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Cholera Camp

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on Cholera Camp at the Kipling Society]

Cholera Camp is a poem from Rudyard Kipling collected in his second volume of Poetry, The Seven Seas (1896). Peter Bellamy composed this setting of the poem for the 1990 New Victoria Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, production of Tony Perrin’s play Soldiers Three. Bellamy privately published his songs on a cassette named after the play, Soldiers Three. This recording was also included in the Peter Bellamy anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes. He also sang it live at the Cockermouth Folk Club in January 1991; this concert was published as the Fellside cassette Songs an’ Rummy Conjurin’ Tricks. The cassette’s title is a phrase from this song.

Cockersdale recorded Cholera Camp in 1994 for their Fellside album Been Around for Years. An earlier recording from 1989 was included in 2001 on Fellside’s 25th anniversary anthology Flash Company. Paul Adams commented:

There is a slight theme running through this release with various pointers in the direction of Peter Bellamy, was was one of the truly creative people on the folk scene. Peter and [Cockersdale’s] Keith Marsden died within weeks of each other. Keith, a talented songwriter himself, also championed Peter’s settings of Kipling’s poems. Here is an early ‘live’ workout of one such.

Bellowhead recorded Cholera Camp in 2008 for their CD Matachin and sang it live at O2 Academy, Bournemouth, on 2 May 2011 on their DVD Hedonism Live. Jon Boden sang it as the 18 November 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.


Cholera Camp

We’ve got the cholerer in camp—it’s worse than forty fights;
We’re dyin’ in the wilderness the same as Isrulites;
It’s before us, an’ be’ind us, an’ we cannot get away,
An’ the doctor’s just reported we’ve ten more to-day!

Oh, strike your camp an’ go, the Bugle’s callin’,
    The rains are fallin’—
The dead are bushed an’ stoned to keep ’em safe below;
The band’s a-doin’ all she knows to cheer us;
The Chaplain’s gone and prayed to Gawd to ’ear us—
    To ’ear us—
O Lord, for it’s a-killin’ of us so!

Since August, when it started, it’s been stickin’ to our tail,
Though they’ve ’ad us out by marches an’ they’ve ’ad us back by rail;
But it runs as fast as troop-trains, and we cannot get away;
An’ the sick-list to the Colonel makes ten more to-day.

There ain’t no fun in women nor there ain’t no bite to drink;
It’s much too wet for shootin’, we can only march and think;
An’ at evenin’, down the nullahs, we can ’ear the jackals say,
“Get up, you rotten beggars, you’ve ten more to-day!”


’Twould make a monkey cough to see our way o’ doin’ things—
Lieutenants takin’ companies an’ captains takin’ wings,
An’ Lances actin’ Sergeants—eight file to obey—
For we’ve lots o’ quick promotion on ten deaths a day!

Our Colonel’s white an’ twitterly—’e gets no sleep nor food,
But mucks about in ’orspital where nothing does no good.
’E sends us ’eaps o’ comforts, all bought from ’is pay—
But there aren’t much comfort ’andy on ten deaths a day.


Our Chaplain’s got a banjo, an’ a skinny mule ’e rides,
An’ the stuff ’e says an’ sings us, Lord, it makes us split our sides!
With ’is black coat-tails a-bobbin’ to Ta-ra-ra Boom-der-ay!
’E’s the proper kind o’ padre for ten deaths a day.

An’ Father Victor ’elps ’im with our Roman Catholicks—
He knows an ’eap of Irish songs an’ rummy conjurin’ tricks;
An’ the two they works together when it comes to play or pray;
So we keep the ball a-rollin’ on ten deaths a day.

We’ve got the cholerer in camp—we’ve got it ’ot an’ sweet;
It ain’t no Christmas dinner, but it’s ’elped an’ we must eat.
We’ve gone beyond the funkin’, ’cause we’ve found it doesn’t pay,
An’ we’re rockin’ round the Districk on ten deaths a day!

Then strike your camp an’ go, the Rains are fallin’,
The Bugle’s callin’!
The dead are bushed an’ stoned to keep ’em safe below!
An’ them that do not like it they can lump it,
An’ them that cannot stand it they can jump it;
We’ve got to die somewhere—some way—some’ow—
We might as well begin to do it now!
Then, Number One, let down the tent-pole slow,
Knock out the pegs an’ ’old the corners—so!
Fold in the flies, furl up the ropes, an’ stow!
Oh, strike—oh, strike your camp an’ go!
(Gawd ’elp us!)