> Norma Waterson > Songs > Poor Boney
> Martin Carthy > Songs > The Eighteenth of June

The Eighteenth of June / Poor Boney

[ Roud 2539 ; trad.]

This ballad recalls Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Henry Burstow of Horsham, Sussex, learnt it from Jim Shoubridge, Rifle Brigade, who had fought at Waterloo. Vaughan Williams collected the ballad from Burstow in 1905, and it was published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society 2 (issue 8, 1906) p. 193.

Rod Stradling recorded The Eighteenth of June at home in the early 2000s. This recording was included in 2005 on the Musical Tradition anthology Songs from the Golden Fleece. He noted in the accompanying booklet:

This splendid song comes from Henry Burstow of Horsham, Sussex, from whom Vaughan Williams collected it in 1905. It was published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society 2 (1906) p. 193. In the midst of a conversation with Martin Carthy about English Napoleonic songs, he produced it out of that prodigious memory of his … and I immediately and unashamedly stole it! It subsequently turns out that it is a song that Mike Waterson sings, and that he’d made a few alterations to it along the way. And so have I—and have yet to see a copy of the original.

Being an Englishman, I frequently feel ashamed at what my warlike country has done (is still doing!) to others around the world. So I’m delighted to find, and proud to sing, a song about our ‘greatest military victory’ which is so concerned with the plight of the ordinary people involved on both sides. It doesn’t even mention who won!

Frank Harte learned The Eighteenth of June from Rod Stradling and sang it in 2001 on his CD of traditional songs on Napoleon Bonaparte, My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte (Musical Traditions review).

Norma Waterson sang this song as Poor Boney on April 2, 2001 at Newcastle Live Theatre. This recording was included in 2004 on the Watersons' 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

Martin Carthy sang The Eighteenth of June on February 2, 2006 as part of the “Folk Britannia: Which Side Are You On?” concert at the London Barbican. It was first broadcast in the UK on BBC4 on February 24, 2006:

He also sang The Eighteenth of June in the 1983 BBC production of Keith Dewhurst's "Battle of Waterloo", which was transmitted live from BBC Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham on February 13, 1983:

Mick Ryan and Pete Harris sang The Eighteenth of June in 2004 on their WildGoose CD Something to Show. They commented in their liner notes:

The Eighteenth of June, a lament for the dead of the battle of Waterloo, came from that great Irish singer, Frank Harte. It is, however, an English song. Those who know the ‘original’ will notice some changes in the words, together with a new verse.

Jim Moray sang The Eighteenth of June in 2012 on his CD Skulk. He noted:

From Henry Burstow of Horsham (1826-1916) via Martin Carthy, although Martin tells me that this version was refined and added to by Mike Waterson.

See also the similar-titled but different song The Eighteenth Day of June (Roud 1132).

Lyrics

Henry Burstow sings The Eighteenth of June

You people that live at home easy,
And free from the riot of war
*
*
Know that long has the scythe of destruction
Been sweeping our nation around;
It never yet cut with such keenness
As on the great eighteenth of June.

From half past five in the morning,
To half past seven at night
The people of the [ ? ]
Never before saw such a sight,
When the thunder of five hundred cannons
Proclaiming the battle was won,
The moon in the night overshone,
As recorded the eighteenth of June.

You lasses whose sweethearts were yonder,
Go gaily and buy a black gown,
A thousand I will lay to a hundred
He fell on the eighteenth of June,
Sixty thousand stout hearted mortals
That fell, made an awful paltune [?]
Many a sad heart will remember
With sorrow the eighteenth of June.

What a sad heart had poor Boney
To take up instead of a crown
A canter for Brussels and Paris
Lamenting the eighteenth of June.

Rod Stradling sings The Eighteenth of June Norma Waterson sings Poor Boney

All you people who live at home easy,
And far from the trials of war,
Never knowing the dangers of battle,
But safe with your family secure.
Know you, the long scythe of destruction
Has been sweeping the Nations all round,
But it never yet cut with the keenness
That it did on the eighteenth of June.

All you people who live at home easy
And free from the trials of war
Never knowing the dangers of battle
But safe with your family secure
Know you the long scythe of destruction
Has been sweeping the nation all round
And it never yet cut with the keenness
That it did on the eighteenth of June

Chorus (after each verse):
And what a sad heart had poor Boney
To take up instead of a crown
A canter from Brussels to Paris
Lamenting the eighteenth of June

It had started at five in the morning,
And lasted ‘til seven at night.
All the people stood round in amazement,
For they never had seen such a sight.
‘Til the thunder of five hundred cannons
Proclaimed that the battle was done,
And the moon in the sky over-shone all,
Recording the eighteenth of June.

It was just half past five in the morning
It lasted till seven at night
All the people stood round in amazement
They never had seen such a sight
For the thunder of five hundred cannons
Proclaimed that the battle was won
And the moon and the stars overshone all
Proclaiming the eighteenth of June

And what a sad heart had poor Boney
To take up instead of a crown -
And the canter from Brussels to Paris,
Lamenting the eighteenth of June.

All you young girls with sweethearts out yonder,
Go you gaily and buy the black gown -
Here's ten thousand to one I would lay you
That he fell on the eighteenth of June.
Sixty thousand stout-hearted brave mortals
Who died, sang some terrible funeral tune,
But there’s many’s the more will remember,
With sorrow, the eighteenth of June.

All you widows and sweethearts out yonder
Go gaily and buy a black gown
Ten thousand to one I will lay you
That he fell on the eighteenth of June
Sixty thousand brave hearted strong mortals
Who died, made an awful pall tune
And many's the sad heart will remember
In sorrow the eighteenth of June

So take up your sad heart, faithless Boney,
And you bear that, instead of your crown -
For there’s many's the more will remember,
With sorrow, the eighteenth of June.

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcribed from the singing of Norma Waterson with help from Wolfgang Hell and Steve Burton. Thank you!

Thanks to Kev Boyd of Carthy Online who gave me details about both video clips.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Eighteen of June from which I got Henry Burstow's verses.