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The Wars of Germany / High Germany

[ Roud 5608 ; Ballad Index Ord359 ; trad.]

There are three songs known as High Germany. The best known one is also called Higher Germanie (Roud 904) as sung by e.g. Shirley Collins. The second is also called The Two Lovers or True Lovers (Roud 1445) as sung by Tony Rose on his album Under the Greenwood Tree. The third is this version (Roud 5608).

Ewan MacColl sang The Wars of Germany in 1972 on his Folkways album Popular Scottish Songs.

Bram Taylor sang this version of High Germany in 1997 on his Fellside album Pick of the Grinner. He commented in his liner notes:

Tom McConville suggested I should sing this beautiful variant to the more commonly known (“Oh Polly love, oh Polly love…”) version of the song.The latter having, with respect, “been done to death” over the years, made the prospect of learning and recording this song a refreshing opportunity. Tom received this song from Chris Andretti the well known singer and busker, impeccable Englishman and Lawrence of Arabia expert, now living in Ireland.

Eileen Penman sang High Germany in 2002 on Stairheid Gossip’s Greentrax album Stirrin’ It Up. They noted:

Eileen first heard this song sung by Brian Miller many years ago at the Crown Folk Club in Edinburgh and it touched a raw nerve. At the time we recorded this, a new generation of soldiers was getting ready to head out to fghanistan. The verses of this were written by William Motherwell, of Renfrewshire.

Wendy Weatherby sang The Wars o’ Germanie in 2010 on her Fellside album A Shirt of Silk or Snow.

Karina Knight sang High Germany (The Wars of Germany) on her 2020 album of songs learned from her parents, From the Knee.


Bram Taylor sings High Germany

Woe be to the orders that took my love awa’,
And woe be to the cruel cause that makes my tears doon fall;
And woe be to the bloody wars of High Germany
For they have taken my love and left a broken heart to me.

The drums beat in the morning before the break of day
And the wee, wee fifes led loud and clear while yet the morn was gray;
And, any, the bonnie flag unfurled, a gallant sight to see,
And woe to me for my soldier lad was marched to Germany.

Long, long is the travelling to the bonnie pier o’ Leith,
And bleak it was to gang there with the snowdrift in your teeth!
And, aye, the wind blew sharp and strong and the tears froze in my e’e,
When I gaed there to see my love embark for Germany.

I gazed o’er the cruel, cruel sea as long as could be seen,
The wee small sail upon the ship my own true love was in,
And, aye, the wind blew sharp and strong and the ship sailed speedily,
And waves and cruel wars have twined my bonny boy from me.

Eilen Penman sings High Germany

O wae be tae the orders that mairched my love awa
And wae be tae the cruel cause that gars my tears doon fa
And wae be tae the bluidy wars in High Germany
For they hae ta’en my love and left a broken heart tae me

The drums beat in the morning afore the break o’ day
And the wee wee fifes played loud and shrill while yet the morn was grey
The bonny flags were a’ unfurled, a gallant secht tae see
But wae’s me for my sodger lad that’s mairched tae Germany

O lang lang is the traivellin’ tae the bonny pier o’ Leith
And dreich it is to gang there wi’ the snawdrift in the teeth
And o the cauld wind froze the tear that gaithered in my e’e
When I gaed there tae see my love embark for Germany

I looked ower the braid blue sea as far as could be seen
And a wee bit sail upon the ship my sodger lad was in
And o the wind blew sair and snell, the ship sailed speedily
O the waves and cruel wars hae twined my winsome lad frae me