‘I was playing golf the day that the Germans landed…’

I’m currently reading Sheila Kaye-Smith’s excellent 1943 novel, Tambourine, Trumpet, Drum (Thanks, Pat, for suggesting it.)
The novel is in three parts, corresponding to the three wars: Boer War, Great War, World War II.
At the start of August 1914, a young woman  teases her sister, who has been playing golf while the rest of the nation waits to learn how Germany has responded  to the British ultimatum, by reciting:

I was playing golf the day that the Germans landed:
All our men had run away, all our ships were stranded:
And the thought of England’s shame
Very nearly spoilt my game.

A bit of Googling suggests that this was by Harry Graham, who wrote the Ruthless Rhymes (though some articles attribute it less convincingly to the Earl of Sandwich). Online versions differ, which maybe suggests that the lines were transmitted more as oral folklore than by way of a printed text. One version has a last line that reads ‘Almost put me off my game’, which is better, I think, than Kaye-Smith’s.
Presumably the poem was written during the pre-War period of invasion anxiety, when Erskine Childers was writing The Riddle of the Sands
and P. G. Wodehouse was making fun of such scares in The Swoop.
Can anyone date the poem more exactly?



  1. Roger
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    The Englishman’s Home.

    I was playing golf the day
    That the Germans landed;
    All our troops had run away,
    All our ships were stranded ;
    And the thought of England’s shame
    Altogether spoilt my game.

    It is by Graham (alias Col. D. Streamer- after his regiment), though I don’t know the exact date. It wasn’t in the original Ruthless Rhymes but you’ll find it in later editions. I remember reading that it was inspired by the play An Englishman’s Home by Guy du Maurier, produced in 1909. It seems reasonable: as an ex-Guardsman, Graham would be less prone to invasion-hysteria and he was connected with the theatre- he wrote lyrics for light operas and musical comedies.

    • Bill
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      Yes, An Englishman’s Home was a very successful contribution to “invasion” literature. Allegedly it was used by the Territorials as a recruitment aid, by advertising in the programme etc. Du Maurier was in the Army at the time. It is suggested his niece, Daphne, stole the plot of the play for “The Birds”

      • Bill
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        Have tracked it down to Punch for August 25 1909, one of three Ruthless Rhymes printed that week, and given the title “The Englishman”. Even without the same title as the play, it seems very likely in took some inspiration from it, given the year.

  2. Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Bill – good detective work!

  3. Sean
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    It could also be a reference to William Le Queux’s The Invasion of 1910 published a few years before. I quote from Chapter Five.

    On Sunday morning, September 2, I had arranged to play a round of golf with my friend Somers, of Beeleigh, before church. I met him at the Golf Hut about 8.30. We played one round, and were at the last hole but three in a second round when we both thought we heard the sound of shots fired somewhere in the town. We couldn’t make anything at all of it, and as we had so nearly finished the round, we thought we would do so before going to inquire about it. I was making my approach to the final hole when an exclamation from Somers spoilt my stroke. I felt annoyed, but as I looked around—doubtless somewhat irritably—my eyes turned in the direction in which I now saw my friend was pointing with every expression of astonishment in his countenance.
    “‘Who on earth are those fellows?’ he asked. As for me, I was too dumbfounded to reply. Galloping over the links from the direction of the town came three men in uniform—soldiers, evidently. I had often been in Germany, and recognised the squat pickelhaubes and general get-up of the rapidly approaching horsemen at a glance.

    • ralljones
      Posted November 14, 2018 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes was published in 1899. The Riddle of the Sands, 1904 (pre-Dreadnought ans Scapa Flow was still a secret). Fear of German invasion from as early as 1890, once Wilhelm II started the naval arms race.

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