One of the suite of sixteen ‘Service Songs’ which close The Five Nations. This may have been written specifically for The Five Nations but see
note to “M.I.”.
Collected in I.V. 1919, D.V. 1940, the Sussex Edition vol. 33, and the Burwash Edition, vol. 26.
When it was collected Kipling amended this subscript to ‘(Made Yeomanry towards the end of the South African War)’. He also added notes to explain the significance of the baboons and the meaning of voorloopers (see below).
Playful as the tone can seem here – is it a music-hall song, is it a cautionary tale? -, nevertheless, the poem bears witness to Kipling’s obsession with Boer treachery. Cf “The Sin of Witchcraft”, his essay on their betrayals, and his short story “A Sahib’s War”. Even when peace has been signed, the poem warns, never trust them. The failure of his usually flexible sympathies indicates that there was a special personal sensitivity at work. It may well be the mixture of piety with betrayal that touched a nerve, activating memories of his childhood in Southsea, leading Kipling to make hate figures of the Boers.
Notes on the Text
(by Mary Hamer drawing on various sources, in particular
Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling” 1914.)
[Title and subscript] Kopjes: rocky outcrops, or small hills rising up from the veldt.
Made Yeomanry: The Yeomanry were originally a British volunteer cavalry force, growing out of a royal regiment of fox hunters raised by Yorkshire gentlemen in 1745 to fight the Pretender, Charles Edward (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, as the Scots called him). The members furnished their own horses, had fourteen days’ annual camp training, and received pay and allowance when on duty. In 1901 the name was altered to Imperial Yeomanry in recognition of the services of the force in the Anglo-Boer War.
In 1901 it was decided to raise a Yeomanry Regiment from overseas volunteers living in Britain. The regiment originally consisted of four squadrons, made up as follows:
A Squadron, British Asians, mostly Indian;
B Squadron, British Americans (actually Canadians);
C Squadron, Australians and New Zealanders;
D Squadron, South Africans and Rhodesians.
It seems likely that it is to this regiment that the phrase ‘Made Yeomanry’ refers.
The unique constitution of that Regiment, which brought together in defence of Britain men who came from across the globe, may explain why Kipling chose to evoke it here. Otherwise there seems no particular reason to associate the sentiments expressed in this poem with the Yeomanry, apart from the possibility that Kipling would have seen these men from outside Britain as more buoyant and of wider experience. At bottom, the sentiments were Kipling’s own but sweetened in their expression by being cast as a rollicking song.
[Stanza 1] Aldershot … Rand: relying on their training at Aldershot, the military headquarters in Surrey, which had not equipped them for these conditions, the party is captured and taken weaponless into the north of the Transvaal.
[Stanza 2] Boojer: term for Boers, derived from ‘burgher’ meaning Boer citizen.
[Stanza 3] Only baboons … only some buck: signs that the creatures had been disturbed, probably by the presence of humans: baboons keep out of the way during the day.
Kensington draper: cf the Melbourne auctioneer ”M.I.” stanza 5. London civilians joined up as the ‘City Imperial Volunteers’. Town-bred, with the briefest military training, they had no bushcraft and no knowledge of scouting. Their helplessness in the field became the subject of many unkind and ungrateful jokes.
[Stanza 4] the kopje beloved by the guide: Local guides were apt to be loyal to the Boer forces, even when they claimed to be pro-British; troops could be led into a prepared ambush.
[Stanza 5] A bolted commando: Boer forces were divided into groups named commandos. This stanza describes the feigned retreats by which they lured their enemies into danger.
‘by sections retire’: the command to retreat in order, sections taking it in turn to offer covering fire as the others retire.
[Stanza 7] Only a wave: a signal between Boer parties which was not picked up.
Voorloopers: sometimes said to be the men or boys who lead the leading pair of oxen in a wagon-team. Seeing so many of them should have sounded the alarm. Kipling himself seems to have meant the leading riders of a Boer commando. See his note in the Sussex Edition.
[Stanza 8] The Staff: the set of officers without regimental duties who make decisions, collect information and plan on behalf of their comrades: traditionally accused of incompetence by the fighting soldiers.
©Mary Hamer 2008 All rights reserved