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The Deserter from Kent

[ Roud 2510 ; Ballad Index VWL032 ; VWML RoudFS/S142446 ; Mudcat 17305 ; trad.]

Mr Kemp of Elstead, Surrey, sang The Deserter from Kent to Walter Ford in 1907. This version was printed in 1959 in Vaughan Williams’ and Lloyd’s The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Another version, collected from Nelson Ridley by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, was printed in 1976 in their book Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland.

Andy Turner learned The Deserter from Kent from the The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. He sang it on his 1990 cassette Love, Death and the Cossack, and as the 1 September 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.


Mr Kemp sings The Deserter from Kent

Come all you young fellows, give an ear to my song;
I will tell you of a story that will not take you long,
That it might be a warning to young and to old,
Not to sell one another for the sake of their gold.

It happened about a twelvemonth ago,
There was two young fellows which most of us know,
Oh, one was a deserter as plain did appear,
Came From the west of Kent up to harvesting here.

Oh, what a deceiver he met with that year!
Both sat in an alehouse a-drinking of beer.
And all in good friendship he told what he knew,
Not thinking he’d been drinking all day with the foe.

Then after a while this man went away.
He met with two soldiers that very same day.
They were after a deserter, and to him did say,
Then he swore he’d been drinking with one all the day.

Then says the soldier: “It’ll answer our plan -
One guinea we’ll give you; come show us the man.”
Then ’twas “Come along with me,” the fellow did say,
And down to the alehouse went William straightway.

Then in went the soldiers without dread or fear.
“What cheer?” says the fellow, then “Give them some beer.
What regiment are you?” “The Ninth,” they did say.
“What regiment are you? Come tell us, we pray.”

“No regiment at all,” so bold and so gay -
“Then we’ll find one for you,” the soldiers did say.
They took him and kept him in hold all that night,
Until the next morning when it was day light.

Then to Maidstone Gaol they took him straightway,
Wrote down to his regiment: “Come fetch him away.”
They marched him through town and they marched him through city,
With his hands tied behind him, and the ladies cried pity.

And now to conclude, I will tell you my hope.
May all such informers be faced with the rope.
They would sell one another for the sake of their gain,
And no doubt they will get just reward for their pain.