Thursday, 6 May 2021

A poem by Sir Henry Newbolt (1862 - 1938) on the importance of music for troop morale during war-time

Quoted in the ‘War Years’ section of Lady Maud Warrender's Memoir "My First Sixty Years", on the subject of the importance of music for the troops in time of war, Lieutenant-General Sir G. T. Bridges, K.C.B. said:

“ Let me take you to a scene that actually happened in the retreat from Le Cateau some months ago. The remains of two British battalions were found at St. Quentin. They had marched and fought for several days and been defeated in pitched battle, retreating all the time, losing two-thirds of the men and nearly all of their officers — dead beat for want of sleep and food. 

“ Major Tom Bridges of the 5th Dragoon Guards was with the rearguard and found them. He realized that unless he could get them to rally they would be captured by the enemy, who were approaching the other end of the town. 

“He assembled the men, telling them they must move on, which seemed to them absolutely impossible in their state of utter exhaustion. 

“ He then happened to see a toy drum and a penny whistle in a shop window. These he bought, found a couple of men to play, and started off down the road, his ‘ Band ’ in front. The others followed, and he got them along a few miles that night and on again next day, when they rejoined the Division. 

“ It is a good story which goes to prove what the sound of Music can do in an emergency. Henry Newbolt has immortalized the incident in his lines, 

‘ The Toy Band : A Song of the Great Retreat’, which was published in “The Times” of December 6th, 1914. "


Dreary lay the long road, dreary lay the town, 

Lights out and never a glint of moon I 

Weary lay the stragglers, half a thousand down. 

Sad sighed the weary big Dragoon. 

“ Oh, if I’d a drum here to make them take the road again I 

Oh, if I’d a fife to wheedle, “Come, boys, come! 

You that mean to fight it out, wake and take your load again, 

Fall in! Fall in! Follow the Fife and Drum! 


Hey, but here’s a toy shop ; here’s a drum for me, 

Penny whistles too, to play the tune! 

Half a thousand dead men soon shall hear and see 

We’re a band,” said the weary big Dragoon. 

“Rubadub! Rubadub! Wake and take the road again! 

Wheedle-deedle-deedle-dee — Come, boys, come! 

You that mean to fight it out, wake and take your load again. 

Fall in! Fall in! Follow the Fife and Drum!” 


Cheerly goes the dark road; cheerly goes the night, 

Cheerly goes the blood to keep the beat ; 

Half a thousand dead men marching on to fight 

With a little penny drum to lift their feet. 

Rubadub! Rubadub! Wake and take the road again, 

Wheedle-deedle-deedle-dee — Come, boys, come! 

You that mean to fight it out, wake and take your load again. 

Fall in! Fall in! Follow the Fife and Drum! 


As long as there’s an Englishman to ask a tale of me, 

As long as I can tell the tale aright. 

We’ll not forget the penny whistle’s wheedle-deedle-dee. 

And the big Dragoon a-beating down the night. 

Rubadub! Rubadub! Wake and take the road again. 

Wheedle-deedle-deedle-dee — Come, boys, come! 

You that mean to fight it out, wake and take your load  again. 

Fall in! Fall in! Follow the Fife and Drum. 

By Sir Henry Newbolt

From “My First Sixty Years” by Lady Maud Warrender (Cassell & Co. Ltd.,, London,  1933)