This song has appeared under various titles, such as The Valiant Soldier or Polly on the Shore. It is said to date from a mid-18th century song The Irish Boy’s Garland. The Sussex singer George “Pop” Maynard had a version which has become well-known in the folk revival. Our Gloucestershire version only tells part of the story. A fuller text from Sussex has:
Come all you wild young men And a warning take by me, Never to lead your single life astray And into no bad company.
As I myself have a-done, It being in the merry month of May, When I was pressed by a sea-captain On board a man-o-war I was sent.
Now we sailed on the ocean so wide And our bonny, bonny flag we let fly. Let every man stand true to his guns For the Lord knows who must die.
And our captain was wounded full sore And so were the rest of his men. Our main mast rigging was scattered on the deck So that we were obliged to give in.
And the decks were all spattered with blood And so loudly the cannons did roar; And thousands of times have I wished myself at home And all along with my Polly on the shore.
She’s a tall and a slender girl, She’s a dark and a-roving eye, But here am I lie a-bleeding on the deck And for her sweet sake I shall die.
So farewell to me parents and me friends, Farethewell, my dear Polly too. I never should have crossed this salt sea so wide If I had have been ruled by her.