> Folk Music > Songs > The Gay Fusilier / The Rochester Recruiting Sergeant

The Gay Fusilier / The Rochester Recruiting Sergeant

[ Roud - ; Ballad Index DTcombso ; words trad. / Pete Coe, tune trad.]

Pete and Chris Coe sang The Gay Fusilier in 1972 on their Trailer album Open the Door and Let Us In. Their sleeve notes commented:

A recruiting song set at the turn of the 18th century. Peter found the first verse and directions for the tune (said to be originally English) in a magazine, but after searching unsuccessfully for the rest of the song, he wrote the additional verses himself. The reason for and against joining the army seem to be as relevant today as they were in Marlborough's time. A chorus is usually sung after each verse. Our thanks to Dave Bland, Steve Ashley, Clive Woolf and Doug Sherriff for joining in the choruses.

The tune of this song, The Craigielee March, is best known from the Australian song Waltzing Matilda. Wikipedia comments on the relationship between both songs:

There has been speculation about the relationship Waltzing Matilda bears to an English song, The Bold Fusilier (also known as Marching Through Rochester, referring to Rochester in Kent and the Duke of Marlborough), a song sung to the same tune and dated by some back to the 18th century but first printed in 1900. There is, however, no documentary proof that The Bold Fusilier existed before 1900, and evidence suggests that this song was in fact written as a parody of Waltzing Matilda by English soldiers during the Boer War where Australian soldiers are known to have sung Waltzing Matilda as a theme.

Strawhead sang The Rochester Recruiting Sergeant on their 1978 Traditional Sound album Fortunes of War and on their 1988 album Late Bottled Vintage. They noted:

Pete Coe unearthed the first verse of this song in an old text (under the title, The Bold Fusilier), drew on his own imagination to furnish the rest, and set it to a very well known traditional tune, which may well have been in vogue in the early 18th century. Whatever the antecedents of the original fragment, the completed version is ideally suited to our theme so—profound thanks to Mr Coe.

The Wassailers sang The Gay Fusilier (Marching Through Rochester) in 1978 on their eponymous Fellside album, Wassailers. This track was also included in 2002 on the Fellside anthology of “the soldier in song from the English Civil War to the Falklands”, Enlist for a Soldier. They commented in their album's sleeve notes:

This song was found in fragmentary form by Pete Coe. Pete added some more verses, a tune and the result is almost the chorus song to end chorus songs. We use the song to end our act and it rarely fails to get everyone in the audience singing.

Isambarde sang The Bold Fusilier on their 2006 CD Barnstorming. They noted:

A fragment of a recruiting song [set in] the late 17th century which was re-written by Pete Coe, and has since proved highly popular with Australians and re-enactors.

There are also other songs known as The Recruiting Sergeant, especially Arthur McBride and the Sergeant (Roud 2355), and Seamus O'Farrell's song The Recruiting Sergeant.

Lyrics

The Wassailers sing The Gay Fusilier (Marching Through Rochester)

Well a gay fusilier came marching down through Rochester
Bound for the wars in the low country,
And he sang as he marched through the crowded streets of Rochester,
“Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?”

Chorus (after each verse):
Who'll be a soldier? Who'll be a soldier?
Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?
And they sang as they marched through the crowded streets of Rochester,
“Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?”

“Well, the King he has ordered fresh troops for the continent
To strike the last blow at the enemy,
And if you'll be a rover all in a scarlet uniform
Take the King's shilling for Marlborough and me.”

“Oh not I,” said the baker. “Nor I,” said the mason.
Most of the people with them did agree.
To be paid in the powder and rattle of the cannonball—
Wages for soldiers for Marlborough and thee.

“Well I,” said a young man, “have long endured the parish queue.
No work or wages for the likes of me.
Starvation and danger—it shall be my destiny,
To seek fresh employment with Marlborough and thee.”


So forty recruits came marching down through Rochester
Bound for the wars in the low country,
And they sang as they marched through the crowded streets of Rochester,
“Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?”

Strawhead sing The Rochester Recruiting Sergeant

A recruiting sergeant came through the streets of Rochester
Home from the wars in the low country,
And he sang as he marched and he played upon his kettledrum,
“Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?

Chorus:
“Who'll be a soldier? Who'll be a soldier?
Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?”
And he sang as he marched and he played upon his kettledrum,
“Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?

“For the Queen she has ordered fresh troops for the continent
To fight 'gainst the French in the low country.
So if you'd be a rover all in a scarlet uniform
Come be a soldier for Marlborough and me!

“Come be a soldier, come be a soldier,
Come be a soldier for Marlborough and me!
So if you'd be a rover all in a scarlet uniform,
Come be a soldier for Marlborough and me!”

“Oh not I,” said the butcher, “Not I,” said the mason.
Most of the people they would not agree
To be paid in the powder and rattle of the cannonball—
Wages for soldiers for Marlborough and thee.

Wages for soldiers, wages for soldiers,
Wages for soldiers for Marlborough and thee.
To be paid in the powder and rattle of the cannonball—
Wages for soldiers for Marlborough and thee.

“Ah but I,” said the young man, “had long endured the parish queues.
No more charity for the likes of me.
Starvation and danger—they shall be my destiny,
I'll take the Queen's shilling for Marlborough and thee.

“Take the Queen's shilling, take the Queen's shilling,
Take the Queen's shilling for Marlborough and thee.
Starvation and danger—they shall be my destiny,
I'll take the Queen's shilling for Marlborough and thee.”

So forty recruits marched through the streets of Rochester
Bound for the wars in the low country.
And they sang as they marched through those crowded streets of Rochester,
“Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?”

“Who'll be a soldier? Who'll be a soldier?
Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?”
And they sang as they marched through those crowded streets of Rochester,
“Who'll be a soldier for Marlborough and me?”

Acknowledgement and Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Marching through Rochester.

Thanks to Garry Gillard for transcribing both sets of lyrics.