Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

The Red Retreat


Tramp, tramp, the grim road, the road from Mons to Wipers
(I've 'ammered out this ditty with me bruised and bleedin' feet);
Tramp, tramp, the dim road -- we didn't 'ave no pipers,
And bellies that was 'oller was the drums we 'ad to beat.
Tramp, tramp, the bad road, the bits o' kiddies cryin' there,
The fell birds a-flyin' there, the 'ouses all aflame;
Tramp, tramp, the sad road, the pals I left a-lyin' there,
Red there, and dead there. . . . Oh blimy, it's a shame!

A-singin' "'Oo's Yer Lady Friend?" we started out from 'Arver,
A-singin' till our froats was dry -- we didn't care a 'ang;
The Frenchies 'ow they lined the way, and slung us their palaver,
And all we knowed to arnser was the one word "vang";
They gave us booze and caporal, and cheered for us like crazy,
And all the pretty gels was out to kiss us as we passed;
And 'ow they all went dotty when we 'owled the Marcelaisey!
Oh, Gawd! Them was the 'appy days, the days too good to last.

We started out for God Knows Where, we started out a-roarin';
We 'ollered: "'Ere We Are Again", and 'struth! but we was dry.
The dust was gummin' up our ears, and 'ow the sweat was pourin';
The road was long, the sun was like a brazier in the sky.
We wondered where the 'Uns was -- we wasn't long a-wonderin',
For down a scruff of 'ill-side they rushes like a flood;
Then oh! 'twas music 'eavenly, our batteries a-thunderin',
And arms and legs went soarin' in the fountain of their blood.

For on they came like bee-swarms, a-hochin' and a-singin';
We pumped the bullets into 'em, we couldn't miss a shot.
But though we mowed 'em down like grass, like grass was they a-springin',
And all our 'ands was blistered, for our rifles was so 'ot.
We roared with battle-fury, and we lammed the stuffin' out of 'em,
And then we fixed our bay'nets and we spitted 'em like meat.
You should 'ave 'eard the beggars squeal; you should 'ave seen the rout of 'em,
And 'ow we cussed and wondered when the word came: Retreat!

Retreat! That was the 'ell of it. It fair upset our 'abits,
A-runnin' from them blighters over 'alf the roads of France;
A-scurryin' before 'em like a lot of blurry rabbits,
And knowin' we could smash 'em if we just 'ad 'alf a chance.
Retreat! That was the bitter bit, a-limpin' and a-blunderin';
All day and night a-hoofin' it and sleepin' on our feet;
A-fightin' rear guard actions for a bit o' rest, and wonderin'
If sugar beets or mangels was the 'olesomest to eat.

Ho yus, there isn't many left that started out so cheerily;
There was no bands a-playin' and we 'ad no autmobeels.
Our tummies they was 'oller, and our 'eads was 'angin' wearily,
And if we stopped to light a fag the 'Uns was on our 'eels.
That rotten road! I can't forget the kids and mothers flyin' there,
The bits of barns a-blazin' and the 'orrid sights I sor;
The stiffs that lined the wayside, me own pals a-lyin' there,
Their faces covered over wiv a little 'eap of stror.

Tramp, tramp, the red road, the wicked bullets 'ummin'
(I've panted out this ditty with me 'ot 'ard breath.)
Tramp, tramp, the dread road, the Boches all a-comin',
The lootin' and the shootin' and the shrieks o' death.
Tramp, tramp, the fell road, the mad 'orde pursuin' there,
And 'ow we 'urled it back again, them grim, grey waves;
Tramp, tramp, the 'ell road, the 'orror and the ruin there,
The graves of me mateys there, the grim, sour graves.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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