Old England by G.A. Studdert Kennedy

 

Also known by his nom de guerre “Woodbine Willie”, Studdert Kennedy was, as the dust wrapper suggests, “perhaps the most famous Padre serving in the first world war”.  The nickname derived from his habit of handing out handfuls of cigarettes while offering spiritual sustenance to the troops.  He appears to have been genuinely well thought of by the men and was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for exceptional bravery under fire at Messines Ridge.

After the war he became a prominent Pacifist and wrote numerous popular essays with titles such as “Capitalism is nothing but Greed, Grab and Profit-Mongering” (he could never be accused of mincing his words). 

 In his poems “Rough Rhymes of a Padre” and “More Rough Rhymes” he often – as here –  made use of some conventions established by Kipling.  Like Kipling, he might be accused of putting his own words into the soldiers’ mouths.  On the other hand, he might have taken the words right out of their mouths.

His day of commemoration in the Church of England is on 8th March.

 

OLD ENGLAND

YES, I’m fightin’ for old England
      And for eighteenpence a day,
And I’m fightin’ like an ‘ero,
      So the daily papers say.
Well, I ain’t no downy chicken,
      I’m a bloke past forty-three,
And I’m goin’ to tell ye honest
      What old England means to me.
When I joined the British Army
      I’d bin workin’ thirty years,
But I left my bloomin’ rent-book
      Showin’ three months in arrears.
No, I weren’t no chronic boozer,
      Nor I weren’t a lad to bet;
I worked ‘ard when I could get it,
      And I weren’t afeared to sweat.
But I weren’t a tradesman proper,
      And the work were oft to seek,
So the most as I could addle
      Were abaht a quid a week.
And when me and Jane got married,
      And we ‘ad our oldest kid,
We soon learned ‘ow many shillings
      Go to make a golden quid.
For we ‘ad to keep our clubs up,
      And there’s three and six for rent,
And with food and boots and clothing
      It no sooner came than went.
Then when kiddies kep’ on comin’–
      We reared four and buried three;

My ole woman couldn’t do it,
      So we got in debt–ye see.
And we ‘ad a’eap o’ sickness
      And we got struck off the club,
With our little lot o’ troubles
      We just couldn’t pay the sub.
No, I won’t tell you no false’oods;
      There were times I felt that queer,
That I went and did the dirty,
      And I ‘ad a drop o’ beer.
Then the wife and me ‘ud quarrel,
      And our ‘ome were little ‘ell,
Wiv the ‘ungry kiddies cryin’,
      Till I eased up for a spell.
There were times when it were better,
      And some times when it were worse,
But to take it altogether,
      My old England were a curse.
It were sleepin’, sweatin’, starvin’,
      Wearing boot soles for a job,
It were sucking up to foremen
      What ‘ud sell ye for a bob.
It were cringin’, crawlin’, whinin’,
      For the right to earn your bread,
It were schemin’, pinchin’, plannin’,
      It were wishin’ ye was dead.
I’m not fightin’ for old England,
      Not for this child–am I? ‘Ell!
For the sake o’ that old England
      I’d not face a single shell,
Not a single bloomin’ whizzbang.
      Never mind this blarsted show,
With your comrades fallin’ round ye,
      Lyin’ bleedin’ in a row.
This ain’t war, it’s ruddy murder,
      It’s a stinkin’ slaughter ‘ouse.

‘Ark to that one, if ‘e got ye
      ‘E’d just squash ye like this louse.
Would I do this for old England,
      Would I? ‘Ell, I says, not me
What I says is, sink old England
      To the bottom of the sea
It’s new England as I fights for,
      It’s an England swep’ aht clean,
It’s an England where we’ll get at
      Things our eyes ‘ave never seen;
Decent wages, justice, mercy,
      And a chance for ev’ry man
For to make ‘is ‘ome an ‘eaven
      If ‘e does the best ‘e can.
It’s that better, cleaner England,
      Made o’ better, cleaner men,
It’s that England as I fights for,
      And I’m game to fight again.
It’s the better land o’ Blighty
      That still shines afore our eyes,
That’s the land a soldier fights for,
      And for that a soldier dies.

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3 thoughts on “Old England by G.A. Studdert Kennedy

  1. Glad you liked it. I didn’t think of B. Bragg and his New England – I wonder if he was aware of this poem? Could just about imagine him singing it too. This type of poem was very much designed to be recited as a form of popular entertainment – almost like a music hall routine.

  2. I was talking to the boys about the business of being able to recite poems just the other day. Few things give me more pleasure than hearing someone reciting poetry off the top of their heads. We used to have to learn poems off by heart at school but children seem not to be required to do that any more which is a shame because, if nothing else, it’s a marvellous mental exercise. On Christmas Eve, we often have a ghost story or a poetry reading last thing before going up to bed and a very calming and lovely thing it is too.

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