Berta Ruck’s Song

A while back I mentioned how Berta Ruck and Virginia Woolf made up their quarrel. Woolf invited Ruck and her husband to a Bloomsbury party, and Berta Ruck where Berta is recorded as delighting the company with the song   “Never allow a sailor an inch above your knee.”

I think that has to be a version of “Home Boys Home.” It’s one of those folk songs whose lyrics vary from singer to singer, but this is one set of words, anyway:

Oh well, who wouldn’t be a sailor lad a-sailing on the main
To gain the good will of his captain’s good name
He came ashore one evening for to be
And that was the beginning of the whole calamity

And it’s home, boys, home; home I’d like to be
Home for a while in me own count-a-rie
Where the oak and the ash and the bonnie rowan tree
Are all a-growing green in the North Count-a-rie

I asked her for a candle for to light me up to bed
And likewise for a hankerchief to tie around my head
She tended to my needs like a young maid ought to do
So then I says to her, Won’t you nestle with me too

She jumped into bed, making no alarm
Thinking a young sailor lad could do to her no harm
And I hugged her and I kissed her the whole night long
Till she wished the short night had been seven years long

Early next morning the sailor lad arose
And into Mary’s apron threw a handful of gold
Saying, Take this, my dear, for the mischief that I’ve done
For tonight I fear I’ve left you with a daughter or a son

Well, if it be a girl child, send her out to nurse
With gold in her pocket and with silver in her purse
And if it be a boy child, he’ll wear the jacket blue
And go climbing up the rigging like his daddy used to do

Come all of you fair maidens, a warning take by me
And never let a sailor lad an inch above your knee
For I trusted one and he beguiled me
He left me with a pair of twins to dangle on my knee


  1. Leslie Martin
    Posted January 18, 2007 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    That’s really interesting. I have long thought the word was “dandle” but who can account for the uses of pop culture?
    I must say I like the word “dandle” but it is alien to my upbringing and so seems somehow affected to me, whereas “dangle” has all the same weight for its measure of sound but comes accoutred with pendulousness which is an unfortunate transitive association in the matter of any creature.
    For a Scotsman, such as myself, I suppose the hard “g” is more akin to the homely gutteral than the effete front-of-the-mouth “d”.
    Maybe it’s just a typo, but give me the couthy “dangle” any day. I’m with you!

  2. Posted January 18, 2007 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    The words I copied may have been an oral transcription from a record – a process notorious for letting errors creep in.

    For example, Japanese pressings of records in English often append a transcription of the lyrics to aid comprehension. These often contain oddities. For example, singer Claire Martin tells of a recording of the Gershwins’ song “They can’t take that away from me” :
    “The way you wear your hat,
    The way you sip your tea,
    The memory of all that
    Oh No! They can’t take that away from me!”

    This became in transcription:

    “The way you wear your hat,
    The way you pick your feet…”

  3. Posted April 18, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    i am looking to find out a book called the post war girl by brta ruck,if any 1 could help me please contact me thank

  4. Posted April 18, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    SND –
    Go to

    Enter Berta Ruck as author, and they will direct you to a copy of the book – but it’s quite expensive.

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