Recruited Collier, The
DESCRIPTION: Singer tells of her lover, a collier now in the army. She is terrified; he's looking forward to the adventure. She points out the coals her family burns, which his hands hewed. He bids her farewell, asking her not to forsake him; she says her life is over
AUTHOR: unknown (see notes)
EARLIEST DATE: 1957 (Pinto & Rodway, _The Common Muse_)
KEYWORDS: loneliness love army parting mining lover soldier worker trick drink recruiting
FOUND IN: Britain(England(North))
REFERENCES (2 citations):
DallasCruel, pp. 28-29, "The Recruited Collier" (1 text, 1 tune)
Anne Briggs, "The Recruited Collier" (on IronMuse1, Briggs3)
NOTES [558 words]: In the versions of this song that I've heard, the collier took the shilling after a sergeant got him drunk.
According to Chandler/Beckett, p. 168, "In the view of contemporaries, prevailing methods of enlistment, in which liquor and deception played a prominent part, adversely affected the number and quality of recruits. Though the regular resort to 'seduction, debauchery, and fraud' was persistently criticized, the traditional methods of inveigling 'the foolish, the drunken, the ungodly, and the despairing' into the army were not abandoned until after 1867.
Haswell, p. 56, writes, "The politicians' dislike of the army ensured that the soldiers remained poorly treated and poorly paid. They had probably been induced to join up by unscrupulous recruiting sergeants who had filled them with drink until they had become too befuddled and confused to resist. Once recruited, they were decked out in clothes that were too elaborate and too tight for comfort, hopelessly impractical for the tasks given to them. Believed to be incapable of thinking for themselves [which to some extent was true, given the quality of the recruits], they were told nothing of their immediate future or of their commander's intentions. Several contemporary French military writers comment on the fact that, without officers to lead them, British soldiers, even in the middle of a battle, appeared to be lost.... It is hardly surprising that at the slightest opportunity they drank themselves into oblivion."
Pope, p. 118, speaking of the British army in the Napoleonic Wars: "Though its troops were the best (and most regularly paid) in Europe, the army attracted far fewer volunteers than the navy, partly because soldiers and marines were less well cared for, but also because they attracted none of the popular respect enjoyed by the sailors. Without the benefit of press gangs or conscription, regiments could only recruit from the very poorest sections of society, frequently resorting to sweeps of prisons and other illegal expedients." Even the regular pay was new; historically, Parliament had tended to under-pay its soldiers, going all the way back to the Commonwealth era.
This situation persisted for about two centuries, from the time Cromwell's New Model Army started to disintegrate (Haswell, p. 30) until the 1867 reforms. Little wonder Parliament had to pass a Mutiny Act every year from 1689 to 1879 (Haswell, p. 31).
Despite what the girl said, the recruit feels perhaps less enthusiastic than determined to make the best of it. He certainly had no chance of becoming a brigadier, but a grenadier was perhaps possible -- if he was tall enough. Grenadiers didn't get much in the way of rewards -- but, since they were more trusted, they might at least be safer from the lash.
Though the traditional texts seem most often to be known as "The Recruited Collier," two of the three texts cited in Grangers's Index to Poetry are filed under "Jimmy's Enlisted." There is no indication of authorship. I've seen Internet claims that the original was written by Robert Anderson -- but the common version was remade by A. L. Lloyd. Curiously, the version in DallasCruel claims that it was written by Karl Dallas and copyrighted in 1955. Possibly Dallas too rewrote it, but we know the song (at least in the version attributed to Anderson) is older. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Chandler/Beckett: David Chandler, general editor; Ian Beckett, associate editor, The Oxford History of the British Army, 1994 (I use the 1996 Oxford paperback edition)
- Haswell: Jock Haswell, The British Army: A Concise History, Thames and Hudson, 1975
- Pope: Stephen Pope, Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, Cassell, 1999 (I use the undated Facts on File hardcover edition)
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.