[Line 1] ‘What are the ‘bugles blowin’ for’. In common with civil practice, an execution was carried out in the early morning of the day after ratification of the sentence was received from higher authority. This could be an indeterminate length of time after the trial and could come as a surprise to the men of the unit. The bugles would have been blowing the ‘assemble’.
[Line 2] ‘To turn you out, to turn you out’ These words replicate the repeated 4-note phrase in the middle of the bugle call. This opening conversation would be taking place with the Colour Sergeant in front of the files as they fell in before the parade and he called the roll.
[Line 5-8] ‘For they’re hanging Danny Deever’….. These last four lines (and the last four lines of subsequent verses) are in a third voice, here narrating the action to the rhythm of the slow march.
[Line 7] ‘They’ve taken of his buttons off..’ removal of regimental insignia as a sign of disgrace.
[Line 7] ‘an’ cut his stripes away’. Either the rank stripes (chevrons) of a lance-corporal or good conduct stripes. If more than one of the latter, Deever must have had at least five years service and have been a soldier with no previous entry on his conduct sheet.
[Lines 9-12] ‘What makes the rear-rank breathe so hard’ etc. The emotional effect of the occasion. In the account of the hanging of Pte Flaxman, it is recorded that as the condemned man was marched to the gallows, ‘a number of native soldiers and a few British soldiers asked leave to fall out of the ranks for they could not bear the sight’.
In their question and answer session the Colour Sergeant is in his place close behind the ‘files on parade’ and is trying to talk the men through a difficult time. This role of the Colour Sergeant is spelt out by Kipling in his later poem, ‘The ‘Eathen’, when, even in the heat of battle the Colour Sergeant still talks the men through the action, ‘’Is voice, the same as barrick-drill, a-shepherdin’ the rear’.
[Line 13-16] The narrative is again taken up by the third voice, in slow time.
[Line 17] ‘’Is cot was right hand cot to mine’ indicating that Deever slept in a barrack room, ie, he was below the rank of corporal.
[Line 18-20] The Colour Sergeant brings home to Files on Parade the finality of the punishment.
[Line 21] ‘… you must mark him to his place’ The third voice again. You must watch him take his place on the scaffold.
[Line 22] ‘- you must look him in the face;’ Not quite in sequence but Files on Parade would be marched past the scaffold after the execution and given the command ‘Eyes right’ so that they would have to look the corpse of Danny Deever full in the face. In the report on Pte Flaxman, the writer stated: “… all the troops marched past him; he hung with his head on one side and there was blood on the coat, he looked an awful sight.” This, above all, was probably what the Colour Sergeant was dreading having to watch.
[Line 23] ‘Nine ‘undred of his county’ indicates an English infantry battalion such as Pte Flaxman’s 2nd Leicestershires.
[Line 25-28] Danny’s final moments; the word “whimpers” for the soul passing overhead reflecting the effect the hanging has had on Files on Parade.
[Line 29-32] The final comments by the third voice, who is revealed to be one of the battalion on parade, this time to the quick march as it is marched off parade to be dismissed back to barracks. Beer was available in the regimental canteen.
©Roger Ayers 2005 All rights reserved
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