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Bold General Wolfe / Brave General Wolfe

[ Roud 624 ; Master title: Bold General Wolfe ; Ballad Index FMB050 ; Mudcat 5110 ; trad.]

Bob Copper: Early to Rise Copper Family: The Copper Family Song Book Karl Dallas: The Cruel Wars William Henry Long: A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect John Morrish: The Folk Handbook Roy Palmer: The Rambling Soldier Frank Purslow: Marrowbones Steve Roud, Julia Bishop: The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Peggy Seeger, Ewan MacColl: The Singing Island Alan Helsdon: Vaughan Williams in Norfolk Volume 2

Bold General Wolfe is printed in The Copper Family Song Book, from Bob Copper's grandfather ‘Brasser’ Copper. Jim Copper sang it in a 1952 BBC recording made by Séamus Ennis (BBC 17989) that was included in 2001 on the Copper Family's Topic anthology Come Write Me Down. Bob Copper sang it on his 1977 Topic CD Sweet Rose in June.

Bob Scarce sang Bold General Wolfe on 19 November in The Ship Inn in Blaxhall, Suffolk. This recording was included on the anthology A Soldier's Life for Me (Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970) and in 2014 both as audio track and as video on the Topic anthology The Barley Mow (The Voice of the People Volume  26).

Sam Larner sang a two verse fragment of Bold General Wolfe to Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1958-60. This was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth.

Cyril Poacher sang Bold General Wolfe to Neil Lanham at Grove Farm, Blaxhall, in 1965. This recording was included in 1999 on his Musical Traditions anthology Plenty of Thyme. Rod Stradling noted in the album's booklet:

Cyril might have learned this song from a number of sources—his grandfather Aaron Ling sang it, as did his cousin George. In the neighbourhood, Alec and George Bloomfield, Bob Scarce and Bob Hart all had it in their repertoires. Only Bob Scarce, I think, would have dared the superb melodic variation Cyril uses in his second verse.

One of several songs on Wolfe, it was common on 19th century broadsides, from about the 1830s. Roud has 42 instances of this song, almost all from the south of England and, with about three exceptions, all from Suffolk or Sussex. The Copper family, Pop Maynard and Shepherd Haydon all sang it. It has also been noted in Canada, occasionally in USA, but not in Scotland or Ireland.

The Watersons sang Brave Wolfe in 1966 on their second album, The Watersons. Like all tracks but one from this album, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. It was also published on the Topic Sampler No. 6, A Collection of Ballads & Broadsides and on the French compilation Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais. A live recording from the Folk Union One 25th Anniversary, Hull in 1986 was included in 2004 as Brave General Wolfe on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

A.L. Lloyd noted on the first version:

Major-General James Wolfe died romantically young in sufficiently striking circumstances to ensure him immortality as a folk hero. He was killed in his thirty-second year at the very moment of victory during the great battle of the Heights of Abraham against the French in Canada, which ultimately secured Canada for Britain.

In America, the backwoods bards paid tribute to the sweetheart he left grieving for him in the haunting ballad where she is made to say, “Strange news is come to town, strange news is carried, Some say my love is dead…” in an echo of the English love-song about the faithless blacksmith. But, less sentimental, English ballad makers concentrated their attention on Wolfe as a military hero, on his warm human regard for the men who served under him and on his patriotic fervour.

Legends clustered about his death. It is said that, after he was wounded for the third time on that bloody day of 13 September 1759, he said to the two grenadiers whom at last he allowed to assist him to the rear. “Don't grieve for me. I shall be happy in a few minutes.” When news of the victory reached him, he said “Now I am contented,” and then he died, like a noble Roman.

Hammond collected a grand version of this widely known English song in Dorset and on this the Watersons have based a four voice interpretation.

Bob Hart of Snape, Suffolk, sang Bold General Wolfe to Tony Engle in a July 1972 home recording session that resulted in his 1973 Topic album Songs from Suffolk. An earlier home recording made by Rod Stradling in July 1969 was included in 1998 on Hart's Musical Tradition anthology A Broadside. Rod Stradling noted in the latter's booklet:

Bob might have learned this song from a number of sources—in the neighbourhood, Bob Scarce, Aaron and George Ling, Alec and George Bloomfield, and Cyril Poacher all had it in their repertoires.

Alec Bloomfield of Newark, Nottinghamshire, sang Old General Wolfe to Keith Summers in 1975. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of sohs collected by Keith Summers in the 1970s, A Story to Tell.

Strawhead sang General Wolfe in 1982 on their Traditional Sound album Through Smoke & Fire.

Jo Freya sang General Wolfe in 1992 on her Saydisc album Traditional Songs of England. The liner notes commented:

Major-General James Wolfe was thirty-two when he died at the very moment of victory during the battle of the Heights of Abraham during the taking of Quebec in 1759. The occasion promoted a number of songs and printed broadsides with texts much like the version included here. The official dispatch by Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Saunders reported that “when General Wolfe and the troops with him had landed, the difficulty of gaining the top of the hill is scarce credible; it was very steep in ascent, and high, had no path where two could go abreast, but they were obliged to pull themselves up by the stumps and boughs of trees that covered the declivity.”

Louis Killen learned Geenral Wolfe from A.L. Lloyd and sang it on his 1993 album A Bunny Bunch.

Martin Carthy recorded Bold General Wolfe in 2004 for his album Waiting for Angels, released on 13 September 2004 on the 245th anniversary of Wolfe's death. He wrote in the record's sleeve notes:

Bold General Wolfe, as printed in the [Copper Family] song book, differs from the version as sung on record by Jim Copper in 1953, and one of the privileges of this job is that of being able to listen to both and make a choice. And I very much like what Jim does with the song. So I've gone there. Both Wolfe and the French General Montcalm were killed in the battle. The other General Wolfe song—sometimes distinguished by it being called Brave Wolfe—has the two of them walking together before the battle starts and “like brothers talking.”

Maddy Prior sang Bold General Wolfe in 2008 on her CD Seven for Old England. She noted:

General Wolfe was 32 years old when he died in 1759 while leading the siege of Quebec City at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. He is supposed to have lived long enough to have realised the victory, which led to British dominance o f Cape Breton and the beginning of [the] end of French influence in North America generally. There are many broadsides of Nelson and Wolfe, and it may be that their demise at the height of their careers gave them a romantic quality popular with singers and listeners alike. This is a belligerently pro-Wolfe song, with much im perialist bravado and pride. It is not admired by the French Canadians.

This video shows Maddy Prior and her daughter Rose Kemp singing Bold General Wolfe (with lyrics quite similar to the Watersons' version) at Cecil Sharp House, London, on 23 October 2008:

Jon Boden sang Brave Wolfe as the 4 April 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Martin Simpson sang Bold General Wolfe in 2011 on his Topic album Purpose+Grace. He noted:

I learned Bold General Wolfe from The Watersons. Wolfe was a fascinating man. The son of a General, he joined the Army at thirteen and rose to prominence in combat and in training. He was a reformer and a very popular officer amongst his troops. In 1759 he led the British Army against the French under General Montcalm at the battle for Quebec City. His victory gave North America to the British and ended the Seven Years War. Wolfe was shot three times during the battle and died of his wounds.

Andy Turner learned Bold General Wolfe from the Watersons's original recording too. He sang it as the 10 June 2018 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Sound Tradition sang Brave Wolfe on their 2012 album Under the Moon. They noted:

Probably the most patriotic song we do, and to be taken in the context of the time it was written. Britain was fighting for Canada against the French and many were lost on both sides. This is an account of the Battle of the Heights of Abraham on 13 September 1759 where the British, led by General Wolfe, took the city of Quebec. James Wolfe’s immortality as a folk hero was secured by his early death at thirty two. Reportedly wounded three times, he was eventually taken away from the front and died shortly after the news of victory reached him: “Now I am contented” were his dying words. Wolfe is said to have had a warm regard for the men serving under him and some say this song was written by one of his sergeants.

Alex Cumming sang Brave Wolfe on his 2020 download album Isolation Sessions: The Songs. He noted:

A song about the Battle of the Heights of Abraham during the English taking of Quebec in 1759. I first heard The Watersons sing a version of this song which they released on their second album in 1966 and later on the album Early Days.

Lyrics

Jim Copper sings Bold General Wolfe

Bold General Wolfe to his men did say,
“Come lads and follow without delay,
To yonder mountain that is so high,
Don't be down-hearted, don't be down-hearted,
For we'll gain the victory.”

There stand the French on the summit high,
While we poor souls in the valley lie.
We saw them fall like bots in the sun,
Through smoke and fire, through smoke and fire,
All from our British guns.

The first broadside that the French did give us
Did wound our General in the left breast,
Yonder he lie for he cannot stand,
“Yet fight on boldly, yet fight on boldly
While I live I'll have command.”

“Here is my treasure lies all in gold,
Take it and part it for my blood runs cold,
Take it and part it,” brave Wolfe did say,
“Ye lads of honour, ye lads of honour,
Since you have gained the day.”

“When to old England you do return
Tell all my friends I am dead and gone,
And bid my mother so kind and dear
No tears to shed for me, no tears to shed for me,
For our lads did gain the day.”

Cyril Poacher sings Bold General Wolfe

General Wolfe unto his men did say,
“Come, come my lads and follow me
To yonder mountain, it looks so steep,
All for your honour, all for your honour.
All for your King and your country.”

As we were a-climbing atop of the hill
Our General was wounded in his left breast.
And there he lay, but he could not stand,
Saying, "Fight you on so boldly.
Whilst I've got life I will give command.

“Now where are my treasures,
They are but gold.
Take them and part them
'Til my blood run cold.
Take them and part them,”
General Wolfe did say,
“You lads of honour,
Who've showed the French such a galliant play.

“Now to old England I should've returned.
You can tell my parents I'm dead and gone;
You can tell my mother so tenderly
Not to weep for me,
For I died a death that I wished to share.”

The Watersons sing Brave Wolfe

On Monday morning as we set sail
The wind did blow a pleasant gale,
To fight the French, it was our intent
Through smoke and fire, through smoke and fire
And it was a dark and a gloomy night.

The French were landed on mountains high,
While we poor souls in the valley lie,
“Cheer up, me lads,” General Wolfe did say,
“Brave lads of honour, brave lads of honour,
Old England, she shall win the day.”

The very first broadside we gave to them
We wounded a hundred and fifty men,
“Well done, me lads,” General Wolfe did say,
“Brave lads of honour, brave lads of honour,
Old England, she shall win the day.”

But the very first broadside they gave to us
They've wounded our general in his right breast,
And from his breast precious blood did flow,
Like any fountain, like any fountain
And all his men were filled with woe.

“Here's a hundred guineas, all in bright gold,
Take it, part it, for my love's quite cold,
And use your men as you did before,
Your soldiers go on, your soldiers go on,
And they will fight forevermore.”

“And when to England you do return,
Tell all my friends that I'm dead and gone,
And tell my tender old mother dear
That I am dead, oh, that I am dead, oh,
And never shall see her no more.”

Bob Hart sings Bold General Wolfe

Bold General Wolfe to his men did say,
“Come, come, my lads, and you follow me
To yonder mountains, they look so high.
All for your honour, all for your honour
All for your King and your countery.

“Do you see the French on the hills so high,
While us poor lads in the valleys low,
Do you see them falling like the dew against the sun?
Through smoke and fire, with smoke and fire
They're falling from our English guns.”

Now, the first volley that they gave to us
Wounded our General in his left breast.
Yonder he sits, for he cannot stand,
“Fight you on so boldly, fight you on so boldly
While I have the life, I will give command.

“Here are my treasures, they're all in gold.
Take them and part them, me blood run cold.
Take them and part them,” General Wolfe did say,
“You lads of honour, you lads of honour;
That gave the French such a galliant play.

“When to Old England you do return
You can tell my friends that I'm dead and gone.
You can tell my tender poor Mother dear,
Not to weep for me, not to weep for me
For I died the death that I wished to share.

“It's fifteen years since I first began,
All for the honour of George, our King.
Let every Commander do as they've done before,
Be a soldier's friend, my boys,
Be a soldier's friend, my boys,
And the boys, they will fight,
Fight, for ever more.”

Alec Bloomfield sings Old General Wolfe

Old General Wolfe to his men did say,
“Come come my lads to follow me.
See yonder cliffs oh they look so high,
Through smoke and fire, through smoke and fire
There lies the path to victory.”
All for the honour, all for an honour,
All for a King and the country.

“You see brave men on the hill so high,
While we poor lads in the valley lie.
You see them fall like gnats in the sun,
Through smoke and fire, through smoke and fire
They're falling to our frigate guns.”
All for the honour, all for the honour,
All for a King and a country.

Now the first volley that they gave to us
They hit our Wolfe in his left breast.
And he lay bleeding no more to stand
Saying, “Fight on so boldly, fight you on so boldly
For while I live I shall give command.”
All for the honour, all for the honour,
All for a King and a country.

“In my left pocket and in my chest
My money and jewels there lie at rest.
Divide this money, this jewels and gold.
Drink to me boldly, drink to me boldy,
It is no good when the blood is cold.”
All for the honour, all for an honour,
All for a King and a country.

“Now when to old England you do return
Go to the village where I was born
Say unto my old mother dear
‘Weep not for me, weep ye not for me
A soldier's death I had wished to share.’ ”
All for the honour, all for the honour,
For the second George and the country.
There you are.

Martin Carthy sings Bold General Wolfe

Bold General Wolfe to his men did say,
“Come lads and follow without delay
To yonder mountain that is so high,
Don't be downhearted
For we'll gain the victory.”

We saw the French on the summit high
While we poor souls in the valley lie.
We watched them drop like motes in the sun
Through smoke and fire, through smoke and fire,
All from our British guns.

And the first broadside that the French did give us
It wound our general in his right breast.
Yonder he lie for he cannot stand,
“Yet fight on boldly, yet fight on boldly,
While I'll live I'll have command.”

“Here is my treasure, lies all in gold,
Take it and part it for my life's quite cold.
Take it and part it,” brave Wolfe did say,
“You lads of honour, you lads of honour,
Since we did win the day.”

“And when to England you do return,
Tell all my friends I am dead and gone,
And bid my tender old mother dear
No tears to shed for me, no tears to shed for me,
Since we did win the day.”

Maddy Prior sing Bold General Wolfe

On Monday evening as we set sail
The wind did blow a most pleasant gale
For to fight the French it was our intent
Through smoke and fire, Through smoke and fire
And it was a dark and a gloomy night

Now the French was landed on the mountains high
And we poor hearts in the valley lie
Never mind my lads, General Wolfe did say
Brave lads of honour, brave lads of honour
Old England shall win the day

The very first broadside we gave to them
We killed seven hundred and fifty men
Well done my lads, General Wolfe did say
Brave lads of honour, brave lads of honour
Old England shall win the day

The very first broadside they gave to us
They wounded our general in his right breast
Then out of his breast living blood did flow
Like any fountain, like any fountain
Till all us men were filled with woe

Here's a hundred guineas all in bright gold
Take it and part it, for my blood runs cold
And use your soldiers as you did before
Your soldiers own, your soldiers own
And they will fight for evermore

And when to England you do return
Tell my friends that I am dead and gone
Pray tell my tender old mother dear
That I am dead O, that I am dead O
And I shall never see her no more

Acknowledgements

The Watersons' Brave General Wolfe was found at the Digital Tradition, at the Mudcat Café. Martin Carthy's Bold General Wolfe was transcribed by Reinhard Zierke with help from Wolfgang Hell.