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The Gentleman Soldier

[ Roud 178 ; G/D 7:1471 ; Ballad Index VWL040 ; Bodleian Roud 178 ; trad.]

A.G. Gilchrist collected The Gentleman Soldier in 1907 from Thomas Coomber, Blackham, Sussex. Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd published it in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. A.L. Lloyd recorded it in 1960 for A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Like all tracks from this LP it was reissued in 2003 on his CD England & Her Traditional Songs. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:

Kipling knew this from the army in India, and he quoted a fragment in Soldiers Three. Mr. Coomber of Blackham, Sussex, who gave the song to Miss A.G. Gilchrist in 1907, had learnt it in an army camp. The tune has a military character; it sounds as if it is founded on bugle calls, and would make a first-class regimental march. However, it is very doubtful that it was originally an army tune. Scottish farm-hands know it as Drumdelgie. In Ireland it is attached to a comic song, Cassidy Brought Me Home, while the Welsh have it as a romantic piece, Dydd Llun y Boreu. It was probably a dance-tune to start with. A “gentleman soldier” is one of a yeomanry regiment.

Martin Carthy recorded Gentleman Soldier with Dave Swarbrick in 1967 for their album Byker Hill; it was also included on their compilation album Selections. He commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Gentleman Soldier is an example of the husband's infidelity seeming unimportant. People in countries occupied by the British for centuries may well have wished that her soldiery had acted in a similar way to this guard more often; indeed stories and legends abound in which the attention of a guard is diverted by a beautiful woman with drastic consequences. The lady in this song, however, seems to have no altruistic motives; she seemed to be minding her own business. Collected in Sussex.

The Ripley Wayfarers sang The Gentleman Soldier in 1972 on their Traditional Sound Recordings album Five Wells.

Steeleye Span performed Gentleman Soldier to the tune of The British Grenadiers during their 1991 tour. A live recording was released on their CD Tonight's the Night. Another live recording from St. David's Hall, Cardiff on December 6, 1994 can be found on the video 25 Live: The Classic Twenty Fifth Anniversary Tour Concert:

John Tams and Roger Wilson sang Gentleman Soldier in 1996 on Over the Hills and Far Away: The Music of Sharpe.

Jon Boden sang Gentleman Soldier as the April 14, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Andy Turner heard The Gentleman Soldier first on Byker Hill and learned it then from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. He sang it as the August 16, 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Gentleman Soldier

It's of a gentleman soldier, as a sentry he did stand,
And he kindly saluted a fair maid by waving of his hand.
So boldly then he kissed her, and passed it as a joke,
He drilled her into the sentry box wrapped up in a soldier's cloak.

Chorus (after each verse):
For the drums do go with a rap-a-tap-tap and the fifes did loudly play,
Saying, “Fare you well, my Polly dear, I must be going away.”

Oh, there they tossed and tumbled till daylight did appear,
The soldier rose, put on his clothes, says, “Fare you well, my dear,
For the drums they are a-beating and the fifes so sweetly play.
And if it warn't for that, dear Polly, along with you I'd stay.”

“Now come, you gentleman soldier, and won't you marry me?”
“Oh no, my dearest Polly, such things can never be,
For married I am already and children I have three;
Two wives are allowed in the army but one's too many for me.”

“If anyone come a-courting you, you treat 'em to a glass.
If anyone come a-courting, you say you're a country lass.
You needn't even tell them that ever you played this joke,
That ever you went in a sentry box wrapped up in a soldier's cloak.”

It's, “Come, my gentleman soldier, why didn't you tell me so?
My parents will be angry when this they come to know.”
When long nine months was up and past, this poor girl she brought shame,
For she had a little militia boy and she couldn't tell his name.

Martin Carthy sings Gentleman Soldier

'Tis of a gentleman soldier, as a sentry he did stand,
He kindly saluted a fair young maid by waving of his hand.
So boldly then he kissed her, and passed it off as a joke,
For he drilled her into the sentry box wrapped up in a soldier's cloak.

Chorus (after each verse):
For the drums do go with a rat-a-tat-tat and the fifes do loudly play,
Saying, “Fare thee well, Polly my dear, I must be going away.”

Oh there they tossed and tumbled till daylight did appear,
The soldier rose, put on his clothes, saying, “Fare you well, my dear,
For the drums they are a-beating and the fifes do loudly play.
If it weren't for that, Polly me dear, along with you I'd stay.”

“Now come, you gentleman soldier, and won't you marry me?”
“Oh no, my dearest Polly, such things they never can be,
For married I am already and children I have three;
Two wives are allowed in the army but one's too many for me.”

“If anyone come a-courting you, you treat 'em to a glass.
If anyone come a-courting, you say you're a country lass.
You needn't even tell them that ever you played the joke,
That ever you went in a sentry box wrapped up in a soldier's cloak.”

“Oh come, my gentleman soldier, why didn't you tell me so?
My parents will be angry when this they come to know.”
When nine long months was up and past, the poor girl she brought shame,
For she had a little militia boy and she couldn't tell his name.

Steeleye Span sing Gentleman Soldier

Oh, it's of a gentleman soldier, as a sentry he did stand,
He saluted a fair maid with a waving of his hand.
So boldly then he kissed her, and passed it off as a joke,
Then he drilled her into the sentry box wrapped up in a soldier's cloak.

Chorus (after each verse):
And the drums did go rat-a-tat-tat and the fifes so loudly play,
Saying, “Fare thee well, Polly me dear, I must be going away.”

All night they tossed and tumbled, till daylight did appear.
The soldier rose, put on his clothes, said “Fare thee well me dear,
For the drums they are a-beating, the fifes still loudly play;
If it weren't for that, Polly me dear, with you I'd long to stay.”

“Oh come, me gentleman soldier, now won't you marry me?”
“Oh no, me dearest Polly, such things they never can be,
For married I am already and children I have three;
Two wives are allowed in the army, but one's too many for me.”

“Oh, if anyone come a-courting you, you treat him to a glass.
If anyone come a-courting you, you say you're a country lass.
You needn't even tell them that ever you've laid a joke.
That ever you went into a sentry box, wrapped up in a soldier's cloak.”

“Oh come, me gentleman soldier, why didn't you tell me so?
Me parents they'll be angry when this they come to know.”
When nine long months were up and past, the young girl she brought shame
She had a little militia boy and she couldn't tell his name.

Acknowledgements

Transcribed by Garry Gillard. These words are almost identical to those in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, selected and edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd, 1959: 40.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Gentleman Soldier.