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Shillin’ a Day

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy; notes on Shillin’ a Day at the Kipling Society]

Shillin’ a Day is a poem from Rudyard Kipling’s book Barrack-Room Ballads. Peter Bellamy sang it on his third album of songs set to Kipling’s poems, Peter Bellamy Sings the Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. This track was also included on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes. Peter Bellamy noted:

A protest song. Not much evidence here of the unthinking flag-waving jingoism so often attributed to Kipling today. Place names—Birr: Ireland; Hong Kong: China. All the rest are in India, except Leeds, which isn’t. “To go commissarin” means to join a corps of ex-soldiers who acted as messengers in London to supplement their miserable pensions. The tune is mine, but any jig or double-jig would match the rhythms of the verse.

Peter Bellamy re-recorded the song in 1990 for his privately issued cassette Soldiers Three.


Shillin’ a Day

My name is O’Kelly, I’ve heard the Revelly
From Birr to Bareilly, from Leeds to Lahore,
Hong-Kong and Peshawur,
Lucknow and Etawah,
And fifty-five more all endin’ in “pore”.
Black Death and his quickness, the depth and the thickness,
Of sorrow and sickness I’ve known on my way,
But I’m old and I’m nervis,
I’m cast from the Service,
And all I deserve is a shillin’ a day.

Shillin’ a day,
It’s bloomin’ good pay—
You’re lucky to touch it, a shillin’ a day!

Oh, it drives me half crazy to think of the days I
Went slap for the Ghazi, my sword at my side,
When we rode Hell-for-leather
Both squadrons together,
That didn’t care whether we lived or we died.
But it’s no use despairin’, my wife must go charin’
An’ me commissairin’ the pay-bills to better,
So if me you be’old
In the wet and the cold,
By the Grand Metropold, won’t you give me a letter?

Full Chorus:
Give ’im a letter—
He can’t do no better,
Late Troop-Sergeant-Major an’—runs with a letter!
Think what ’e’s been,
Think what ’e’s seen,
Think of his pension an’—

Gawd save the Queen