"Tommy" by Rudyard Kipling (read by Tom O'Bedlam)





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Published on Sep 27, 2009

A friend of mine asked me to post this, after reading the following news item three days ago (24th September, 2009)

"The number of former servicemen in prison or on probation or parole is now more than double the total British deployment in Afghanistan, according to a new survey. An estimated 20,000 veterans are in the criminal justice system, with 8,500 behind bars, almost one in 10 of the prison population."

"Tommy" was written in 1890, yet it's surprising how relevant it seems today. It was originally called The Queens Uniform, which makes the line about "The Widow's Uniform" more poignant.

The Guardian published this article about Kipling, quoting his piece about the soldiers killed in the war which ends with the line, "who shall return us our children?"

"The Thin Red Line" was painted by Robert Gibb in 1881. Kipling was quoting the title of this famous painting which shows the Sutherland highlanders at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War.

On 28 December 2003, Peter Pindar published his version in the Sunday Telegraph,

Tommy in the 21st Century

We aren't made for cool Britannia; we leave boot marks on the floor.
We don't walk like Peter Mandelson or talk like Jack Straw.
Call us forces of conservatism, if it suits your turn
But we're off like some world fire brigade when the flash-points start to burn.

Yes it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that that, an' spend less on defence,
But who walks the streets of Basra when the air is getting tense?
When the air is getting tense, boys, from Kabul to Kosovo
Who'll say goodbye to wife and kids, and shoulder pack and go?

The Queen, she's sat in Windsor now for 50 years or more.
She'll see this government depart like the other one before.
And Blair & Bush & Chirac make their plans to no avail
But who remains to serve the Crown when politicians fail?

O it's Tommy change your values - now diversity's the game;
But when Christmas leave is cancelled, then whose tyrants are to blame?
There's tyrants in the mountains, boys, and tyrants in the sands,
So farewell to wives & risk your lives for them in foreign lands.


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