> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Ford o' Kabul River

Ford o' Kabul River

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy]

On 31 March 1879, disaster befell a squadron of 10th Hussars attempting to cross the Kabul River. Swept away by rapids, weighted down by their cloaks and equipment, 46 men were drowned or kicked to death by frantic horses. Though no major loss in the context of the bloody second Afghan War, the tragedy (no doubt because it was an accident, not a battle) caused deep shock at home and evidently made its mark on the 13 year old Kipling. His poem Ford o' Kabul River was first published in the National Observer on 22 November 1890, then in 1982 in his book Barrack Room Ballads and Other Verses, and later in other collections (see The Kipling Society).

Peter Bellamy sang Ford o' Kabul River on his fourth album of songs set to Kipling's poems, Keep on Kipling, accompanied by Chris Birch on violin. This album was reissued in 2001 as part of his Fellside CD Mr Bellamy, Mr Kipling & the Tradition.

He also recorded Ford o' Kabul River in 1990 for his privately issued cassette Soldiers Three. It was released to coincide with the New Victoria Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme's production of Soldiers Three, scripted by Tony Perrin. The cassette was reissued in 2012 as part of his Fellside CD Barrack-Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. Bellamy tersely noted:

Ford o' Kabul River is based on an incident in 1879 when forty-six men of the 10th Hussars were drowned in attempting to cross the river above Jalalabad.

Dave Webber sang Ford o' Kabul River in 1995 on the CD of Kipling ballads set to traditional tunes by Bellamy, The Widow's Uniform. He and Anni Fentiman also sang it in 2006 on their CD Unity where he noted slightly inaccurate:

This is another brilliant Peter Bellamy setting of a Kipling poem. This refers to an incident in the mid 19th century when hundreds of soldiers drowned attempting to cross the Kabul River in Afghanistan when Kipling was no more than a boy. This event stuck in Kipling's memory and later he wrote this piece.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Ford o' Kabul River in 1997 on their Golden Hind album of songs of Rudyard Kipling, Naulakha Redux. They noted:

Not surprisingly, the death of a mate, a comrade in arms, is the subject of many of Kipling's soldier songs. The traditional tune used by Kipling is obvious because it draws directly on the unique phraseology and text repetition of “tramp. tramp, tramp, the boys are marching”. Our friend, Peter Bellamy, felt that it did not sustain the intense, restrained anger of the text. We ended up agreeing with him. [source: The Barrack-Room Ballads]

Lyrics

Ford o' Kabul River

Kabul town's by Kabul river—
Blow the trumpet, draw the sword—
There I lef' my mate for ever,
Wet an' drippin' by the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark !
There's the river up and brimmin', an' there's 'arf a squadron swimmin'
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town's a blasted place—
Blow the trumpet, draw the sword—
'Strewth I sha'n't forget 'is face
Wet an' drippin' by the ford !
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark !
Keep the crossing-stakes beside you, an' they will surely guide you
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town is sun and dust—
Blow the trumpet, draw the sword—
I'd ha' sooner drownded fust
'Stead of 'im beside the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark !
You can 'ear the 'orses threshin', you can 'ear the men a-splashin',
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Kabul town was ours to take—
Blow the trumpet, draw the sword—
I'd ha' left it for 'is sake—
'Im that left me by the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark !
It's none so bloomin' dry there; ain't you never comin' nigh there,
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark?

Kabul town'll go to hell—
Blow the trumpet, draw the sword—
'Fore I see him 'live an' well—
'Im the best beside the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark !
Gawd 'elp 'em if they blunder, for their boots'll pull 'em under,
By the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Turn your 'orse from Kabul town—
Blow the trumpet, draw the sword—
'Im an' 'arf my troop is down,
Down an' drownded by the ford.
Ford ford, ford o' Kabul river,
Ford o' Kabul river in the dark !
There's the river low an' fallin', but it ain't no use o' callin'
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.