To save trouble

(notes by Philip Holberton drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)



This poem was published in the Pioneer on 8 October 1888, with the signature ‘R.K.’ and two headings:

The Black Mountain Expedition is apparently to be a teetotal affair—Vide Civil and Military, October 5th.

A charge of Ghazis was met by the Royal Irish who accounted for the whole of them … The Royal Irish then carried the position—Pioneer, today.

The poem was reprinted in the Pioneer Mail and the Civil and Military Gazette on 10 October, and The Week’s News on 13 October. It was not later collected by Kipling but included in Scrapbook 4 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It is to be found in Rutherford (p. 431) and Pinney (p. 1901).

The Poem

The poem is written in the Irish brogue that Kipling puts into the mouth of Terence Mulvaney, one of the ‘Soldiers Three’, Mulvaney the Irishman, Jock Learoyd from Yorkshire, and Stanley Ortheris, the London Cockney. They first appeared as “The Three Musketeers” published the previous year in March 1887.

The verse form echoes the traditional Irish protest song “The Wearing of the Green”. In “In Ambush” the first story in Stalky & Co. —rather surprisingly for the son of a land-owner— M’Turk croons a line from it after a glass of home brew.

In this poem the speaker—also Irish—meets Mulvaney and tells him that the Royal Irish have been sent to war without a source of beer. Mulvaney blames it on ‘Bobs’—Sir Frederick Roberts, the Commander-in-Chief, who knows that they will fight even more fiercely to get the battle over and head back to barracks for a drink.

Roberts was a temperance advocate and would have taken the step on moral grounds. He had introduced Regimental Institutes with a range of facilities in place of the old ‘wet canteens’ where soldiers went simply to get drunk. Kipling devoted a verse of his his later admiring poem “Bobs” (1898) to this theme:

‘E’s a little down on drink,
Chaplain Bobs;
But it keeps us outer Clink—
Don’t it, Bobs?
So, we will not complain
Tho’ ‘e’s water on the brain,
If ‘e leads us straight again,
Blue–light Bobs.

Notes on the Text


Black Mountain Expedition a punitive campaign carried out in October and November 1888 in an area where two British officers and some Gurkha soldiers had been murdered by tribesmen. In “A Conference of the Powers” (Many Inventions) Nevin had served in a Gurkha regiment which had been through the Black Mountain Expedition.

Ghazis fanatical Muslim fighters. See also “The Drums of the Fore and Aft” (Wee Willy Winkie).

Royal Irish the 18th Foot, the Royal Irish Regiment.

[The poem]

kubber news

Paythans Pathans, Muslim tribesmen of the North-West Frontier, fierce fighters.

Highland Rigiment The Scots were mostly Presbyterian and in Mulvaney’s experience would consider drink a sin.

Blue Light members of a temperance society, traditionally identified by a blue light. See last line of “Bobs” above.

Kheyl clan or tribe, used here for a member of the tribe.

Akazai one of the tribes involved.

We passed the time av day … This and the next two lines were later reused in “Belts” (1890).

bullswools leather boots (Army slang).

jildy liveliness, speed.

the butt the butt of a rifle can also be used as a weapon. Mulvaney likes the bayonet; Learoyd, another of the Three Musketeers, prefers the butt:

He picked up a rifle an inch below the foresight with an underhanded action, and used it exactly as a man would use a dagger. ‘Sitha,’ he said softly, ‘thot’s better than owt. Gie me the butt.’
[“With the Main Guard”, Soldiers Three p. 63]

stiffin’ cursing.

sungar stone breastwork.

the long bradawl the bayonet.

naygur-log black people.

whipped thim on the nail Perhaps a slang phrase meaning to charge a soldier with an offence. Rutherford suggests that there may also be a reference to the Scots colloquial phrase “off the nail” meaning tipsy.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved