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Brave Wolfe / Brave General Wolfe / Bold General Wolfe

[ Roud 961 , 624 ; Laws A1 ; Ballad Index LA01 ; trad.]

The Watersons sang Brave Wolfe in 1966 on their second album, The Watersons. Like all tracks but one from this album, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. It was also published on the Topic Sampler No. 6, A Collection of Ballads & Broadsides and on the French compilation Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais. A live recording from the Folk Union One 25th Anniversary, Hull in 1986 was included in 2004 as Brave General Wolfe on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Major-General James Wolfe died romantically young in sufficiently striking circumstances to ensure him immortality as a folk hero. He was killed in his thirty-second year at the very moment of victory during the great battle of the Heights of Abraham against the French in Canada, which ultimately secured Canada for Britain.

In America, the backwoods bards paid tribute to the sweetheart he left grieving for him in the haunting ballad where she is made to say, “Strange news is come to town, strange news is carried, Some say my love is dead…” in an echo of the English love-song about the faithless blacksmith. But, less sentimental, English ballad makers concentrated their attention on Wolfe as a military hero, on his warm human regard for the men who served under him and on his patriotic fervour.

Legends clustered about his death. It is said that, after he was wounded for the third time on that bloody day of September 13, 1759, he said to the two grenadiers whom at last he allowed to assist him to the rear. “Don't grieve for me. I shall be happy in a few minutes.” When news of the victory reached him, he said “Now I am contented,” and then he died, like a noble Roman.

Hammond collected a grand version of this widely known English song in Dorset and on this the Watersons have based a four voice interpretation.

Gordon McIntyre sang Brave Wolfe on the 1968 album Soldiers and Sailors (Folksingers of Australia Volume 2). He noted:

After weeks of futile attempts to take Quebec by first bombarding the town, then by trying to force the French, led by Montcalm, from their position near the town, Wolfe and about 4000 men—all that was left from his original 8000 troops—landed at night about two miles upstream. They climbed the Heights of Abraham and next morning drew up in battle array behind the French. Montcalm sent his army to “smash the English”. However, the English held their fire until their foes were within forty yards range, completely routing the French. Within minutes the battle was over. Wolfe, who was mortally wounded in the battle, was reported as saying as he breathed his last, “I shall die happy”. Montcalm, who was also killed, is not reported as saying anything!

Bold General Wolfe is printed in The Copper Family Song Book, from Bob Copper's grandfather ‘Brasser’ Copper. Bob Copper sang it on his 1977 Topic CD Sweet Rose in June.

Jon Boden sang Brave Wolfe as the April 4, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Martin Carthy recorded Bold General Wolfe with different but related verses in 2004 for his album Waiting for Angels, released on 13 September 2004 on the 245th anniversary of Wolfe's death. He wrote in the record's sleeve notes:

Bold General Wolfe, as printed in the [Copper Family] song book, differs from the version as sung on record by Jim Copper in 1953, and one of the privileges of this job is that of being able to listen to both and make a choice. And I very much like what Jim does with the song. So I've gone there. Both Wolfe and the French General Montcalm were killed in the battle. The other General Wolfe song—sometimes distinguished by it being called Brave Wolfe—has the two of them walking together before the battle starts and “like brothers talking.”

A completely different version of the story of Brave Wolfe—the one mentioned at the end of the above quote—was sung by Martin Carthy in 1966 on his Second Album. He commented in that album's notes:

The death of General Wolfe on the plains of Abraham during the taking of Quebec provided the ballad-mongers with a great subject which they seized gladly. This text contains the curious idea that Wolfe and the French general Montcalm walked together chatting like brothers before retiring their own lines to let battle commence. This song (not to be confused with Bold General Wolfe) has not been found in England, but in America, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, from where this version comes, it is widespread. Learned more or less from Cyril Tawney.

This video shows Maddy Prior and her daughter Rose Kemp singing Bold General Wolfe (with lyrics quite similar to the Watersons' version) at Cecil Sharp House, London, on October 23, 2008:

Andy Turner learned Bold General Wolfe from the Watersons's original recording too. He sang it as the June 10, 2018 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

Bob Copper sings Bold General Wolfe Martin Carthy sings Bold General Wolfe

Bold General Wolfe to his men did say,
“Come lads and follow without delay,
To yonder mountain that is so high,
Don't be down-hearted, don't be down-hearted,
For we'll gain the victory.”

Bold General Wolfe to his men did say,
“Come lads and follow without delay
To yonder mountain that is so high,
Don't be downhearted
For we'll gain the victory.”

There stand the French on the summit high,
While we poor souls in the valley lie.
We saw them fall like bots in the sun,
Through smoke and fire, through smoke and fire,
All from our British guns.

We saw the French on the summit high
While we poor souls in the valley lie.
We watched them drop like motes in the sun
Through smoke and fire, through smoke and fire,
All from our British guns.

The first broadside that the French did give us
Did wound our General in the left breast,
Yonder he lie for he cannot stand,
“Yet fight on boldly, yet fight on boldly
While I live I'll have command.”

And the first broadside that the French did give us
It wound our general in his right breast.
Yonder he lie for he cannot stand,
“Yet fight on boldly, yet fight on boldly,
While I'll live I'll have command.”

“Here is my treasure lies all in gold,
Take it and part it for my blood runs cold,
Take it and part it,” brave Wolfe did say,
“Ye lads of honour, ye lads of honour,
Since you have gained the day.”

“Here is my treasure, lies all in gold,
Take it and part it for my life's quite cold.
Take it and part it,” brave Wolfe did say,
“You lads of honour, you lads of honour,
Since we did win the day.”

“When to old England you do return
Tell all my friends I am dead and gone,
And bid my mother so kind and dear
No tears to shed for me, no tears to shed for me,
For our lads did gain the day.”

“And when to England you do return,
Tell all my friends I am dead and gone,
And bid my tender old mother dear
No tears to shed for me, no tears to shed for me,
Since we did win the day.”

The Watersons sing Brave Wolfe

On Monday morning as we set sail
The wind did blow a pleasant gale,
To fight the French, it was our intent
Through smoke and fire, through smoke and fire
And it was a dark and a gloomy night.

The French were landed on mountains high,
While we poor souls in the valley lie,
“Cheer up, me lads,” General Wolfe did say,
“Brave lads of honour, brave lads of honour,
Old England, she shall win the day.”

The very first broadside we gave to them
We wounded a hundred and fifty men,
“Well done, me lads,” General Wolfe did say,
“Brave lads of honour, brave lads of honour,
Old England, she shall win the day.”

But the very first broadside they gave to us
They've wounded our general in his right breast,
And from his breast precious blood did flow,
Like any fountain, like any fountain
And all his men were filled with woe.

“Here's a hundred guineas, all in bright gold,
Take it, part it, for my love's quite cold,
And use your men as you did before,
Your soldiers go on, your soldiers go on,
And they will fight forevermore.”

“And when to England you do return,
Tell all my friends that I'm dead and gone,
And tell my tender old mother dear
That I am dead, oh, that I am dead, oh,
And never shall see her no more.”

Martin Carthy sings Brave Wolfe on his Second Album

Come all ye young men all let this delight you
Come all ye young men all let nothing fright you
Never let your courage fail when you're brought to trial
Nor let your fancy move at the first denial

This brave undaunted youth have crossed the ocean
To free America was his intention
He landed at Quebec with all his party
The city to attack being brave and hearty

Bold Wolfe drew up his men in a line so pretty
On the Plains of Abraham before the city
The French came marching down in hopes to meet them
With a double number round resolved to beat him

Montcalm and this brave youth together walked
Between two armies they like brothers talked
Till each one to his post then did retire
Twas then those numerous hosts commenced their fire

The drums did loudly beat and the colours flying
The purple dawn did stream and men lay dying
And shot from off his horse fell that brave hero
We'll long lament his loss in tears of sorrow

He lifted up his head when the guns did rattle
And to his army said, How goes the battle?
Quebec is all our own none can prevent it
Oh then, replies bold Wolfe, I die contented

Acknowledgements

The Watersons' Brave General Wolfe was found at the Digital Tradition, at the Mudcat Café. Martin Carthy's Bold General Wolfe was transcribed by Reinhard Zierke with help from Wolfgang Hell. Martin Carthy's Brave Wolfe was transcribed by Garry Gillard.