I have a love of poetry and think that some of Rudyard Kipling’s especially poignant words summing up the horrors faced by soldiers in Afghanistan more than 100 years ago are some of the best.
In a moving reworking of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The Young British Soldier”, written in 1895, an anonymous modern serviceman, actually serving in Afghanistan, has painted a picture of troops fighting in terrible, alien conditions whose sacrifice is unappreciated at home. It shows that little has changed since 1895.
Back then, Kipling wrote of taking care of your weapon, or Martini, the Martini-Henry, Britain’s breech loading rifle. In the modern version, the poem talks of the Gimpy, shorthand for GPMG or general purpose machine-gun. There is also talk of the “arty”, slang for artillery.
This new version deals with more modern trials faced by men and women fighting on the front line, such as poor pay, equipment shortages and concerns over the quality of their family’s housing.
But while Kipling’s poem is upbeat and patriotic, it is difficult to escape the feeling from the modern ode that soldiers get a raw deal. But, said the writer, they will fight on till the battle is won…
“You may treat him like dirt, but nowt will unnerve him/ But I wonder, sometimes, if the country deserves him.”
Afghanistan (with apologies to Kipling)
When you’re lying alone in your Afghan bivvy,
And your life it depends on some MOD civvie
When the body armour’s shared (one set between three),
And the firefight’s not like it is on TV
Then you’ll look to your oppo, your gun and your God,
As you follow that path all Tommies have trod.
When the Gimpy has jammed and you’re down to one round,
And the faith that you’d lost is suddenly found.
When the Taliban horde is close up to the fort
And you pray that the arty don’t drop a round short,
Stick to your sergeant like a good squaddie should,
And fight them like Satan or one of his brood.
Your pay it won’t cover your needs or your wants,
So just stand there and take all the Taliban’s taunts
Nor generals nor civvies can do aught to amend it,
Except make sure you’re kept in a place you can’t spend it.
Three fifty an hour in your Afghani cage,
Not nearly as much as the minimum wage.
Your missus at home in a foul married quarter
With damp on the walls and roof leaking water
Your kids miss their mate, their hero, their dad;
They’re missing the childhood that they should have had.
One day it will be different, one day by and by,
As you all stand there and watch, to see the pigs fly.
Just like your forebears in mid, dust and ditch
You’ll march and you’ll fight, and you’ll drink and you’ll bitch
Whether Froggy or Zulu, or Jerry or Boer
The Brits will fight on ‘til the battle is over.
You may treat him like dirt, but nowt will unnerve him
But I wonder, sometimes, if the country deserves him.
Years ago, when chatting up a young lady and trying to impress her with my love of poetry. I said “Do you like Kipling?” She replied with a puzzled look on her lovely face “I don’t know, I’ve never been kippled!