F. W. Harvey’s ‘Ballad of Army Pay’

I shall soon be posting a review of F.W.Harvey’s recently rediscovered novel, A War Romance.
In the meantime, though, I can’t resist posting this poem of Harvey’s, since he’s a poet who doesn’t get reprinted enough. (He isn’t even in my favourite anthology The Winter of the World, though he should be).
Harvey’s biographer says, the poem ‘owes no small debt to Kipling’- yes, but that’s the best Kipling, the one who could give the ordinary soldier a voice, and whochanneled his hopes, his deepest feelings, and his grouses.

Ballad of Army Pay

In general, if you want a man to do a dangerous job : —
Say, swim the Channel, climb St. Paul’s, or break into and rob
The Bank of England, why, you find his wages must be higher
Than if you merely wanted him to light the kitchen fire.
But in the British Army, it’s just the other way.
And the maximum of danger means the minimum of pay.

You put some men inside a trench, and call them infantrie,
And make them face ten kinds of hell, and face it cheerfully;
And live in holes like rats, with other rats, and lice, and toads,
And in their leisure time, assist the R.E.’s with their loads.
Then, when they’ve done it all, you give ’em each a bob a day!
For the maximum of danger means the minimum of pay.

We won’t run down the A.S.C., nor yet the R.T.O.
They ration and direct us on the way we’ve got to go.
They’re very useful people, and it’s pretty plain to see
We couldn’t do without ’em, nor yet the A.P.C.
But comparing risks and wages, — I think they all will say
That the maximum of danger means the minimum of pay.

There are men who make munitions — and seventy bob a week;
They never see a lousy trench nor hear a big shell shriek;
And others sing about the war at high-class music-halls
Getting heaps and heaps of money and encores from the stalls.
They ‘ keep the home fires burning’ and bright by night and day.
While the maximum of danger means the minimum of pay.

I wonder if it’s harder to make big shells at a bench,
Than to face the screaming beggars when they’re crumping up a trench;
I wonder if it’s harder to sing in mellow tones
Of danger, than to face it — say, in a wood like Trone’s;
Is discipline skilled labour, or something children play ?
Should the maximum of danger mean the minimum of pay ?


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