Saturday, 13 July 2013

Being a bit political

The recent blog entries I wrote that concerned my talk about Kipling and some of his poetry has sparked off quite an interesting off-line discussion, as a result of which I am about to write what could be considered to be a blog entry that is rather political in nature ... so if you don't like reading what could be construed as political statements on blogs, please stop reading NOW!

During the Q&A session that followed my talk, the topic of the way that members of the Armed Forces – and the British Army in particular – are currently regard within British society came up ... and the view expressed by one person that it was a far cry from the sentiments expressed in Kipling's poem TOMMY. Someone replied that that may be true now ... but would it remain so after our current overseas 'involvements' were over, and that it might be apposite to send all MPs a copy of the poem's text. I cannot do that ... but I can remind my regular blog readers about what Kipling wrote.


I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

First published in Barrack-Room Ballads, 1892

The conversation then turned to Afghanistan, and I asked how many of the people at the Q&A session had read FLASHMAN. Quite a few had ... and I then asked if they thought that UK and US politicians should have read it before invading Afghanistan. There seemed to be general agreement that had they done so, they might have realised that fighting such a war was going to be far worse that they could have predicted ... and the endgame had the possibility of turning into a disaster.

The last stand of the 44th Foot (later the 1st Battalion, the Essex Regiment) at Gandamak during the retreat from Kabul (13th January, 1842).
At this point I began to quote from Kipling's poem THE YOUNG BRITISH SOLDIER ... and my quotation was completed by a chorus made up of several of the attendees. For those of you who do not know the poem, it goes like this:

"The Young British Soldier"

When the 'arf-made recruity goes out to the East
'E acts like a babe an' 'e drinks like a beast,
An' 'e wonders because 'e is frequent deceased
Ere 'e's fit for to serve as a soldier.
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!

Now all you recruities what's drafted to-day,
You shut up your rag-box an' 'ark to my lay,
An' I'll sing you a soldier as far as I may:
A soldier what's fit for a soldier.
Fit, fit, fit for a soldier …

First mind you steer clear o' the grog-sellers' huts,
For they sell you Fixed Bay'nets that rots out your guts –
Ay, drink that 'ud eat the live steel from your butts –
An' it's bad for the young British soldier.
Bad, bad, bad for the soldier …

When the cholera comes – as it will past a doubt –
Keep out of the wet and don't go on the shout,
For the sickness gets in as the liquor dies out,
An' it crumples the young British soldier.
Crum-, crum-, crumples the soldier …

But the worst o' your foes is the sun over'ead:
You must wear your 'elmet for all that is said:
If 'e finds you uncovered 'e'll knock you down dead,
An' you'll die like a fool of a soldier.
Fool, fool, fool of a soldier …

If you're cast for fatigue by a sergeant unkind,
Don't grouse like a woman nor crack on nor blind;
Be handy and civil, and then you will find
That it's beer for the young British soldier.
Beer, beer, beer for the soldier …

Now, if you must marry, take care she is old –
A troop-sergeant's widow's the nicest I'm told,
For beauty won't help if your rations is cold,
Nor love ain't enough for a soldier.
'Nough, 'nough, 'nough for a soldier …

If the wife should go wrong with a comrade, be loath
To shoot when you catch 'em – you'll swing, on my oath! –
Make 'im take 'er and keep 'er: that's Hell for them both,
An' you're shut o' the curse of a soldier.
Curse, curse, curse of a soldier …

When first under fire an' you're wishful to duck,
Don't look nor take 'eed at the man that is struck,
Be thankful you're livin', and trust to your luck
And march to your front like a soldier.
Front, front, front like a soldier …

When 'arf of your bullets fly wide in the ditch,
Don't call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch;
She's human as you are – you treat her as sich,
An' she'll fight for the young British soldier.
Fight, fight, fight for the soldier …

When shakin' their bustles like ladies so fine,
The guns o' the enemy wheel into line,
Shoot low at the limbers an' don't mind the shine,
For noise never startles the soldier.
Start-, start-, startles the soldier …

If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier …

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!

First published in Barrack-Room Ballads, 1892


  1. Another of Kipling's poems about the treatment of the British soldier after he come home can be found here:

    It tells of the treatment of the remnants of the "Light Brigade" from Tennyson's poem.

    -- Jeff

  2. Bob, what you are writing about is easily supported by evidence but it doesn't seem political to me.

    Now if you were to get into the treatment and support or lack of same for returning soldiers in various countries and thus government policy and actions vs their rhetoric, now that would be political.

  3. Bluebear Jeff,

    Another corker of poem ... and one that may also need to be given a bigger audience via my blog.

    All the best,


  4. Ross Mac,

    I suspect that there are some people who would disagree ... which is why I added the warning/disclaimer.

    At present the British Armed Forces are held in high esteem by most of the general public ... but that could change when the 'danger' has passed. After World Wars I and II it did not take long for the 'heroes' to be forgotten ... and when that happened they were often seen as a 'burden' to the rest of society.

    It is interesting to note how many charities have sprung up in the UK to offer support to returning wounded British soldiers ... but those from previous wars are often ignored. I often see and talk to a homeless ex-soldier selling 'The Big Issue' at a local shopping centre (he served in Northern Ireland during 'The Troubles'). Because his was a 'forgotten' war, he gets no support from any of the charities and little from the State. (Now that statement is political!)

    All the best,


  5. Flashman should have been required reading for all polaticians involved in Afghanistan (doubt if some would have read it - no pictures !)

  6. Mosstrooper,

    Most politicians would have requested a single sheet of A4 paper with no more than ten bullet-points that give a synopsis of the story. They might just have been able to cope with that.

    Perhaps I ought to run a competition to see who could actually achieve this. It would be an interesting challenge to set.

    All the best,


  7. Now, there is no reason not to believe that all (or most) of our current - and recent - politicians have received a good education and are (in the main) intelligent and thoughtful people..................
    So then, where did it all go wrong?

    It is also worth reading Kipling on the "matter" of England and listening to the Peter Bellamy versions of the Kipling poems/songs.

    "Keep on Kipling!"

  8. I think it is all too easy to round upon the soldier returning from duty in some remote corner of the world, when instead the opprobrium should be visited upon the politicians - safe and snug as they are - who sent them there.

    I have a nephew who served for a spell in Afghanistan with the small contingent of the New Zealand Army. I don't blame him for going, not even if he were keen about the prospect. I never asked him about that.

    Fall all that, I do not believe for a second that the war in Afghanistan - that has doubled the duration of WW2 be it noted - or in Iraq, or Libya, or Syria, etc etc, has made the national security of New Zealand (or the UK or the USA) a whit more solid. For mine, I feel less secure than anything. And I blame the worthless twerps like Bush and Bliar and Howard and the New Zealand equivalents who sent the soldiers there to do their dirty work.

    I think it was Ben Franklin who once remarked: 'Who would give up a basic freedom for a little security deserves neither the freedom nor the security.' What should we say, then, of those stellar human beings who, to obtain a little security for themselves, would trade other people's freedoms?

    Show me a politician, and I'll show you a frightened little snirp who richly deserves the fate that Frederick the Great wished upon Prime Minister Bute. I'll probably get droned for this...

  9. Barry Carter,

    Where did it all go wrong? Well that is a question-and-a-half!

    I cannot comment about non-UK politicians, but I suspect that part of the problem is the'rise' of the professional politician over the past hundred years. Nowadays people go from university almost straight into an area of politics (e.g. parliamentary researcher) and gain little experience outside that enclosed little world.

    Add to that the limits of education within a mainly private system (I am using the current UK government as an example) and then Oxbridge ... and you have a group of people in charge whose experience is rather restricted. They may well be well-educated within the academic sense of the phrase ... but have not a lot more to offer.

    Even the opposition is now being drawn from a similar 'stock' ... so where will it all end?

    An interesting question, as I said.

    All the best,


  10. Well Bob, you've pretty well got to the roots of that one. One salient fact is that our "professional" politicians are now mostly going straight into the job without any real "life experience".
    On reflection though, twenty years service as a used car salesman (we always pick on them!) may not be the best background for high political office.

  11. Archduke Piccolo,

    As I get older, I seem to have less and less reverence for what I was educated to think of as my 'betters' ... and like many people in the UK my immediate reaction to listening to a politician is 'What are they going to get out of this?'

    For example, the British Government has recently 'decided' that electronic cigarettes are to be classified as 'medicines'. They are used by people to help them to stop smoking - and we are told that treating the results of smoking is a major drain on the finances of the National Health Service. So why make part of the 'cure' a medicine? Because the long-term effectiveness of the electronic cigarettes is 'not proven' and needs to be evaluated by the right government agency ... which is part of the NHS.

    At the same time revenue from cigarettes is a major source of government income, and electronic cigarettes are a threat to that income ... the tobacco companies have said so!

    So why did the politicians make the decision they did? To 'protect' the people ... or to 'protect' the state's revenue?

    The same sort of view can be taken of UK foreign policy nowadays. What did we hope to get out of sending troops to Afghanistan? Politicians will say it is to increase our nation's security ... but I don't know of anyone in the UK who feels MORE secure now than we did before the invasion. I suspect that the reason the UK got involved was to 'prove' that they still had the right to sit at the 'big table' with the 'big boys'. If so, then that seat has been bought with the blood, bodies, and minds of a lot of people ... and I seriously wonder if the price was even worth thinking about, let alone paying.

    Sorry for the political rant ... but it is hot and I am feeling very fractious today.

    All the best,


    PS. Perhaps there is space in the world for a 'Wargamers against War' movement. It is one hundred years since H G Wells implied as much, isn't it?

  12. Barry Carter,

    If I knew that a politician had been a car salesman, a double-glazing salesman, an estate agent etc., at least I would know that they might be trying to 'sell' me something that I don't want. The hand-on-heart 'professional' politician is a problem in that he might actually believe what he is saying!

    All the best,


  13. Bob,
    A rather late comment on the idea that our politicians would have benefited from reading 'Flashman' before considering military intervention in Afghanistan:

    Judging by the revelations regarding many of our politicians from John Profumo, via Paddy 'Pantsdown' and David Blunkett, to John Major and Chris Huhne, it would seem they need no lessons from Harry Flashman...

    I suppose the series might be a useful primer for FO recruits on conducting 'foreign affaires'...

    As I said to my local MP when he came doorstepping shortly after the expenses scandal, England could do with another Cromwell to say, 'Begone you rogues, you have done enough!' - but I don't think he understood....


  14. Arthur1815,

    Certainly it would appear that a number of politicians have libido 'issues' and problems with monogamy ... but 'dealing' with that sort of thing is probably all that they learned from reading FLASHMAN.

    I was 'visited' by the local MP and three Labour Party councillors yesterday, but as I was out they left behind a request for help in the forthcoming local elections. I wish that I had not missed them as I would have had the opportunity to discuss various local issues with them, issues that they would not have wished to discuss (e.g. Why does the council publish a weekly free newspaper that only ever puffs up the achievements of the local Labour councillors? Why do cabinet members get paid a lot more than most council front-line workers?).

    Perhaps one way forward might be to insist that MPs and councillors may only stand for election for a fixed number of elections, after which they would be barred from being candidates for at least ten years.

    All the best,


  15. Bob,
    Normally, like you, I avoid getting political in my blog (the stuff I did on IP, copyright and trademarking was an exception of interest to our hobby), but every now and then the mask will slip. I think broadly speaking you and I are on the same page - at least in the same book - politically speaking, having a jaundiced view of politicians and their policy advisors (I used to be one of the latter, myself, in a junior sort of way).

    As far as I am concerned, the loonies took over the asylum long, long ago.

  16. Archduke Piccolo (Ion),

    I don't like being 'political' on my blog either ... but sometimes it is just too difficult to avoid being so.

    It sounds as if our opinions of 'professional' politicians may well have been derived from similar experiences. For a while I was an adviser to local politicians about various education matters ... and saw the wrong decisions made for the wrong reasons too many times ... and always contrary to the advice that was given.

    Wargaming gave me a sane release from my work ... so you can probably gather how bad things were!

    All the best,