> The Watersons > Songs > The Khaki and the Blue / The Ploughboy

The Khaki and the Blue / The Old Militia Drum / The Ploughboy

[ Roud 163 ; TYG 32 ; Ballad Index Beha051 ; trad.]

There are two completely different songs called The Ploughboy sung by the Watersons. This one, also called The Khaki and the Blue after the first line of the chorus, is on their 1966 album A Yorkshire Garland. Like most of the tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. A live recording of The Khaki and the Blue from Tithe Barn, Laycock, during the Chippenham Folk Festival in July 1977, was published in 2004 on the Watersons' 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

So poor was the existence of oldtime farm labourers, even army life and army pay seemed a golden prospect. The race of treacle-tongued and bloody-minded recruiting sergeants from Farquhar's Sergeant Kite onward exploited the situation by deception and sharp practise, depicting a life of ease, wenching, plunder and quick promotion, to the gullible yokels. The young ploughboy of this song has swallowed the bait readily enough. Yet songs of this sort are rare compared with the large repertory of songs about the farm boys who desert when they realise the realities of military life. This is another song that the Watersons got from Mick Taylor of Hawes in 1965.

Oak sang this song as The Scarlet and the Blue in 1971 on their Topic LP Welcome to Our Fair; This track was also included on their Musical Traditions anthology Country Songs and Music.

Bob Hart sang The Scarlet and the Blue at home in Snape, Suffolk, to Tony Engle in July 1972. This recording was published a year later on his Topic album Songs from Suffolk. An earlier recording by Rod and Danny Stradling from July 8, 1969 was included in 1998 on his Musical Traditions anthology A Broadside. Rod Stradling commented in the latter's booklet:

Written by John J. Blockley in the late 1870s, this song does not seem particularly well-known, if the total of only 17 Roud entries is to be believed. However, we encountered many singers who knew it, either under this title or as The Warwickshire R.H.A., and it was apparently popularised on both sides of the Atlantic by Irish Comedians Ed Harrigan and Tony Hart, who specialised in ‘Conquer or Die’ songs.

There are only five known published sound recordings from the oral tradition, the other four being—Freda Palmer (Oxon), George Spicer (Sussex) on MTCD309-10, Fred Whiting (Suffolk) on Veteran VT102, and Gordon Syrett (Suffolk) on Vintage 001.

Freda Palmer of Witney, Oxfordshire, sang The Warwickshire R.H.A. to by Mike Yates in 1972-1974. This recording was published in 1975 on the Topic anthology of countryside songs from Southern England, When Sheepshearing's Done.

George Spicer sang this song as The Old Militia Drum in 1974 in his home in Selsfield, West Hoathly, Sussex, recorded by Mike Yates. This recording was released in the same year on his Topic album of traditional songs and ballads, Blackberry Fold. An earlier recording made by Brian Matthews at The Oak Tree, Addingley, on November 12, 1959 is on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from Sussex country pubs, Just Another Saturday Night.

Roy Harris sang The Scarlet and the Blue in 1979 on his Fellside album The Rambling Soldier.

Roy Last of Mendlesham Green, Suffolk, sang The Scarlet and the Blue in 1983 to John Howson. This recording was published on the Veteran cassette and CD of traditional music-making from Mid-Suffolk, Many a Good Horseman.

Fred Whiting of Kenton, Suffolk, sang The Jolly Ploughboy on the Veteran cassette Songs Sung in Suffolk 2 (1989) and CD Sungs Sung in Suffolk (2000).

A related song is the Irish The Merry Ploughboy where the ploughboy joins the IRA instead of the British army, which Dominic Behan sang in 1959 on the Topic album Easter Week and After, on which he also seems to have based Off to Dublin in the Green. This was also recorded by the Halliard on their 1967 Saga album, It's the Irish in Me, by the Dubliners and by Wolfe Tones.

The Watersons sang a completely different The Ploughboy [Roud 346] at an EFDSS concert at the Royal Festival Hall, London on June 4, 1965, which was released on the LP Folksound of Britain. This recording has also been included in 2004 on the Watersons' 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

Lyrics

The Watersons sing The Ploughboy Fred Whiting sings The Jolly Ploughboy

Well I once was a merry ploughboy,
I was a-ploughing in the fields all day,
Till a very funny thought came to my head
That I should roam away.
For I'm tired of my country life
Since the day that I was born
So I've gone and join the army
And I'm off tomorrow morn.

Once I was a jolly ploughboy,
Ploughing in the fields all day,
Until the thought came to my mind
That I must go away.
No more to work in the harvest fields,
No more to cart the corn,
For I've been and took my shilling
And I'm off tomorrow morn.

Chorus (after each verse):
Hoorah for the Khaki and the Blue,
Helmets glittering in the sun,
Bayonets flash like lightning
To the beating of a military drum.
And no more will I go harvesting
Or gathering the golden corn,
'Cause I got the good king's shilling
And I'm off tomorrow morn.

Chorus (after each verse):
Hurrah for the Scarlet and the Blue,
See the helmets glitter in the sun,
And the banners flash like lightening,
To the beating of the militia drum.
See the flag of dear old England,
Proudly waving in the sky,
And the last words of a soldier is,
“We'll conquer or we die.”

Well I'll leave aside my pick and spade
And I'll leave aside my plough,
And I'll leave aside my old grey mare,
For no more I'll need her now.
For there's a little spot in England,
Up in the Yorkshire dales so high,
Where we mast the good king's standard,
Saying, “We'll conquer or we'll die.”

I stood beside my old grey mare,
I stood beside my plough,
I stood beside my Nellie dear,
No more to reap or mow.
No more to work in the harvest fields,
No more to cart the corn,
For I've been and took my shilling
And I'm off tomorrow morn.

But there's one little thing I must tell you
About the girl I leave behind,
And I know she will prove true to me
And I'll prove true in kind.
And if ever I return again
To my home in the country
I'll take her to the church to wed
And a sergeant's wife she'll be.

There's one thing I'm going to miss
And that's my Nellie dear.
I know that she'll be proud of me
When I am far from here.
And when I do return again,
If she does wait for me,
I'll take my Nellie to the church
And a sergeant's wife she'll be.

George Spicer sings The Scarlet and the Blue Bob Hart sing The Scarlet and the Blue

I was once a gay young ploughboy
And I ploughed the fields all day,
'Til one strange thought came in my mind:
I'd like to run away.
For I'm getting tired of country life
And the place where I was born,
So I've been and joined the Army and
I'm off tomorrow morn.

I stood beside my old grey mare,
I stood beside my plough,
I stood beside my Nellie dear,
No more to reap or mow.
No more to travail in the fields all day,
Or gather in the harvest corn,
For I've been and took the shilling and
I'm off tomorrow morn.

Chorus (after each verse):
Well there's a rap for the Scarlet and the Blue
And the helmets they glitter in the sun.
And the bayonets flash like lightning to
The beating of the old militia drum—tiddley-um.
And the flag of dear old England
Is waving proudly in the sky,
It's the watchword of our soldier-boys
To conquer, do, or die.

Chorus (after each verse):
Then hurrah for the Scarlet and the Blue;
See the helmets glitter in the sun,
And the bayonets flash like lightning
To the beating of the old militia drum.
There's a flag in dear old Ireland
Proudly waving in the sky.
And the watchword of our soldiers is:
“We'll conquer or we'll die.”

Now I've put away my old white smock
And I've put away my plough,
And I've put away my six-foot whip,
No more the fields to roam.
No more to reap in harvest time,
No more to sow the corn,
For I've been and joined the Army and
I'm off tomorrow morn.

Now there is one girl I leave behind
And it is my Nellie fair.
But I know that she'll be true to me
When I am far away.
And if ever I do return again
There's one promise due to me,
Three stripes and medals on my breast
And a sergeant's wife she'll be.

There's one thing that I've left behind,
And that's my Nellie dear.
I know that she'll be proud of me
When I am far from here.
And when I do return again
I hope you'll all agree,
I'll take my Nellie to the church,
A sergeant's wife she'll be.

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard, with significant assistance from Steve Willis.

See also the Mudcat Café threads Lyr Req: The Ploughboy and Lyr Add: The Scarlet and the Blue.