> Folk > Songs > The Wars of Germany
The Wars of Germany / High Germany
; Ballad Index
; DT WARGRMNY
; Mudcat 74750
; William Motherwell (1797-1835)]
Ewan MacColl: Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads
There are three songs known as High Germany. The best known one is also called Higher Germanie (Roud 904) as sung by e.g. Shirley Collins. The second is also called The Two Lovers or True Lovers (Roud 1445) as sung by Tony Rose on his album Under the Greenwood Tree. The third is this version (Roud 5608).
Ewan MacColl sang The Wars of Germany in 1972 on his Folkways album Popular Scottish Songs. He noted:
Ever since the Scots nation was disinherited by the Act of Union, its sons have been killing and getting themselves killed in the service of foreign powers. The Scots people, however, have never ceased to look upon war as a wasteful and tragic business. The great number of Scotland’s war songs (excepting the Jacobite songs and ballads) are laments, like The Flowers of the Forest, Jamie Foyers, and The Wars of Germany. The words of this particular song are the work of William Motherwell, a Glasgow shoemaker who plied his craft at the beginning of the 19th century. I learned the song from Margaret Logan of Corsham, Wiltshire.
Jean Redpath sang Wars o’ High Germanie in 1973 on her Folk-Legacy album Frae My Ain Countrie. She noted:
This one is for Ella (Ward) McEvoy, from whom I learned it—and many others. I can still visualise her flat in Edinburgh—the crowded sitting-room of an evening, the tarantula under glass on the sideboard, and always the singing. Many’s a 4:00 A.M. I spent there with Ella, her family and her friends. Hamish encouraged everyone to “Gie us a sang” and the constant threat of a visit from the bobbies when the hour got too late and the volume too high. I was introduced to many songs at those ceilidhs that have been with me ever since.
William Motherwell is credited with having written the text of this very beautiful lament.
The Tannahill Weavers sang The Wars o’ Germany in 1996 on their Green Linnet album Leaving St. Kilda. They noted:
The second half of the nineteenth century saw Scottish involvement in the Franco-Prussian war. Many Scottish regiments, by this time part of a British army, left for the European mainland from the port of Leith, now a district of Edinburgh.
William Motherwell wrote the words for this melody capturing, we feel, the emotion of the situation perfectly. A situation that has. sadly, been repeated all too often since he wrote them.
Bram Taylor sang this version of High Germany in 1997 on his Fellside album Pick of the Grinner. He commented in his liner notes:
Tom McConville suggested I should sing this beautiful variant to the more commonly known (“Oh Polly love, oh Polly love…”) version of the song.The latter having, with respect, “been done to death” over the years, made the prospect of learning and recording this song a refreshing opportunity. Tom received this song from Chris Andretti the well known singer and busker, impeccable Englishman and Lawrence of Arabia expert, now living in Ireland.
Eileen Penman sang High Germany in 2002 on Stairheid Gossip’s Greentrax album Stirrin’ It Up. They noted:
Eileen first heard this song sung by Brian Miller many years ago at the Crown Folk Club in Edinburgh and it touched a raw nerve. At the time we recorded this, a new generation of soldiers was getting ready to head out to Afghanistan. The verses of this were written by William Motherwell, of Renfrewshire.
Wendy Weatherby sang The Wars o’ Germanie in 2010 on her Fellside album A Shirt of Silk or Snow. This track was also included in 2006 on Fellside’s 40th anniversary anthology, The Journey Continues. She noted:
Written by William Motherwell (1797-1835), this is one of my favourite songs, not only for its beautiful tune but because it includes the word ‘dreich’ (miserable, a staple piece of vocabulary for any Scot!) and rhymes ‘Leith’ with ‘teeth’!
Alistair Ogilvy sang Wars o’ Germanie in 2012 on his Greentrax album Leaves Sae Green. He noted:
A parting song by Glasgow poet William Motherwell. I first heard this sung by Barbara Dymock.
Karina Knight sang High Germany (The Wars of Germany) on her 2020 album of songs learned from her parents, From the Knee.
Jean Redpath sings Wars o’ High Germanie
Oh, wae be tae the orders
that mairched my love awa’,
And wae be tae the cruel cause that gars my tears doon fa’.
Wae be tae the bloody wars in high Germanie,
For they hae ta’en my love and left a broken heart tae me.
The drums beat in the mornin’
afore the screich o’ day,
And the wee, wee fifes played loud and shrill while yet the morn was grey.
The bonny flags were a’ unfurled, a gallant sight tae see,
But wae’s me for my sodger lad that’s mairched tae Germanie.
Oh, lang, lang is the traivellin’
tae the bonny pier o’ Leith,
And dreich it is tae gang there wi’ the snaw-drift in the teeth;
And, oh, the cauld wind froze the tear that gaithered in my e’e
When I gaed there tae see my lov embark for Germanie.
I lookit ower the braid blue sea
sae lang as could be seen
A wee bit sail upon the ship my sodger lad was in.
But, oh, the wind blew sair and snell, and the ship sailed speedily;
And the waves and cruel wars hae twined my winsome love frae me.
Bram Taylor sings High Germany
Woe be to the orders that took my love awa’,
And woe be to the cruel cause that makes my tears doon fall;
And woe be to the bloody wars of High Germany
For they have taken my love and left a broken heart to me.
The drums beat in the morning before the break of day
And the wee, wee fifes led loud and clear while yet the morn was gray;
And, any, the bonnie flag unfurled, a gallant sight to see,
And woe to me for my soldier lad was marched to Germany.
Long, long is the travelling to the bonnie pier o’ Leith,
And bleak it was to gang there with the snowdrift in your teeth!
And, aye, the wind blew sharp and strong and the tears froze in my e’e,
When I gaed there to see my love embark for Germany.
I gazed o’er the cruel, cruel sea as long as could be seen,
The wee small sail upon the ship my own true love was in,
And, aye, the wind blew sharp and strong and the ship sailed speedily,
And waves and cruel wars have twined my bonny boy from me.
Eilen Penman sings High Germany
O wae be tae the orders that mairched my love awa
And wae be tae the cruel cause that gars my tears doon fa
And wae be tae the bluidy wars in High Germany
For they hae ta’en my love and left a broken heart tae me
The drums beat in the morning afore the break o’ day
And the wee wee fifes played loud and shrill while yet the morn was grey
The bonny flags were a’ unfurled, a gallant secht tae see
But wae’s me for my sodger lad that’s mairched tae Germany
O lang lang is the traivellin’ tae the bonny pier o’ Leith
And dreich it is to gang there wi’ the snawdrift in the teeth
And o the cauld wind froze the tear that gaithered in my e’e
When I gaed there tae see my love embark for Germany
I looked ower the braid blue sea as far as could be seen
And a wee bit sail upon the ship my sodger lad was in
And o the wind blew sair and snell, the ship sailed speedily
O the waves and cruel wars hae twined my winsome lad frae me