Sung by a Miss Fraser at a Press Concert in Bloemfontein in South Africa, on 18th April 1900, during the South African War. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p 216, and the Burwash Edition vol. 28. See ORG p. 5385.
Auld Lang Syne – which can be translated from the Scots as ‘long-gone times’ – was written by Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796), who was much admired by Kipling. The poem, sung to a rousing tune, became established in Victorian times as a celebration of old friends and old times at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and is still a much-loved part of the New Year’s ritual in the English-speaking world. It is written in the Scots that was spoken in Ayrshire and Dumfries, in the western Lowlands. (See also “The Indian Farmer at Home” (1884).
This dinner too was a celebratory occasion. The British forces had just taken Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State. Lord Roberts, the Commander in Chief, closed down the main local paper, the strongly pro-Boer Express, and requisitioned its printing facilities. With a keen sense of how to influence the people of the town, he also took over the other local paper The Friend, and made it the voice of the British Army.
For a fortnight Kipling worked on the paper with Perceval Landon of The Times, Howell Gwynne of Reuter’s news agency, E.W.Buxton of the Johannesburg Star, and Julian Ralph, an American correspondent reporting for the Daily Mail. There is a lively description of this time in Ralph’s War’s Brighter Side. Kipling’s account in “A Burgher of the Free State” is based closely on this experience, which he greatly relished.
Notes on the Text
Shamrock, thistle, leek, and rose: symbols of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England.
heath and wattle: standing for New Zealand and Australia. Kipling was inspired by the soldiers from all corners of the Empire who were fighting in the war for the British against the Boers.
the little man who led our fighting line: This was ‘Bobs’, Lord Roberts, hero of the Second Afghan War, Commander in Chief in India in Kipling’s day, and now masterminding the campaign against the Boers, which was finally to defeat them. He must have been the guest of honour at the dinner at which the poem was sung.
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