aisne,
They gave us hell at Neuve Chapelle
But here we are again.

Barney
Air: ?

I took my girl
For a ramble, a ramble,
Adown a shady lane.
She caught her foot
In a bramble, a bramble,
And arse over ballocks she came.
Oh,
Oh,
Oh,
Oh,
Oh,
Oh,

Barney,
Barney!
bring back my Barney to me-ee-ee.
Barney,
Barney!
bring back my Barney to me.

Variation:
Oh, Sergeant,
Oh, Sergeant,
Oh, bring back my rations to me.
The variation confirms this as an authentic soldiers’ song, for
the original form of the chorus is a well-known air: Bring back
my Bonnie to me; see, e.g., the old Scottish Students’ Song Book.
The reference to ‘ballocks’ in the context is anomalous to the
point of lunacy. Mounted units had several variants of which
one went:
Sergeant,
Sergeant,
Bring back my stirrups to me.
I stuck it as long as I could.
Sergeant, Sergeant,
My ballocks are not made of wood.

39

John Brown’s Baby
Air: ‘John Brown’s Body’
baby’s got a pimple on his — shush!
John Brown’s baby’s got a pimple on his — shush!
John Brown’s baby’s got a pimple on his - shush!
The poor kid can’t sit down.
John Brown’s

The Moon Shines Bright
Air: ‘Pretty Red Wing’ (Sentimental ballad: pre-1914)
The moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin,
His boots are cracking
For want of blacking,
And his khaki trousers
They want mending,
Before we send him
To the Dardanelles.
Some units sang (line 4) ‘baggy trousers’, and it is possible
the word khaki was introduced only after the film Shoulder
Arms had reached English cinemas. Almost certainly this song
was sung by children before being taken up by the troops.

Behind The Tines
Air: ?
We’ve got a sergeant-major,
Who’s never seen a gun;
He’s mentioned in despatches
For drinking privates’ rum,
And when he sees old Jerry
You should see the bugger run
Miles and miles and miles behind the lines!

40

Here’s to the Good Old Beer
Air: ?

Here’s to the good old beer,
Mop it down, mop it down!
Here’s to the good old beer,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old beer,
That never leaves you queer,
Here’s to the good old beer,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old whisky,
Mop it down, mop it down!
Here’s to the good old whisky,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old whisky,
That makes you feel so frisky,
Here’s to the good old whisky,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good
Mop it down, mop
Here’s to the good
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good
That slips down as
Here’s to the good
Mop it down!

old porter,
it down!
old porter.
old porter,
it oughter,
old porter,

Here’s to the good old brandy,
Mop it down, mop it down!
Here’s to the good old brandy,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old brandy,
That makes you feel so randy,
Here’s to the good old brandy,
Mop it down!
41

Here’s to the good old stout,
Mop it down, mop it down!
Here’s to the good old stout,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old stout,
That makes you feel blown-out,
Here’s to the good old stout,
Mop it down.
Here’s to the good old rum,
Mop it down, mop it down!
Here’s to the good old rum,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old rum,
That warms your balls and bum,
Here’s to the good old rum,
Mop it down.
Here’s to the good old port,
Mop it down, mop it down!
Here’s to the good old port.
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old port,
That makes you feel a sport,
Here’s to the good old port,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old gin,
Mop it down, mop it down!
Here’s to the good old gin,
Mop it down!
Here’s to the good old gin,
That fills you up with sin,
Here’s to the good old gin,
Mop it down!

42

Rolling Home
Air: ?
Rolling home,
Rolling home,
Rolling home,
Rolling home,
By the light of the silvery moo-oo-oon!
Happy is the day
When you draw your buckshee pay
And you’re rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling home.
Often sung quietly and with much sentiment. In the evening or
towards the close of the afternoon, the words would some¬
times be omitted and the air whistled and hummed.

I have no Pain, Dear Mother, Now
Air: ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’
I have no pain, dear mother, now,
But oh! I am so dry.
Connect me to a brewery
And leave me there to die.
This tune was the regimental march of the Loyal North
Lancashires, but to these words it was known throughout the
Army. The first two verses are a quotation from an old senti¬
mental recitation. There is said to exist a Ph.D. thesis
(American, presumably) on ‘The Influence of Bell’s Standard
Elocutionist and similar Books on lower-middle-class and
working-class Culture’.

43

The Old Black Bull
Air: A traditional Somerset tune
The old black bull came down from the mountain,
Euston, Dan Euston.
The old black bull came down from the mountain
A long time ago.
Chorus:
A long time ago,
A long time ago
The old black bull came down from the mountain
A long time ago.
There were six fine heifers in the pasture grazing,
Euston, Dan Euston.
There were six fine heifers in the pasture grazing,
A long time ago.
Chorus:
A long time ago, etc.
And he pawed on the ground and he pissed in the fountain,
Euston, Dan Euston, etc.
Chorus:
A long time ago, etc.
Now the old black bull’s gone back to the mountain,
Euston, Dan Euston, etc.
Chorus:
A long time ago, etc.
And his head hung low and his back was broken,
Euston, Dan Euston, etc.
Chorus:
A long time ago, etc.
Sung especially in ‘Mespot’. Pre-1914, when it was local to
Somerset.

44

What Did You Join the Army For?
Air: ‘Here’s to the Maiden of Bashful Fifteen’
What did you join the Army for?
Why did you join the Army?
What did you join the Army for?
You must have been bloodywell barmy.
This tune was the regimental march of the King’s (Liverpool)
Regiment, with whose Regular battalions it may have
originated. Another version ran thus:
What did we join the Army for?
Why did we join the Army ?
Skilly and duff, skilly and duff,
Surely to God we’ve had more than enough!

Raining
Air: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ (Hymn tune)
Raining, raining, raining,
Always bloodywell raining.
Raining all the morning,
And raining all the night.
Grousing, grousing, grousing,
Always bloodywell grousing.
Grousing at the rations,
And grousing at the pay.
Marching, marching, marching,
Always bloodywell marching,
Marching all the morning,
And marching all the night.
Marching, marching, marching,
Always bloodywell marching;
When the war is over
We’ll damn well march no more.
In the first stanza, lousing or boozing was sometimes substi¬
tuted for raining.
45

They were only Playing Leap-Frog

Air: ‘John Brown’s Body’
They were only playing leap-frog,

They were only playing leap-frog,
They were only playing leap-frog,
(Prestissimo) When one grasshopper jumped right over
the other grasshopper’s back.
Oh, it’s a lie, Oh, it’s a lie,
Oh, it’s a lie, Oh, it’s a lie,
For you know, you blighter, you’re telling a lie,
You know you’re telling a lie.
They were only playing leap-frog,
They were only playing leap-frog.
They were only playing leap-frog,
(Prestissimo) When one staff-officer jumped right over
the other staff-officer’s back.
Oh, it’s a lie, etc.
We
We
We
(Prestissimo)

were only drawing water,
were only drawing water.
were only drawing water,
When the sergeant-major came and stole
the handle off the pump.

Oh, it’s a lie, etc.
A pre-War University parody parodied by the Army. Some
regiments sang this in reverse order: with ‘They were only
playing leap-frog’ as the chorus.

46

We Haven’t Seen the Sergeant
Air: ‘He’s a Cousin of Mine’ (Music-hall song: War period)
We haven’t seen the sergeant for a hell of a time,
A hell of a time, a hell of a time.
He came up to see what we were doin’;
Number Eight Platoon will be his bloody ruin.
Oh, we haven’t seen the sergeant for a hell of a time,
Perhaps he’s gone up with a mine.
He’s a sergeant in the Rifle Brigade,
Well, strafe him, he’s no cousin of mine.
Compare these sentiments with Greeting to the Sergeant (page
67). For ‘Number Eight’ substitute any other number up to
Eleven - higher numbers won’t fit the metre. For ‘Rifle
Brigade’, substitute the name of any other regiment. For
‘sergeant’, some units sang ‘Kaiser’; and for ‘well’ of the last
verse, ‘Gott’.

I Wore a Tunic
Air: ‘I Wore a Tulip’ (Sentimental ballad: War-time)
I wore a tunic,
A dirty khaki-tunic,
And you wore civilian clothes.
We fought and bled at Loos
While you were on the booze,
The booze that no one here knows.
Oh, you were with the wenches
While we were in the trenches
Facing the German foe.
Oh, you were a-slacking
While we were attacking
Down the Menin Road.
A late-in-the-War song, and almost the only one which
displays resentment against those who evaded military
service.

47

In the Evening by the Moonlight
Air: ?
When you’re coming from the firing line,
When you’re coming from the firing line,
You can hear them shuffling along;
You can hear the Sergeant-Major calling,
'Come along, boys! Get into some sort of line,
Fill up the last blank file.’
In the evening, by the moonlight,
When you’re coming from the firing line.
The tune was charming and plaintive, punctuated with
delicately spaced pauses.

The Son of a Gambolier
Air: ?
Chorus:

I’m the son, the son of a gun,
The son of a gambolier,
Oh, I’m the son, the son of a gun,
The son of a gambolier.
Come all you gay young fellows
That drink your whisky clear,
I’m a rolling rag of poverty,
I’m a bloody old Engineer.

Oh,

Said variously to be a regimental song of (a) the Royal
Engineers, (h) a London Territorial Regiment. It was never¬
theless well-known to many units on the Western Front.

We Know Our Manners
Air: ?
We
We
We
We
We

are the regimental boys,
never make a noise,
know our manners,
can spend our tanners,
are respected everywhere we go.

Believed to be of Cockney origin.

48

Marching Order
Air: ?

Here comes Mary,
Covered all over with Marching Order! Marching Order!
Marmalade and jam.
This was a kind of chorus tacked irrelevantly on to other songs.

Mademoiselle from Armenteers
Air: French Music-hall Tune
from Armenteers,
Parley-vous!
Mademoiselle from Armenteers,
Parley-vous!
Mademoiselle from Armenteers,
She hasn’t been-for forty years,
Inky-pinky parley-vous.
Mademoiselle

This song was adopted in 1918 by American troops who that
year arrived in France and during the peace-time years that
followed innumerable stanzas were invented and perpetuated
at and for American reunions of ‘veterans’. The stanza given
above constituted the complete version of the song as sung by
British troops in 1914—18 - but three other songs, of which the
third may most closely resemble the prototype, were in
favour. They are set out on the following pages. In all versions
the final line was sometimes begun with ‘Ninky’ instead of
‘Inky’.

Madame, Have Tou . . .?
Air: ‘Mademoiselle from Armenteers’
have you any good wine ?
Parley-vous!
Madame, have you any good wine?
Parley-vous!
Madame, have you any good wine
Fit for a soldier of the line ?
Inky-pinky parley-vous ?
Madame,

49

Oh, yes, I have some very good wine,
Parley-vous!
Oh, yes, I have some very good wine,
Parley-vous!
Oh, yes, I have some very good wine
Fit for a soldier of the line,
Inky-pinky parley-vous!
Madame, have you a daughter fine ?
Parley-vous!
Madame, have you a daughter fine ?
Parley-vous!
Madame, have you a daughter fine
Fit for a soldier of the line,
Inky-pinky parley-vous ?
Oh, yes, I have a daughter fine,
Parley-vous!
Oh, yes, I have a daughter fine,
Parley-vous!
Oh, yes, I have a daughter fine
Far too good for a bloke from the line,
Inky-pinky parley-vous!

The Sergeant-Major’s having a Time
Air: ‘Mademoiselle from Armenteers’
Sergeant-Major’s having a time
Parley-vous!
The Sergeant-Major’s having a time
Parley-vous!
The Sergeant-Major’s having a time
Swinging the lead behind the line,
Inky-pinky parley-vous!
The

The Sergeant-Major’s having a time
Parley-vous!
The Sergeant-Major’s having a time
Parley-vous!
50

The Sergeant-Major’s having a time
Swigging the beer behind the line,
Inky-pinky parley-vous!
The Sergeant-Major’s having a time
Parley-vous!
The Sergeant-Major’s having a time
Parley-vous!
The Sergeant-Major’s having a time
-the girls behind the line,
Inky-pinky parley-vous!

Skibboo
Air: Variation of ‘Mademoiselle from Armenteers’
A

officer crossed the Rhine,
Skibboo! Skibboo!
A German officer crossed the Rhine,
He was on the look-out for women and wine.
Skibboo, skibboo,
Ski-bumpity-bump skibboo!
German

Oh, landlord, have you a daughter fair! 1 ,.
Skibboo! Skibboo! /
Oh, landlord, have you a daughter fair,
With lily-white breasts and golden hair.
Skibboo, skibboo,
Ski-bumpity-bump skibboo!
Oh, yes, I have a daughter fair!
Skibboo! Skibboo!
Oh, yes, I have a daughter fair,
With lily-white breasts and golden hair.
Skibboo, skibboo,
Ski-bumpity-bump skibboo!
51

But my fair daughter is far too young,
"1 ,.
Skibboo! Skibboo! j
lS
But my fair daughter is far too young
To be mucked about by a son of a gun.
Skibboo, skibboo,
Ski-bumpity-bump skibboo!
Oh father, oh father, I'm not too young,
.
Skibboo! Skibboo! J
Oh father, oh father, I’m not too young,
I’ve been to bed with the parson’s son.
Skibboo, skibboo,
Ski-bumpity-bump skibboo!
It’s a hell of a song that we’ve just sung, "'I ,.
Skibboo! Skibboo! /
It’s a hell of a song that we’ve just sung
And the fellow that wrote it ought to be hung,
Skibboo, skibboo,
Ski-bumpity-bump skibboo!
The origin of all these ‘Mademoiselle’ and ‘Skibboo’ songs
may be an untraceable parody, perhaps written for per¬
formance at ‘men only’ smoking concerts, of a German song
by the poet J. L. Uhland, ‘The Landlady’s Daughter’.

52

II. Songs Sung on the March, but more
often in Billets and Estaminets
PAGE
WASH

ME

hush!

HERE

THE OLD

IN THE WATER

54

COMES A WHIZZ-BANG

54

FRENCH TRENCH

55

THE BELLS OF HELL

55

i

55

don’t want to die

WE ARE THE BOYS WHO
IF THE

FEAR NO

NOISE

SERGEANT STEALS YOUR RUM

56

56

WHEN THIS

BLASTED WAR IS OVER

57

WHEN THE

STEW IS ON THE TABLE

57

he’s A RAGTIME

SOLDIER

58

SEND OUT THE ARMY AND THE NAVY

58

FAR,

58

FAR FROM YPRES

OLD SOLDIERS

NEVER DIE

59

PLUM AND APPLE

59

GLORIOUS

60

GOOD-BYE,

NELLIE

60

THE OLD BARBED WIRE

61

53

Wash Me in the Water
Air: Salvation Army hymn tune
Wash me in the water

That you washed your dirty daughter
And I shall be whiter
Than the whitewash on the wall.
Whiter
Than the whitewash on the wall.
Oh, wash me in the water
That you washed your dirty daughter,
And I shall be whiter
Than the whitewash on the wall.
Said to have been sung by the Regular Army before 1914 but
well known up and down the Western Front throughout 191418. A variant for ‘your dirty daughter’, when no officers
were present, was ‘the Colonel’s daughter’.

Hush! Here comes a Whizz-bang
Air: ‘Hush! Here Comes the Dream Man’
(Pantomime song: pre-1914)
Hush! Here comes a whizz-bang,

Hush! Here comes a whizz-bang,
Now you soldiers, get down those stairs,
Down in your dug-outs and say your prayers.
Hush! Here comes a whizz-bang,
And it’s making straight for you:
And you’ll see all the wonders of No Man’s Land
If a whizz-bang (bump!) hits you.

54

The Old French Trench
Air: ?
Oh what a life, living in a trench,
Under Johnny French in the old French trench.
We haven’t got a wife or a nice little wench,
But we’re still alive in the old French trench.
A 1915 song, apparently, to judge from the reference to Sir
John French, who commanded the B.E.F. then.

The Bells of Hell
Air: ‘She Only Answered “Ting-a-ling-a-ling” ’
bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me:
And the little devils how they sing-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.
O Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling,
O Grave, thy victor-ee ?
The bells of hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling,
For you but not for me.
The

Believed to be founded on a Salvation Army song.

I Don’t Want to Die
Air: ?
I want to go home,
I want to go home,
I don’t want to go in the trenches no more,
Where whizz-bangs and shrapnel they whistle and roar.
Take me over the sea
Where the Alleyman can’t get at me.
Oh my,
I don’t want to die,
I want to go home.

This was one of the most famous of war songs.

55

We are the Boys who Fear no Noise
Air: ?
We are the boys who fear no noise
When the thundering cannons roar.
We are the heroes of the night
And we’d sooner-than fight,
We’re the heroes of the Skin-back Fusiliers.
Sometimes the first two lines were chanted piano and followed
by ‘Ah! Ha! Ah! Ha! Ha!’, staccato and for t issimo.

If the Sergeant Steals Tour Rum
Air: ?
If the sergeant steals your rum,
Never mind!
If the sergeant steals your rum,
Never mind!
Though he’s just a bloody sot,
Just let him take the lot,
If the sergeant steals your rum,
Never mind!
If old Jerry shells the trench,
Never mind!
If old Jerry shells the trench,
Never mind!
Though the blasted sandbags fly
You have only once to die.
If old Jerry shells the trench,
Never mind!
If you get stuck on the wire,
Never mind!
If you get stuck on the wire.
Never mind!
Though the light’s as broad as day
When you die they stop your pay,
If you get stuck on the wire.
Never mind!
56

When this Blasted War is Over
Air: Hymn, ‘Take it to the Lord in Prayer’
When this blasted war is over,
Oh, how happy I shall be!
When I get my civvy clothes on,
No more soldiering; for me.
No more church parades on Sunday,
No more asking for a pass,
I shall tell the Sergeant-Major
To stick his passes up his arse.
When this blasted war is over.
Oh, how happy I shall be!
When I get my civvy clothes on,
No more soldiering for me.
I shall sound my own revally,
I shall make my own tattoo:
No more N.C.O.s to curse me,
No more bleeding Army stew.
Some units sang this additional stanza:
N.C.O.s will all be navvies.
Privates ride in motor cars;
N.C.O.s will smoke their woodbines,
Privates puff their big cigars.
No more standing-to in trenches,
Only one more church-parade;
No more shivering on the firestep.
No more Tickler’s marmalade.

When the Stew is on the Table
Air: ‘When the Roll is Called up Yonder’
When the stew is
When the stew is
When the stew is
When the stew is

on the table,
on the table,
on the table,
on the table, I’ll be there.

When
When
When
When

in
in
in
in

the
the
the
the

beer
beer
beer
beer

is
is
is
is
57

the
the
the
the

tankard,
tankard,
tankard,
tankard, I’ll be there.

He’s a Ragtime Soldier
Air: ‘Ragtime Lover’
He’s a ragtime soldier.
Ragtime soldier.
Early on parade every morning,
Standing to attention with his rifle in his hand.
He’s a ragtime soldier,
As happy as the flowers in May
(I don’t think!),
Fighting for his King and his Country,
All for a shilling a day.

Send Out the Army and the Navy
Air: Music-hall tune
Send out the Army and the Navy,
Send out the rank and file,
Send out the brave Territorials,
They’ll face the danger with a smile
(I don’t think!).
Send out my mother,
Send out my sister and my brother,
But for Gawd’s sake don’t send me!
This song, very popular and very typical, was overlooked
when the first edition was prepared. Mr J. B. Priestley, in a
review, promptly called attention to the lapse.

Far, Far from Tpres
Air: ‘Sing Me to Sleep’ (Sentimental ballad: pre-1914)
Far, far from Ypres I long to be,
Where German snipers can’t snipe at me.
Damp is my dug-out,
Cold are my feet,
Waiting for whizz-bangs
To send me to sleep.
Pronounce ‘Ypres’ - ‘Eepree’.

58

Old Soldiers Never Die
Air: ‘Kind Thoughts Can Never Die’
Old soldiers never die,
Never die,
Never die,
Old soldiers never die They simply fade away.
Old soldiers never die,
Never die,
Never die,
Old soldiers never die —
Young ones wish they would.

Plum and Apple
Air: ‘A Wee Deoch an’ Doris’
Plum and Apple,
Apple and Plum.
Plum and Apple,
There is always some.
The A.S.C. get strawberry jam
And lashings of rum.
But we poor blokes
We only get
Apple and plum.
‘Plum and Apple’ in the early years of the War was the only
kind of jam which reached the fighting troops.

59

Glorious
(Chant)
Glorious!
One bottle of beer among the four of us.
Thank Heaven there are no more of us.
Or one of us would have to go dry.
Glorious!

Another version, belonging to the later years of the War, ran:
Glorious! Glorious!
One shell hole among four of us.
Soon there will be no more of us
Only the bloody old hole.

Good-bye, Nellie
Air: ?
Nellie,
I’m going across the main.
Farewell, Nellie,
This parting gives me pain.
I shall always love you
As true as the stars above.
I’m going to do my duty
For the girl I love.
Good-bye,

Sung with great sentiment, and no notion that it was ridi¬
culous. Possibly pre-1914, but a persistent favourite with the
troops.

60

The Old Barbed Wire
Air: ?
If you want to find the sergeant,
I know where he is, I know where he is.
If you want to find the sergeant,
I know where he is,
He’s lying on the canteen floor.
I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him.
Lying on the canteen floor,
I’ve seen him,
Lying on the canteen floor.
If you want to find the quarter-bloke,
I know where he is, I know where he is.
If you want to find the quarter-bloke,
I know where he is,
He’s miles and miles behind the line.
I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him,
Miles and miles behind the line,
I’ve seen him,
Miles and miles and miles behind the line.
If you want to find the sergeant-major,
I know where he is, I know where he is.
If you want to find the sergeant-major,
I know where he is,
He’s boozing up the privates’ rum.
I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him,
Boozing up the privates’ rum,
I’ve seen him,
Boozing up the privates’ rum.
If you want to find the C.O.,
I know where he is, I know where he is.
If you want to find the C.O.,
I know where he is,
He’s down in the deep dug-outs.
I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him,
61

Down in the deep dug-outs,
I’ve seen him,
Down in the deep dug-outs.
If you want to find the old battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are.
If you want to find the old battalion,
I know where they are,
They’re hanging on the old barbed wire.
I’ve seen ’em, I’ve seen ’em,
Hanging on the old barbed wire,
I’ve seen ’em.
Hanging on the old barbed wire.

62

III. Chants and Songs rarely, if ever,
Sung on the March

PAGE

DAN

64
64
65
65
65

I’VE LOST MY RIFLE AND BAYONET

66

MICHAEL FINNIGAN

66

IT WAS CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE WORKHOUSE
OLD MOTHER RILEY
MY NELLY
CASEY JONES

I

don’t WANT TO

BE A

SOLDIER

CAN WE CLEAN YOUR WINDOWS
GREETING TO THE
NEVER TRUST A
SHE WAS POOR,

P

SERGEANT

SAILOR

67
67
67
68

BUT SHE WAS

63

HONEST

69

It was Christmas Day in the Workhouse
Recitative
It was Christmas Day in the workhouse.
That season of good cheer.
The paupers’ hearts were merry,
Their bellies full of beer.
The pompous workhouse master,
As he strode about the halls,
Wished them a Merry Christmas,
But the paupers answered 'Balls!’
This angered the workhouse master,
Who swore by all the gods
That he’d stop their Christmas pudden,
The dirty rotten sods.
Then up spake a bald-headed pauper.
His face as bold as brass,
‘You can keep your Christmas pudden
And stick it up your arse!’
A short variant ran:
It was Christmas Day in the harem
And the eunuchs were standing around.
In strode the bold, bad Sultan
And gazed on his marble halls.
‘What would you like for Christmas, boys ?’
And the eunuchs answered, ‘Balls!’
Pre-1914, part of the lore of the ‘working class’, and popular
with the troops because it expresses the resentment of the
helpless against circumstance and against those with power
over them.

Old Mother Riley
Air: ?
had a little kid,
Poor little blighter, he wasn’t very big.
He wasn’t very big
And he wasn’t very small.
Old Mother Riley

Poor little blighter, he only had one ball.
Probably derived from the old Victorian ballad, Sammy Hall
- see page 35.

64

My Nelly
Air: ‘Three Blind Mice’
My Nelly’s a whore!
My Nelly’s a whore!
She’s got such wonderful eyes of blue.
She uses such wonderful language too,
Her favourite expression is, ‘Ballocks to you!’
My Nelly’s a whore.

Casey Jones
Air: ‘Casey Jones’ (American railroad song: about

1905)

Casey Jones,

Standing on the fire-step,
Casey Jones,
With a pistol in his hand.
Casey Jones,
Standing on the fire-step,
Firing Very lights into No Man’s Land
(La-diddy-dah-dah - Dah! - Dah!)

Dan
Air: ?
Dan, Dan, the sanitary man,
Working underground all day
Sweeping up urinals,
Picking out the finals,
Whiling the happy hours away Gor blimey!
Doing his little bit
Shovelling up the shit,
He is so blithe and gay.
And the only music that he hears
Is poo-poo-poo-poo-poo all day.
Presumaly ‘finals’ meant (football) final editions of evening
newspapers.

C

65

I’ve Lost My Rifle and Bayonet
Air: ‘Since I Lost You’ (Sentimental ballad: pre-1914)
I’ve lost my rifle and bayonet,
I’ve lost my pull-through too,
I’ve lost my disc and my puttees,
I’ve lost my four-by-two.
I’ve lost my housewife and hold-all
I’ve lost my button-stick too.
I’ve lost my rations and greatcoat Sergeant, what shall I do ?
Pull-through was a long cord for cleaning the barrel of a rifle.
It was looped at one end and around this loop was wrapped a
small piece of flannel - four-by-two - soaked in oil. Housewife
or hussif was a small cloth compendium in which were kept
needles, cotton, wool, etc. Hold-all: a coarse linen receptacle,
tabbed and pouched to hold in due order knife, fork, spoon,
toothbrush, and other articles. Button-stick: a thin strip of
brass split down the centre, the split ending in a small circular
hole. The button-stick was placed behind several brass
buttons at once, the tunic being rucked up to bring the buttons
close together. Soldier’s friend - a pink metal-cleaning paste could then be smeared over them all without staining the
khaki. Disc was an identity disc, a small medallion of brass or
red or green composition on which were stamped a soldier’s
name, regiment, number and religion, so that, if he were killed
or rendered unconscious, he could be identified.

Michael Finnigan
(Chant)
Poor old Michael Finnigan,
He grew whiskers on his chinnigan.
The wind came out,
And blew them in again,
And that was the end of poor Michael Finnigan.
Pre-1914. Probably a children’s chant in street games.

66

I Don’t IVant to be a Soldier
Air: ‘On Sunday I Walk Out With a Soldier’

I don’t want to be a soldier,
I don’t want to go to war.
I’d rather stay at home,
Around the streets to roam,
And live on the earnings of a well-paid whore.
I don’t want a bayonet up my arse-hole,
I don’t want my ballocks shot away.
I’d rather stay in England,
In merry, merry England,
And-my bloody life away.
This song was a soldier’s parody of the song noted above; the
original, we are told, belonged to a revue, The Passing Show
of 1914, and was sung at the London Hippodrome.

Can We Clean Tour Windows?
[Chant)
we clean your windows, mum ?
We’ll make ’em shine,
Bloody fine:
We’ll make ’em shine,
Bloody fine.
Not today.
Run away!
‘All right,’ says poor old Jim,
As he threw down his bucket,
And he called out, ‘Drat it!
Can we clean your windows, mum?’
Can

Greeting to the Sergeant
[Chant)
You’ve got a kind face, you old bastard,
You ought to be bloody well shot:
You ought to be tied to a gun-wheel,
And left there to bloodywell rot.
61

Never Trust a Sailor
Air: ‘Oh Susannah’
Once I was a skivvy
Down in Drury Lane,
And I used to love the mistress
And the master just the same.
One day came a sailor,
A sailor home from sea,
And he was the cause
Of all my miseree.
He
To
He
To

asked me for a candle
light him up to bed.
asked me for a pillow
rest his weary head.

And I being young and
Innocent of harm
Jumped into bed
Just to keep the sailor warm.
And next morning
When I awoke
He handed me
A five-pun’ note.
Take this, my dear,
For the damage I have done.
It may be a daughter
Or it may be a son.
If it be a daughter
Bounce her on your knee.
If it be a son
Send the bastard out to sea.
68

Bell-bottomed trousers
And a coat of navy blue,
And make him climb the rigging
As his daddy climbed up you.
Never trust a sailor
An inch above your knee.
I did and he left me
With a bastard on my knee.
This brutal ballad, to a gay tune, is pre-1914 in origin. The
contemptuous word for a domestic servant - ‘skivvy’ - sets
the period.
Sometimes called The Servant Girl of Drury Lane or Never Trust a
Sailor, but the melody is now better known (because of radio and tele¬
vision) under the euphemistic title: ‘With a Banjo on my Knee.’

She was Poor, hut She was Honest
Air: Old ballad melody
She was poor, but she was honest,
Victim of the squire’s whim:
For he wooed and he seduced her,
And she had a child by him.
Oh, it’s the same the whole world over,
It’s the poor gets all the blame,
While the rich gets all the pleasure,
Oh, isn’t it a Weedin’ shame!
Then she came to London city
To recover her fair name:
But another man seduced her,
And she lost her name again.
Oh, it’s the same, etc.
What right had he with all his money
To go with her that was so poor,
Bringing shame on her relations,
Turning her into a whore.
69

Oh, it’s the same, etc.
See the little country cottage
Where her sorrowing parents live:
Though they drink the fizz she sends them,
Yet they never can forgive.
Oh, it’s the same, etc.
Now she’s standing in the gutter,
Selling matches penny-a-box:
While he’s riding in his carriage
With an awful dose of pox.
Oh, it’s the same, etc.
See him in the grand theayter,
Eating apples in the pit:
While the poor girl what he ruined
Wanders round through mud and shit.
Oh, it’s the same, etc.
See him in the House of Commons
Making laws to put down crime:
While the victim of his passion
Slinks around to hide her shime.
Oh, it’s the same, etc.
Now she’s living in the cottage
But she very rarely smiles:
And her only occupation’s
Cracking ice for grandpa’s piles.
Oh, it’s the same, etc.
Pre-1914. Never sung seriously: always as a travesty of a
street ballad, with an excessive Cockney accent, and a whine
in the voice.

70

Part Two
SOLDIERS’ SLANG

GLOSSARY OF SOLDIERS'
SLANG
Including Rhyming Slang, Invective, Catchwords and Technical
Language in use on the Western Front and other Fronts 1914-18
Edited by

John Brophy and Eric Partridge
A.: (Cf. Brass Hats p. 91). Adjutant’s Branch, that part of the
Staff which dealt with the personnel, training and discipline
of the Army. See G and Q, I.
Also worn on the regimental shoulder-colours by hose
Australian troops who had served at Anzac, i.e. Gallipoli.
A.A.A.: Ack Ack Ack. Represents ‘full stop’ on buzzer (q.v.);
used in all signal messages.
Abdul: Turk, individual or collective. (Cf. Johnny.)
Abort: German for water-closet or latrine. The word occurs
frequently in books written by ex-prisoners of war.
About Turn: The village of Hebuterne.
Accessory : Such poison gas as was discharged in preparation
for an attack.
Ace: A fighting air-pilot of outstanding ability. Obviously,
from cards. Originally from French as.
The French Ace was Rene Fonck; the English, Major
E. W. Mannock, who brought down 73 machines; the
Canadian, Colonel W. A. Bishop, 72 machines; the Ameri¬
can, Captain E. V. Rickenbacker, 26; the German, Baron
Manfred von Richthofen, 80 machines. Richthofen was him¬
self brought down at Sailly-le-Sec, near Amiens, on April
21, 1918, by Capt. Roy Brown, a Canadian aviator. Eric
Partridge, who was on infantry observation nearby,
remembers that, in this sector, this feat was the great topic
of conversation for quite a day.
Ack Emma : Air Mechanic, in the Royal Air Force. Also a.m. =
morning. (Cf. Pip Emma.)
Addressed to : Aimed at, of bullet, bomb, or shell.
Adjutant: In the eighteenth century also called Aide-Major.
As Captain Francis Grose (see entry in Bibliographical
Note on page 237) who, having held two different and
73

lengthy adjutancies, should know, says: 'There is scarce
any duty going forwards in a regiment, without the
adjutant having some share in it.’ Major-General Voyle:
‘The duties of an adjutant are unremitting,’ for he is
‘appointed to assist the commanding officer [of a battalion J
in the execution of all details of duty and discipline.’ The
usual rank held by an adjutant in 1914-18 was that of
Captain.
Adjutant’s Nightmare: A confidential Army Telephone
Code Book (= Bab Code or B.A.B.). Very complicated
and frequently revised. A bright idea of 1916.
Adrian Hut : Seemingly not an English structure, but a
French one occasionally used by or for the English troops.
Its distinguishing feature was a widening near ground
level to allow additional floor-space.
Adrift : Absent without leave.
Aerodart or Flechette: A steel dart or arrow used by both
French and German aviators. According to the French
Official Report issued on January 7, 1915, 2,000 were
dropped on wagons and infantry at Nampoel on Christmas
Day, 1914. Their use was soon discontinued. Weighing
not more than one pound (some weighed very much less),
they were made of highly tempered steel, pointed at one
end and milling-fluted at the other. Their striking velocity
had to be only 400 feet per second to enable them to
traverse a man’s body from head to foot.
‘A’ Frame: A wooden frame, shaped like the letter A; inverted
and fitted in the bottom of water-logged trenches. Planks
were then stretched from one cross-piece to the next, to
make a rough pathway.
Afters: Pudding.
Aide-de-Camp: A junior officer employed as a general's

‘handy man’.
Aid Post: The R.A.M.C. went as far forward as Advanced
Dressing Stations, which might be in support or in reserve
trenches. The battalion M.O. and his orderlies and stretcherbearers dealt with casualties in the front line itself and
passed them back to the R.A.M.C.

Agony : A newly-arrived officer showing nervousness or
confusion.
74

Ak

Among Regulars: instantly. From Hindustani. In
1914-18 it also meant a German notice-board, which more
often than not was headed Achtung.
Albatross : A kind of aeroplane.
All Cut: Excited; in a pother, upset; confused.
Alley: Run away! Clear out! Or in full. Alley tootsweet. From
the French Allez tout de suite. Often also alley at the toot.
Alleyman : A German. French Allemand. Not much used after
1916.
Dum:

All right, all correct. Usually as an affirmative.
Probably cognate with the French argotic kif-kif, similar,
the same, equal.
All the Best: A form of farewell, chiefly among younger
officers. Later, over a drink, as a variant of ‘Good health’.
Ally Sloper’s Cavalry: The A.S.C. (cf.) - Army Service
Corps — responsible for all road transport behind the lines.
Ally Sloper was a comic character in a popular paper (preWar) called Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday. The A.S.C. were
so named by the infantry and artillery because, having
good pay, comfort and comparative safety, they were
hardly considered to be soldiers at all. (Cf. R.A.M.C.)
A variant was Army Safety Corps.
Amiens Hut: A very uncomfortable frame-and-canvas tent-hut
seen at base-camps in 1915-16.
Ammo : Short for ammunition.
Ammonal: An explosive used in Mills grenades and in charges
placed in mines.
Ammos: The stock active-service boots. From the technical
term, Ammunition Boot; cf. the old [Am)munition loaf.
Sometimes called Kitchener’s Boots.
Angel Face: A young or boyish-looking officer (usually a
Probationary Flight Officer). Air Force term.
Angels of Mons: These supernatural interveners on the
battlefield - intervening on behalf of the British - were
fictitious. They occurred in a story by Arthur Machen
printed in a London evening paper. Very soon large
numbers of people were convinced that the intervention
was a part of military history. The late Eric Kennington,
asked if he believed in the Angels of Mons once replied:
All Kiff:

‘Madam, I was one of them!’
75

Lorry. For a note on this kind of usage, of
which many examples follow, see the Glossary at R -

Annie Laurie:

Rhyming Slang.

In the winter of 1914-15 this commodity,
which looked rather like lard, was supplied in two-pound
tins; it evidently contained pork fat, for the tin was marked
‘Not to be given to Indian troops’. Afterwards, Whale Oil
was issued; it arrived in rum-jars. Owing to its foul smell,
little was used as H.O. intended; the order was that, before
going out to a Listening Post (q.v.) or on patrol, each
man was to be stripped and rubbed down with whale oil
by an N.C.O.!
Antonio: A Portuguese soldier. Sometimes ’Tony.
Any More for Any More: A jocular shout by the Orderly
Man (cf.) when he had given every man his share of a
meal, and still had some stew or tea or rice remaining.
Also used by the man running a Crown and Anchor board
or a House outfit, inviting others to join in before the game
began.
Anzac: Short for A.N.Z.A.C. - Australian and New Zealand
Army Corps. Hence for the district in Gallipoli near Anzac
Cove, where the Australian and New Zealand landing was
made. The name was made popular by journalists at the
time of the Gallipoli campaign, and afterwards applied as
a synonym, singular and plural, for Australian or New
Zealand troops. Rarely, if ever, used by English soldiers,
who preferred Aussie or Digger (cf.).
A.O.C.: The Army Ordnance Corps.
A.P.M.: Assistant Provost Marshal. A sort of Head Con¬
stable of Military Police. A harrier of too lively subalterns,
an eagle eye for omitted salutes, surreptitious drinks, over¬
stayed passes. It is said that A.P.M.’s often acted as guides
for Generals wishing to see the night-life of the large
towns in France and Belgium. For the hardened type of
A.P.M., see C. E. Montague’s Rough Justice (Chatto &
Windus, 1926). Cf. Red Caps and Battle Police.
Grose, in his Military Antiquities of the English Army,
1786, writes:
Anti-Frostbite:

‘At present the chief duties of the provost marshal . . .
are: the keeping of all prisoners, particularly those con76

cerned for great offences, apprehending deserters, maraud¬
ers, or soldiers straggling beyond the limits of the camp.
At night, by his rounds or those of his deputies, preventing
any disturbances among the petty sutlers in the rear, and
apprehending all soldiers out of camp after gun-firing.
Causing the butchers to bury all their offal; also to kill all
glandered horses, and to bury them, and all others dying
in the camp, in order to prevent infection. To enable him
to perform those duties, the provost marshal has a sergeant’s
and sometimes a subaltern’s guard; and occasionally to give
him the more authority, has the rank of captain; besides
which, he is permitted to make out a contingent bill, for
his fees for executions, and other expenses attending his
office.’
Apples and Pears: Stairs.
Apres
la Guerre:
A magical phase used by soldiers
jokingly for the indefinite and remote future, and as a
depository of secret sentiment, longing for survival and for
the return of peace. The two usages can be seen in the
ribald ditty composed by some unknown warrior - ‘Apres
la guerre finie’ (page 33), and a later music-hall song,
fairly popular in 1917-18, of which the refrain began,
‘Apres la guerre, There’ll be a good time everywhere:
smiling faces, gladsome missus,’ etc. (Cf. Blighty.)
Arbeit : A work-camp for prisoners of war in Germany.
Archie: Short for Archibald: facetious name for an anti-air¬
craft gun; also for its shell bursts. It has pride of place in
The Wipers Times, No. 2, i.e. February 26, 1916, when
this gun was a new feature at the Front.
Archie, to: To shell aircraft.
Area Commandant: A sort of super Town Major (cf.) in
charge of an area of some square miles behind the lines
and responsible for the provision of adequate camps and
billets, and for amicable adjustments of disputes with
French residents.
Area Shoot: The bombardment of a given area in order to
make it untenable or untraversable by the enemy.
Argue the Toss: To dispute loudly and long, especially when
such argument was an annoyance to others not involved
(e.g. Chew the Fat).
77

Arm: To chance your arm: to take a risk in the hope of
achieving something worth while. Possibly a metaphor
from boxing; more probably from the fact that badges of
rank (stripes) were worn on the sleeve.
: The Germans were the first to
use such bullets, which could penetrate plates guarding
loopholes; the plates were about 20" X 15" and were
inserted between sandbags in the parapet of a trench, fire

Armour-piercing Bullets

bay, or sniper’s post.
Armstrong Hut: Serving many purposes, this small and
collapsible structure was made of wood and canvas.
Army: The British Expeditionary Force was divided into four
or five Armies, each composed of a variable number of
Army Corps.
Army Corps : Made up of a number of divisions which varied
as occasion demanded.
S.H. One T.: Bumf, q.v. Variants: Artny Form
Nought, often abbreviated to A.F.O.\ Army Form O.O. or

Army Form

O.O.O.
: Socks.
Arsty: Slowly! Slow down! From Hindustani ahisti. The
opposite to jeldi, jildi, jillo.
Artillery Duel: Technically, this was a contest between the
artillery of each side, in which practically all guns available
were employed continuously. In practice, the German
artillery battered the British infantry, and the British
artillery the German infantry, until supplies of ammunition
ran short. It was a pleasant sport for the gunners. Cf. also
Counter Battery Fire.
A.S.C.: The Army Service Corps—for supply and transport.
Ascots, The: A fancy name for A.S.C.
Asiatic Annie (or Ann) : A Turkish big gun at Gallipoli.
Asquiths: ‘Wait and see’ matches, i.e. French matches. The
terse allusiveness is typical of British Army Slang. Com¬
pare the name applied to the Middlesex Regiment some
years after 1918-Colonel Barker’s Own. This was an allusion
to a woman who successfully passed herself off as a man.
Army Rocks

Assault Course : A bayonet-fighting ground.

As You Were : An order at drill or on parade, meaning
‘reverse the previous order’. It was also a way of acknow78

ledging a mistake, and sometimes used off parade to over¬
take and correct an erroneous assertion of one’s own.
A. T. Cart: Army Transport Cart. A light all-metal cart,
not much used outside India.
Aussie : Used by Australians originally as an affectionate
diminutive of Australia. Applied by British troops to
Australian soldiers, in both singular and plural. (Cf. Anzac
and Digger.)
Avec : Spirits. Cafe' avec was coffee with rum or brandy.
Awkward Squad: A small group of men (as in squad-drill)
detailed for intensive instruction in those parts of foot or
arms drill in which they were backward.
Ayrton Fan : A loose flapping piece of canvas on a wooden
handle; used to disperse gas.

Variant Ayrton Flapper Fan; colloquially, Flapper Fan;
slangily, Flapper. Devised by Mrs Hertha Ayrton, who in
1915 presented the invention to the War Office; over
100,000 were used on the Western Front.
B. or Bee: The former in writing, the latter in speech. A
frequent euphemism for bugger.
Babbling Brook: Cook. Babbler, an Army cook, derives from this.
Baby : The small Sopwith aeroplane of the Royal Naval Air
Service in the first year of the War; later the R.N.A.S.
used Camels or Sopwith scouting ’planes.
Baby Crying : Defaulters’ bugle call. Regular Army.
Baby’s Head: Meat pudding.
Backs to the Wall: This special order was published on
Thursday, April 11, 1918, by F.M. Sir Douglas Haig.
One paragraph read: 'With our backs to the wall and
believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must
fight to the end.’
Bag of Rations : Contemptuously for a fussy or over-enthu¬
siastic person, particularly if he were of superior rank.
Bags of: Plenty, lots. E.g. ‘Got any bully
‘Yes, bags of
it.’ And especially bags of room.
Balaclava Helmet: A woollen, ‘pullover’ head-covering
leaving only the face exposed. Worn in really cold weather.
It looked like a medieval helmet of chain mail. In the
modern form it presumably originated at the time of the
Crimean War. Cf. Cap Comforter.
79

Hat.
Head.
Balloon : ‘What time does the balloon go up ?’ was a favourite
way of asking the time fixed for any special parade or
Ball and Bat:
Ball of Lead:

‘stunt’.
Observation : Large balloons, shaped rather like
vegetable marrows, were flown at intervals of a mile or so
close behind the lines. Each carried an observer in a basket
below and was secured to the ground by cable. They were
flown in daylight and fine weather and were often shot
down by hostile fighter aircraft.
Balloonatics : Those operating, or in charge of, observation
balloons.
Baloo, or Berloo: Bailleul. Probably Albert, Armentieres,
Amiens, Bailleul, and Ypres were the towns most familiar
to the British soldier on the Western Front.
Bandagehem, Dosinghem, Mendinghem: Certain hospital
stations in Flanders, on the analogy of such place-names
as Ebblinghem.
Bandolier: A canvas bag divided into compartments, capable
of carrying 100 rounds of ammunition. Carried slung over
the shoulder.
Bandook: A rifle. Pronounced bundook. From the Arabic for
a fire-arm, originally for a cross-bow. Some Egyptians
still call Venice ‘Bundookia’ — the place of the big guns.
British soldiers, however, took the word from Hindustani.
(Cf. Hipe.)
Bangalore Torpedo: A device (introduced on the Western
Front in 1915), consisting of explosive tubes for clearing
a way through a wire entanglement.
Banjo : A shovel. Australianism.
Bantams: Certain battalions of very short men. An official
order of January 31, 1916, reads thus:
‘. . . It is notified that until further orders only men who
are between 5 feet l inch and 5 feet 4 inches in height
are to be considered eligible for Bantam Battalions.
The minimum chest measurement (fully expanded) for
these men will be: For men from 19 to 21 years of
age, 33t? inches, and for men of 22 years and over, 34
inches.’
Balloon

80

Entanglements of barbed wire were erected
in front of the trenches by both sides. Men were frequently
caught in these when patrolling or raiding at night, and
during daytime attacks, when they became easy targets
for machine-guns. The dead bodies could not fall to the
ground, but hung sagging in limp and often grotesque
attitudes among the wilderness of wire. Hence it became
a common euphemism to say that a dead man was ‘hanging
on the old barbed wire’. The phrase was often used by
survivors at roll-call after an attack, when the name of a
man was called without any response from him. (Cf. the
song, ‘The Old Barbed Wire’, page 61, and Concertina
Wire, Trip Wire.)
Barker: A sausage; from a once popular song about the
Dutchman’s dog. A revolver; this dates from 1815 or
earlier; an eighteenth-century synonym was barking iron.
Barpoo: Silly; insane. To go barpoo, to go mad or merely to
lose one’s nerve; (Air Force) to crash.
Barrage : A concentration of heavy artillery fire in front of
advancing or retreating troops to afford them protection.
Also, facetiously, for any excessive quantity. ‘We’ve had
a perfect barrage of orders today.’ A creeping barrage was
one which moved forward (or back) a time intervals. A
box barrage, one surrounding a small area; used especially
for raids. Lifting the barrage meant advancing the target
area aimed at; as the range increased, the gun barrels
would be elevated.
Barrow Wallah: A big man (or thing); choter wallah, a
small man (or thing). Regular Army terms from India.
Base-wallah : A soldier perpetually at the Base, and so
living comfortably and safely. (Cf. Wallah.)
Bat out of Hell: To go like a . . ., at extreme speed. Flying
Barbed Wire:

term.
Seldom talk the bat. To speak the language
of the foreign country where one happens to be.
Batchy: Silly; unnerved; mad.
Bathmats: Duckboards, q.v.
Batman: Officer’s servant; used contemptuously of a syco¬
phantic private. Often shortened to Bat. Originally a
soldier who looked after an officer’s bat-horse, pack-horse.
Bat, to Sling the:

81

Used as early as 1809. In the Regular Army, only of the
R.S.M.’s servant.
Batt: Short for battalion. (Cf. Divvy — division.)
Batte