(notes by Roger Ayers)
| the poem
notes on the text
… It was now getting dusk; the troop was in a frightfully crippled state from the loss it had sustained in men and horses, there being only a young lieutenant (W. A. Mackinnon) in charge. Still the troop advanced, and in the advance the writer took his seat on the trail of a wagon, and felt for a short time pretty comfortable. But only for a very short time: the gun on his right halted in consequence of its two polemen (1) being literally cut in two, the lower portions of their bodies still remaining in the saddle, the upper portion of the right pole-man's body being on the ground, while that of the left was suspended by the head over the collar-bar (2) . The sergeant-major brought up a spare man to take the place of the near poleman, at the same time emptying the two saddles of their ghastly burdens. It must be said that the spare man hesitated to jump into the saddle—for one of the mangled bodies was that of his brother! The sergeant-major seeing there was no time to be lost, freed the collar-bar from the half body hanging over it, and threatened the spare gunner with his pistol if he did not jump into the saddle immediately, and he did so.Bancroft was not run over but he, was unable to keep up when the battery moved forward once more and was left on the battlefield in a desperate state until he was gathered in with other wounded the following day. The wound gave him trouble for the rest of his life.
The gun on the writer's left had now halted; the off (3) poleman having been struck by a round shot in the face, which carried away the left half, the body still sitting erect in the saddle. Here another spare man ran up, tilted the body out of the saddle, and sprang up into his seat, which he had scarcely attained when a shot broke the off fore-leg of the horse he had just mounted. The horse was sent adrift, but appeared loath to leave his mates on the advance of the battery, for he hobbled after it, and as ill-luck would have it, came blundering up to the wagon, on the beam (4) of which the writer was seated, and poked himself between the wheels of the limber and wagon, putting an end to all progress for a time. Holding on with his left arm, the writer tried his utmost to keep the brute off with his feet; but a cannon ball soon solved the difficulty. It struck the horse on the hind-quarter, causing him to bound forward, and knock the writer off his perch, placing him in imminent danger of being run over.
There is one incident which may be worth relating here: prior to his being knocked off his seat, a ball struck the pole horse of the wagon on which the writer was seated, in the stomach, and in an instant the poor animal's intestines were hanging about its leg. The writer called to the rider (5) informing him of the mishap in language more plain than refined perhaps by saying "Tom! Tom!" (the man's name was Tom Connolly) "Snarly Yow (the horse's name) has turned inside out, and his inwards are dangling about!" Tom shouted to the corporal (6) leading the team, "Joe! Joe! Pull up! Snarly's g—ts are hanging about his legs! "
To which request the corporal coolly made answer: "Be gorra, Tom, I wouldn’t pull up at such a time as this if you're own g—ts were hanging out!" The writer was afterwards told that the horse did not drop until the troop formed battery again at a considerable distance to the right.
[From Recruit to Staff Sergeant, N.W.Bancroft, Reprinted by Ian Henry Publications, 1979.]
(1) The polemen were the riders of the pair of horses either side of the limber pole.
(2) The collar bar was attached to the end of the pole and to the collars of the two pole horses.
(3) The right hand poleman. The left was the near-side, the right the off-side.
(4) Bancroft was on a two-wheeled ammunition wagon. This was drawn by 6 horses and a two-wheeled limber and had a beam across the front, to which was attached the trail, which hooked onto the limber.
(5) All six wagon horses were also ridden.
(6) The sergeant in command of the half-section of a gun team and a wagon team had his own horse. The corporal, as second in command, rode the lead horse of the wagon team. The bombardier (at that time equivalent to a lance corporal) rode the lead horse of the gun team.
“one of those Barrack Room Ballads that … contribute their share to Mr Kipling’s picture of the British soldier in India, but their value stops there.” [Richard LeGallienne, 1900]However, one thing about “Snarleyow” that did stand out was that 'In no poem is the bloody misery of war so nakedly portrayed as in Snarleyow' (Rudyard Kipling, his Life and Works, Cecil Charles, Hewetson, London, 1911)