> Nic Jones > Songs > The Heights of Alma

The Heights of Alma

[ Roud 830 ; Laws J10 ; G/D 1:158 ; Henry H123 ; Ballad Index LJ10 ; Bodleian Roud 830 ; trad.]

Trevor Stewart and Jess Harpur sang The Heights of Alma in 1971 on The Irish Country Four's eponymous Topic album of songs, ballads and instrumental tunes from Ulster, The Irish Country Four. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Thousands of men were lost in the bloody battle of Alma, in the Crimea, in 1854. Good soldiers won the victory, terrible generals undid its effects by poor organisation and idiotic staff work. Throughout England, Scotland and in particular Ireland (many of the troops, especially the raw recruits sent out to replace the fine trained men who had unnecessarily perished, were Irish), the street ballad sellers did well with the broadsides of this song, during and after the Crimean War. It still survives in the memory of many country singers.

Nic Jones with Pete and Chris Coe—an early Bandoggs incarnation—sang The Heights of Alma in 1977 on the Trailer album Fylde Acoustic. The liner notes commented on the performance rather than on the song:

[…] while a new sound in instrumental backing comes from Nic Jones with Pete and Chris Coe in The Heights of Alma. The use of guitar, acoustic bass guitar, bouzouki and bodhrán on this track provides an acoustic ensemble with as much impact and pace as an electric band.

Ian Robb sang The Heights of Alma, with quite different words to Nic Jones' ones, in 2003 on the Folk-Legacy album of traditional Irish-American songs from the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection, Irish Songs from Old New England. The album notes commented:

The Crimean War (1854-1856) was fought at a time when nearly 40% of the British Army was Irish, many Great Famine escapees. The first Victoria Cross ever awarded a soldier went to Roscommon-born Sergeant Luke O'Connor for his bravery at the Alma on September 20, 1854. Belfast has an Alma Street, Derry an Alma Square and Dublin, of course, a Raglan Road. The source singer, William Merrit of Ludowl, Maine, also recorded The Orange Alphabet and Shannon's Lofty Mountain for the Flanders Ballad Collection.

Resident in Ottawa for many years, Ian Robb of Finest Kind is the first member of his family ever born outside Scotland. Within this brilliant arrangement, Ian (concertina) and Greg Brown (accordion and fiddle) weave the Irish march The King of Laois.

Danny Spooner sang this song as Battle of Alma on his 2007 anthology of songs sung in 1965-2005, Years of Spooner. He commented:

This song is about the first battle of the Crimean campaign, 20th September 1854, which cleared the way to Sevastopol. It is said that when the Heights were carried, at bayonet point, an officer leading the Cameron Highlanders roared, “I'll hae nane but Hieland bonnets here.”

I heard it first from Pa Johnson with whom I was sent to stay briefly at the end of the Second World War. He had been an artillery man during the 1914-18 war and had some good songs.

It was recorded as part of a radio program I wrote called Soldiers of the Queen.

See also the Copper Family singing the related song The Battle of Alma (Roud 1221).

Lyrics

Nic Jones sings The Heights of Alma Danny Spooner sings Battle of Alma

September last on the eighteenth day
We landed safe at the big Crimea,
In spite of all the foaming spray
To cheer our hearts for Alma.
That night we lay on the cold cold ground,
No tent nor shelter to be found,
And with the rain was almost drowned
All upon the heights of Alma.

September last on the eighteenth day
We landed safe at the big Crimea,
In spite of all the splashing spray
To cheers our hearts for Alma.
That night we lay on the cold cold ground,
No tent nor shelter to be found;
With the rain was almost drowned
Upon the heights of Alma.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Then Britain's sons may long remember
The glorious twentieth of September,
We caused the Russians to surrender
Up on the heights of Alma.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
The Britain’s sons may long remember
The glorious twentieth of September,
We caused the Russians to surrender
Upon the heights of Alma.

Next morning the scorching sun did rise
Beneath the eastern cloudy skies,
Our noble chief Lord Raglan cries,
“Prepare to march for Alma.”
Oh, when the heights we hove in view
The stoutest heart it could subdue
To see the Russian warlike crew
All upon the heights of Alma.

Next morning the scorching sun did rise
Beneath the eastern cloudy skies;
Our noble chief Lord Raglan cries,
“Prepare to march for Alma.”
But when the heights they hove in view,
The stoutest heart it could subdue
To see the Russian warlike crew
Upon the heights of Alma.

Their city was well fortified
With batteries on every side,
Our noble chief Lord Raglan cried,
“We'll get hot work at Alma.”
Their shot it flew like winter rain
When we their batteries strove to gain,
Fifteen hundred Frenchmen slain
In the bloody gore at Alma.

They were so strongly fortified,
With batteries on every side;
Our noble chief Lord Raglan, cried,
“We’ll get hot work at Alma.”
And their shot it flew like winter rain
As we their batteries strove to gain;
And many the hero there was slain
Upon the heights of Alma.

Our Scottish lads with sword in hose
They're not the last you may suppose,
Daringly they faced their foes
And gained the heights of Alma.
To Sevastopol the Russians fled,
They left the wounded and the dead,
And the rivers there they ran red
With the blood that spilled on Alma.

Our Scottish lads in kilt and hose
Were not the last you may suppose
But daring face their daring foes,
And gain the heights of Alma.
To Sevastopol the Russians fled,
They left the wounded and the dead;
And the rivers they run with blood all red
From the blood was spilled at Alma.

Fifteen hundred Frenchman I heard say
Fell upon that fatal day,
Eighteen hundred Russians lay
In the bloody gore at Alma.
Now France and England hand in hand,
What ne'er a foe could them withstand!
So let it run throughout the land,
The victory won at Alma.

There were fifteen hundred French they say
That fell upon that fatal day,
And eighteen hundred Russians lay
In the bloody gore of Alma.
From orphan’s eyes the tears do roll,
None the widows can console,
While parents mourn beyond control
For the sons they lost at Alma.

And many a pretty a pretty maid does mourn
Her lover who will ne’er return;
By cruel wars he’s from her torn,
His body lies at Alma.
Now France and Britain hand in hand,
What foe on earth could them withstand?
Let it run throughout the land,
The victory won at Alma.

Ian Robb sings The Heights of Alma

You loyal Britons, pray give ear
Unto the news I bring you here,
And joy each Briton's heart it will cheer
The victory we gained at Alma.
Sing tandara airin all the day,
Sing tandara airin all the day,
And joy each Briton's heart it will cheer
The victory we gained at Alma.

'Twas on September the fourteenth day,
In spite of the salt sea's dashing spray,
We landed safe all on the Crimea
Upon the road for Alma.
Sing tandara airin all the day,
Sing tandara airin all the day,
We landed safe all on the Crimea
Upon the road for Alma.

All night we lay on the cold ground,
No tent nor shelter to be found,
And by the rain was nearly drowned
To cheer our hearts for the Alma.

The next morning there did arise
A burning sun beneath the skies;
Commander-in-chief, Lord Raglan, cries,
“Prepare, my boys, for the Alma.”
And sing tandara airin all the day,
Sing tandara airin all the day,
Commander-in-chief, Lord Raglan, cries,
“Prepare, my boys, for the Alma.”

And when the Alma came in view,
It wouldn't the stoutest heart subdue
To see that mighty Russian crew
Upon the heights of Alma.

For they were so strongly fortified
With their batteries on the mountain side;
Our generals viewed their forts and they cried,
“There'll be some hot work at the Alma.”
And sing tandara airin all the day,
Sing tandara airin all the day,
Our generals viewed their forts and they cried,
“There'll be some hot work at the Alma.”

The Thirty-third and Fusiliers,
They climbed the hill and gave three cheers,
When a “Hurrah for old Ireland” rang in our ears
From the Irish boys at Alma.

But the Highland lads with their kilt and hose,
They were not last, as you may suppose.
They boldly faced the Russian foes
And they gained the heights of Alma.
And sing tandara airin all the day,
Sing tandara airin all the day,
They boldly faced the Russian foes
And they gained the heights of Alma.

And when the heights they did command,
They fought the Russians hand to hand,
The Russian bears, they couldn't stand
The Scottish charge at Alma.
And sing tandara airin all the day,
Sing tandara airin all the day,
The Russian bears, they couldn't stand
The Scottish charge at Alma.

Ten thousand British, I've heard say,
Did fall upon that fatal day,
And fourteen hundred Frenchman lay
In bloody gore at Alma.

Between the wounded and the slain
The Russians lost thirty-thousand men,
Besides ten-thousand prisoners ta'en,
Upon the heights of Alma.

Now with France and Old England hand in hand
What power now can them withstand?
So shout the news throughout the land,
The victory we gained at Alma.
And sing tandara airin all the day,
Sing tandara airin all the day,
So shout the news throughout the land,
The victory we gained at Alma.

Acknowledgements and Links

Thanks to Garry Gillard for finding the lyrics in Helen Creighton's Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia (1932) and adapting them to the singing of Nic Jones, and for his Danny Spooner website.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Heights of Alma recording.