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That Day

[words Rudyard Kipling, music trad. arr. Peter Bellamy; notes on That Day at the Kipling Society]

That Day is a poem from Rudyard Kipling’s book Barrack-Room Ballads. Peter Bellamy recorded it in 1990 for his privately issued cassette Soldiers Three. This recording was also included in 2012 on the CD reissue of Peter Bellamy Sings the Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling.

John Morris sang That Day on the 1995 album of Barrack Room Ballads and other soldier’s poems of Rudyard Kipling as set to traditional tunes by Peter Bellamy, The Widow’s Uniform. Dave Webber noted:

Holidaying in Bermuda in 1891, Kipling was entertained by a veteran Sergeant who confided in him this shameful tale. Kipling did not identify the action but it appears to have involved a North African unit, very likely part of the Sudan Expeditionary Force on their ill-fated mission to relieve Khartoum and rescue General Gordon. Contemporary accounts of the first battle of El Teb on 1 February, 1881 describe the flight of Baker Pashas troops in very similar terms.

If Kipling truly was the one-eyed Imperial propagandist that some allege, one can only assume that this poem—among many—must have been written by some other fellow entirely.


That Day

It got beyond all orders an’ it got beyond all ’ope;
It got to shammin’ wounded an’ retirin’ from the ’alt.
’Ole companies was lookin’ for the nearest road to slope;
It were just a bloomin’ knock-out—an’ our fault!

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Now there ain’t no chorus ’ere to give,
Nor there ain’t no band to play;
An’ I wish I was dead ’fore I done what I did,
Or seen what I seed that day!

We was sick o’ bein’ punished, an’ we let ’em know it, too;
An’ a company-commander up an’ ’it us with a sword,
An’ some one shouted “’Ook it!” an’ it come to sove-ki-poo,
An’ we chucked our rifles from us—O my Gawd!

There was thirty dead an’ wounded on the ground we wouldn’t keep—
No, there wasn’t more than twenty when the front begun to go;
But, Christ! along the line o’ flight they cut us up like sheep,
An’ that was all we gained by doin’ so.

I ’eard the knives be’ind me, but I dursn’t face my man,
Nor I don’t know where I went to, ’cause I didn’t ’alt to see,
Till I ’eard a beggar squealin’ out for quarter as ’e ran,
An’ I thought I knew the voice an’—it was me!

We was ’idin’ under bedsteads more than ’arf a march away;
We was lyin’ up like rabbits all about the countryside;
An’ the major cursed ’is Maker ’cause ’e lived to see that day,
An’ the colonel broke ’is sword acrost, an’ cried.

We was rotten ’fore we started—we was never disciplined;
We made it out a favour if an order was obeyed;
Yes, every little drummer ’ad ’is rights an’ wrongs to mind,
So we had to pay for teachin’—an’ we paid!

The papers ’id it ’andsome, but you know the Army knows;
We was put to groomin’ camels till the regiments withdrew,
An’ they gave us each a medal for subduin’ England’s foes,
An’ I ’ope you like my song—because it’s true!

Last chorus:
An’ there ain’t no chorus ’ere to give,
Nor there ain’t no band to play;
But I wish I was dead ’fore I done what I did,
Or seen what I seed that day!