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The Hungry Army

[ Roud 1746 ; Ballad Index RcHunAr2 ; Bodleian Roud 1746 ; Mudcat 5351 ; trad.]

Walter Pardon sang The Hungry Army in a recording made by Mike Yates at home in Knapton, Norfolk in June 1978. It was included in 1982 on his Topic album A Country Life and in 1998 on the Topic anthology Troubles They Are But Few (The Voice of the People Series Volume 14). Mike Yates commented in the original album’s booklet:

Walter recalls Uncle Billy singing this, but until he saw the words printed in Roy Palmer’s book The Rambling Soldier (London, 1977) had been unable to remember the complete song. As Roy Palmer points out, the reference to the town of Ballarat, in Victoria, possibly dates the song to the 1854 rebellion at Eureka Stockade which was suppressed by the military. The song was published on a broadside by William Fortey of Seven Dials, London c. 1860 and only a handful of collected sets exists. Both Lucy Broadwood and Tony Wales found versions in Sussex and Paul Brewster noted a solitary American set in Posey County, Indiana, in the 1930s (Southern Folklore Quarterly Vol. 4, No. 4 (1940) p. 179).

Although the words to the song might be somewhat obscure the same cannot be said for the tune which is known throughout Britain under any number of names. Stephen Baldwin, the Gloucestershire fiddler, called it Cabbages and Onions, whilst William Kimber of Headington titled it Hilly-Go, Filly-Go, All the Way. Other names are at, King of the Cannibal Isles, Double-dee-doubt, Double-lead-out and Cumberland Reel. The Geordie poet Tommy Armstrong used the tune for his song The Ghost that Haunted Barney and in America it became attached to The Handcart Song, the “official national anthem of the Mormons”

Roy Harris sang The Hungry Army in 1979 on the Fellside album accompanying Roy Palmer’s book, The Rambling Soldier. Roy Palmer commented in the sleeve notes:

The phrase, “The hungry army”, was almost proverbial in the 19thCentury, when soldiering was considered to be fit only for the dregs of society (except in time of national danger, of course). The reference to Ballarat helps to date the song, for it was in 1854 that the rebellion at Eureka Stockade in the Australian town was put down by the army. The tune and a fragment of words came in 1904 from Charlotte Few, of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire; the rest of the text has been added from a Fortey broadside.

Mick Ryan sang The Hungry Army in 1986 on Crows’ second album, No Bones or Grease. This track was also included in 2016 on their WildGoose anthology Time to Rise. The original album’s liner notes commented:

The Hungry Army is adapted from the version printed in Roy Palmer’s book The Rambling Soldier. It takes a comic and derisive view of life in the British Army and was written in the mid-nineteeth century.

Will Duke and Dan Quinn took The Hungry Army from Walter Pardon and sang it in 2001 on their Hebe album Scanned.

Mary Humphreys and Anahata sang The Hunrgy Army in 2006 on their WildGoose CD Fenlandia. Mary Humphreys noted:

The song was published as a broadside after the Eureka Stockade uprising in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. The British Army was sent in on 3 December 1854 to bring order to an insurrection within the mining community but a massacre ensued and consequently it became a public relations disaster for the British government. Walter Pardon of Knapton Norfolk was recorded in 1979 by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie singing the same text to a different tune, but there seem to be no other versions collected in England. It is odd that only two versions seem to have survived—both in East Anglia, only one of which was still being sung within living memory. Charlotte [Few]’s version was very fragmentary so I went back to the broadside collection in the Bodleian library to complete it. I have changed the words very slightly for scansion purposes. I also have substituted a more up-to-date theatre of action for Ballarat—I hope that the folk-police do not come after me…


Walter Pardon sings The Hungry Army

When I was young and in my prime
I thought I’d go and join the line,
And as a soldier cut and shine
In a glorious hungry army.

Chorus (after each verse):
Sound the bugle, blow the horn.
Fight for glory night and morn.
Hungry soldiers, ragged and torn,
Just returned from the army.

The sergeant says, “You’re just the chap,”
And placed a knapsack on my back.
They sent me off to Ballarat
To fight in the hungry army.

They sent us out to drill one day,
The wind was rather strong that way.
In fact, it blew the lot away,
The glorious hungry army.

I’ve got a medal here you see
The workhouse presented to me
For hanging on a rotten tree
When the wind blew away the army.

They cut my hair with a knife and fork,
They curled it with a cabbage stalk;
They fed me up on cabbage broth
To fight in the hungry army.

They dished it out of an old tin can,
A teaspoon full for every man.
I got so fat I couldn’t stand
To fight in the hungry army.

They sent me out to drill recruits –
They kicked me with the hobnailed boots.
Oh, take away those awful brutes
From the glorious hungry army.

And now my friends I must be off,
I think I smell the mutton broth.
Here comes General Howl-and-Scoff,
Late of the hungry army.