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Much ink and cyber-ink has been expended trying to ascertain to what war the song refers. The song was certainly in existence in the late 18th century, and so there are several candidate combats. The term “High Germany” usually refers to mountainous southern part of Germany and presumably that is the area referred to here. But in a way, the historical aspects of the ballad are not important. What is important is the cameo of the man not wanting to leave behind his pregnant girlfriend while he goes off to the army. His wanting to take her along with him is a theme repeated in other songs, with variations, such as “Nancy”, “The Banks of the Nile” and in the USA “The Cruel War is Raging”.
Curiously, transatlantic versions of the song do not exist, possibly because the new settlers could not relate to a song about going off to fight in Germany, although odd verses turn up in songs such as “Across the Blue Mountains”.
The song is exceedingly popular in the English folk revival due to an iconic recording by Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick.