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> Martin Carthy > Songs > Plains of Waterloo

Plains of Waterloo

[ Roud 960 ; Laws N32 ; Ballad Index LN32 ; trad.]

O.J. Abbott sang Plains of Waterloo in a field recording made by Edith Fowke in Ontario in August 1957. It was printed in her Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs and was included in 1975 on the accompanying Leader album Far Canadian Fields.

Shirley and Dolly Collins recorded Plains of Waterloo in 1970 for their album Love, Death & the Lady; this track was reissued in 1974 and 2000 on their anthologies A Favourite Garland and Within Sound. She commented in the Fledg'ling reissue of the original album:

This plaintive song was taught me by the Devon singer, John Steel. I cannot imagine life without these songs, and I'm grateful that they are still here for us to know. They are, to me, a perfect expression of the human condition, of love, loss and grief. We are all indebted to those working people of time past who left us such a legacy.

and in the booklet of the latter anthology:

A perfect heartbreaking song. I think I first heard it sung by Devon singer John Steel in the 1960s, although it was originally collected in Newfoundland. When John Marshall, who was producing the album Love, Death & the Lady, suggested adding drums, I had my doubts, but so spare and restrained was Terry Cox's percussion that I was won over, and I always get goose bumps when I hear it.

The High Level Ranters sang The Plains of Waterloo on their 1971 Trailer album High Level, and Peter and Chris Coe sang it a year later on their Trailer album Open the Door and Let Us In.

June Tabor sang Plains of Waterloo unaccompanied in 1976 on her first solo album Airs and Graces. She commented in the album's sleeve notes:

From Ontario; learned from Martin Clarke of Leeds. The broken token ballad seems to me to have been a necessary piece of wishful thinking, an act of faith on the part of both the faraway soldier and the girl he left behind him. Reality, more often than not, was cruelly otherwise.

She also sang Les Barker's variant, The Trains of Waterloo, in 1990 on his album Oranges and Lemmings.

Steve Turner sang Plains of Waterloo in 1979 on his Fellside album Out Stack.

Kathryn Roberts sang Plains of Waterloo in 1995 on her and Kate Rusby's eponymous CD, Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts.

Martin Carthy sang Plains of Waterloo unaccompanied at the Sunflower Folk Club, Belfast, on October 20, 1978. A recording of this concert was published in 2011 on the CD The January Man.

See also The 18th Day of June (Plains of Waterloo) (Roud 1132).

Lyrics

Shirley Collins sings Plains of Waterloo

As I was a-walking one midsummer's morning
Down by the gay banks of a clear pearling stream,
There I met a fair maid making sad lamentations,
So I threw myself in ambush to hear her sad refrain.

Through the woods she marched along, caused the valleys to ring-o,
And the fine feathered songsters around her they flew,
Saying, “The war it is now over and peace it is returned again,
Yet my William's not returning from the plains of Waterloo.”

Oh, I stepped up to this fair maid and said, “My fond creature,
Oh, dare I make enquire as to what's your true love's name?
For it's I have been in battle where the cannons loud do rattle
And by your description I might have known the same.”

“Willie Smith me true love's name is, a hero of great fame,
And he's gone and he's left me in sorrow, it's true.
Now no-one shall me enjoy but me own darling boy,
And yet he's not returning from the plains of Waterloo.”

“If Willie Smith's your true love's name, then he's a hero of great fame,
He and I have fought in battle through many's the long campaign.
Through Italy and Russia, through Germany and Prussia,
He was my loyal comrade through France and through Spain.”

“Till at length by the French, oh then we were surrounded,
And like heroes of old then we did them subdue.
We fought for three days till at length we did defeat him,
That bold Napoleon Boney on the plains of Waterloo.”

“And on this sixteenth day of June, it is end of the battle,
Leaving many's the bold hero in sorrow to mourn.
There the war drums they do beat and the cannons loud do rattle,
It was by a French soldier your William was slain.”

“And as I passed by oh to where he lay a-bleeding,
I scarcely had time for to bid him adieu.
With a faint, faltering voice these words he kept repeating:
Fare the well, me lovely Annie, you are far from Waterloo.“

And when that this fair maid heard this sad acclamation
Her two rosy cheeks they turned pale into wan.
And when that his young man saw her sad lamentation,
He cried, “Me lovely Annie, oh I am your very one.”

“And here is the ring that between us was broken,
In the depth of all dangers, love, to remind me of you.”
And when she saw the token, she fell into his arms, saying,
“You're welcome, lovely William, from the plains of Waterloo.”

June Tabor sings Plains of Waterloo

As I rode out one fine summer's morning
Down by the gay banks of a clear pearling stream,
There I spied a handsome fair maid making sad lamentations,
Oh, I threw myself in ambush to hear her sad strains.

Through the woods she marched along, caused the valleys to ring-o,
The fine feathered songsters around her they flew,
Saying, “The wars they are all over and peace it is restored again,
But yet my Willie's not returning from the plains of Waterloo.”

Well, I stepped up to this fair maid and said, “My fond creature,
Oh, may I make so bold as to ask your true love's name?
For it's I've been in battle where the cannons around rattle
And by some strange fortune I might have known the same.”

“Willie Smith me true love's name is, hero of great fame,
He's gone and he's left me in sorrow, it's true.
No-one shall me enjoy but me own darling boy,
But yet he's not returning from the plains of Waterloo.”

“Well, if Willie Smith's your true love's name, he's a hero of great fame,
He and I have been in battle through many's the long campaign.
Through Italy and Russia, through Germany and Prussia,
Oh, he was me loyal comrade through France and through Spain.”

“Until at length by the French we were surrounded,
Like the heroes of old we did them subdue.
We did fight for three days until we did defeat him,
That brave Napoleon Boney on the plains of Waterloo.”

“Now the eighteenth day of June, it is end of that battle,
Leaving many's the bold hero to sigh and to mourn.
Oh, the war drums they did beat and the cannons around did rattle,
It was by a French soldier your Willie he was slain.”

“And as I passed by there where he lay a-bleeding,
Oh, I scarcely had time for to bid him adieu.
In a faltering voice these words he was repeating,
Fare the well, me lovely Annie, you are far from Waterloo.“

Now when this lovely fair maid heard this sad acclamation
Oh, but her rosy cheeks turned pale and wan.
And when I saw this fair maid making sad lamentations,
Oh, I said, “Me lovely Annie, I am that very one.”

“And here is the ring that was broken between us,
In the midst of all danger, love, to remind me of you.”
And when she saw the token, she fell into me arms crying,
“You're welcome, dearest Willie, from the plains of Waterloo.”