Battle Of Waterloo

by Jim Malcolm
Pipe tune: The Battle of Waterloo

Spring comes tae Kirrie, a the world’s in bloom
Winter is forgiven now, fooled by April’s broom
Kirrie, oh Kirrie, you were aye my hame
Till Napoleon’s bloody cannon hit their aim

Jeannie o Jeannie, I am surely done
Stricken down in battle, at the mooth o Boney’s gun
Jeannie o Jeannie, aye sae dear tae me
Let me hold you in my mind afore I dee

For the cold returns in autumn, when the wind rakes the trees
And the summer lies forgotten in a cold bed of leaves
As winter begins, aye mind Boney, it wasn’t only you
Who was broken on the field of Waterloo

Surgeon o surgeon, leave me tae my pain
Save your knife for others who will surely rise again
Surgeon o surgeon, leave my blood tae pour
Let it drain into the bitter clay once more

Daughter o daughter, listen dear tae me
Never wed a sodjer or a widow you will be
Daughter o daughter, curse yer lad tae die
Ere he catches the recruitin’ sergeant’s eye

Boney o Boney, war was aye your game
Bloody field your table, the cannon yours to aim
Boney o Boney, we aye lived the same
Drillin laddies not to fear the muskets’ flame
Chorus x 2

Aye: always
Boney: Napoleon Bonaparte
Kirrie: Kirriemuir, town in Angus

Written by Jim Malcolm, this song appears on his CD Rohallion. Jim’s website says that the “‘Battle of Waterloo, to the pipe tune of the same name, was an instant hit.” The website lists Jim’s many achievements, CDs and awards as singer, songwriter and instrumentalist, playing guitar and harmonica. He was formerly a member of the acclaimed group Old Blind Dogs and the “Battle of Waterloo” appears also on their 6th album, The World’s Room.

This is a powerful anti-war song, based on the battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815 in which Napoleon’s power was finally broken. He had already surrendered in 1814, ending 15 years of the Napoleonic war in Europe, and had been exiled to Elba. At his escape and reappearance in France, the disbanded French army had rallied to him again and he resumed his title as Emperor. Thousands more men were to die, Scots and English, German, Belgian, Dutch, Prussian and French.

No wonder that “Boney” was a name for scaring naughty children:
When, O when does little Boney come? / Pr’aps he’ll come in August, p’raps he’ll stay at home. Peter and Iona Opie include these lines in their Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, from the days when “Napoleon’s shadow fell upon Britain.”

Verse 4 mentions the recruiting sergeant, who used “trickery, persuasion or inveiglement “ and no doubt the fine melody and stirring words of such songs as “Over the hills and far away” to glamorise army life, according to Roy Palmer in The Sound of History. Not everyone was taken in:

“‘Fun?’ a knockin’ fellow-creatures/ Down like ninepins, and that ‘ere
Stickin bayonets through and through ‘em / Burnin’, slayin’, everywhere.
‘Pleasant quarters?’ – werry pleasant! / Sleepin’ on the field o’ battle
Or in hospital, or barricks, / Crammed together jest like cattle.

(last verse)
“‘Strut away then, master sergeant:/Tell yer lies as on ye go
Make your drummers louder rattle, / And your fifers harder blow
I shan’t be a ‘son o’ glory’/ But an honest workin’ man.
With the strength that God has guv me,/ Doin’ all the good I can.”

(from “The Countryman’s Reply to the Recruiting Sergeant”).