Old Recruiting Soldier (Twa Recruiting Sergeants)

DESCRIPTION: Recruiter(s) from the Black Watch tell a ploughboy the advantages of enlisting. Leave your rotten food and work. "If you chance to get a bairn" or would leave "Three little weans and a wife" "we'll soon rid your hand of that"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1906 (GreigDuncan1)
KEYWORDS: army recruiting humorous nonballad food wife children soldier
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Greig #176, p. 1, "The Recruiting Sergeant" (2 texts)
GreigDuncan1 77, "The Recruiting Sergeant" (4 texts, 1 tune)
DallasCruel, pp. 18-20, "Twe Recruiting Sergeants" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, TWARECRU

Roud #3356
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Wha Saw the Forty-Second" and references there (subject: The Black Watch)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
Twas In That Year
NOTES: Greig's first version "is made to apply to the days of Queen Victoria; but there are earlier versions." His second version refers to King George; Greig's correspondent "says that the song was popular about the time of the French wars."
GreigDuncan1 quotes a song in which "words like the chorus appear in ... George Farquhar's play The Recruiting Officer (1706); the queen here is Queen Anne." - BS
For the typical British recruiting method of The King's Shilling and getting potential soldiers drunk, see the notes to "The Recruited Collier." The irony of this song is that the sergeant's recruiting technique consists mostly of telling the potential recruit of the dangers he will escape:
"O laddie, ye dinna ken the danger that ye're in, Gin yer hoorses was to flag... The greedy auld farmer he winna pay your fee...." True, of course, but pay in the British army was legendarily low and late.
"It's a slavery a' your life" to obey a farmer: And obeying a sergeant, and an officer who has the right to punish you with the lash, isn't? The British army controlled its recruits with savage disciplline.
"O laddie, gin ye hae a sweethairt or a bairn, Ye'll easily be rid o' that ill-spun yarn": The usual problem for soldiers, of course, was that they had to leave sweethearts behind. The British army in this period did make provision for bringing some wives along -- but not enough to let all the men stay with their women; competition was fierce for the few slots available for spouses.
"With your tattie porin's and yer meal and kale": Food for the plowboy at home may have been poor -- but the British hired out contracts for provisions, and the contractors often provided inadequate, rotten, and inedible food. (In the Navy, this would result in the Spithead and Nore Mutinies, for which see "Poor Parker.") Almost all formations in the British army suffered more casualties from diet-related disease than from battle.
"And it's over the mountain and over the main Through Gibralter, to France and Spain": An interesting lack of mention of India. And Sudan. And other such places, where the risk of disease and casualties were far higher, and where a soldier might spend years without seeing anyone he knew other than his messmates.
The ultimate irony, though, is that the Black Watch managed to maintain its numbers all through the eighteenth and nineteenth and even the twentieth century. Only in the twenty-first, when most of the above problems were solved, did it have to be dissolved. For background, see the notes to "Wha Saw the Forty-Second." - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
File: GrD1077

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 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.