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British Soldier's Grave, A

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Performer: Goode, Archer
Place Collected: Charlton Kings
Date collected: 1974
Collector: Davies, Gwilym
Roud Number: 1223

The kind of facile, maudlin account that was popular for seventy-five years before the Great War, this particular song goes to a tune much like Will Hays’s “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” (1871). The dying-soldier genre effectively got its start in Caroline Norton’s “Bingen on the Rhine” (1847), with a “soldier of the Legion [who] lay dying in Algiers.” “A British Soldier’s Grave” appeared on London broadsides that the UCLA library dates to between 1863 and 1885. Whatever emotional power the tradition may have had originally, by the 1890s it was becoming a relic that Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads was beginning to undermine (contrast the present song with Kipling’s “Young British Soldier”). Yet the heart-tugging style of war balladry enjoyed an unexpected minor resurgence in 1944 with the popularity of “Suvla Bay.”

Archer learnt this song from his family. Curiously, it is seldom reported in oral tradition.

Notes by Jon Lighter