The Young British Soldier

 

 

The twenty-eighth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here and here.

One frequent subject of Kipling’s poems were the rankers of the British Army.  His unsentimental but affectionate look at these common men who held up the British Empire with their courage usually brings a special spark to his verse and that is certainly the case with The Young British Soldier (1892).   In the form of a chant like song by a veteran soldier it provides sound advice to recruits:  don’t drink bad liquor, avoid disease which is helped by not getting drunk, wear your helmet in the sun, be civil with noncoms on work details, a wife who can cook is preferable to a beautiful wife who can’t, don’t meet adultery with murder, keep calm under fire, take care of your rifle, the Martini-Henry rifle is referred to, and it will take care of you, pick off the gunners of opposing artillery and don’t be terrified of the noise of cannon fire, running from a fight is the shortest route to being killed and suicide is preferable to death by torture.  I differ with the last piece of advice but I doubt if God does not have a great deal of sympathy for poor souls facing the choice of self murder or death by being cut apart by fiends.  Here is the text of the poem:

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!

Published in: on December 8, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Young British Soldier  
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