BBWB 10: The Colours

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 10

The Colours


At Kilmichael a farewell dance
Aye! something to remember
To shy away the dames of France
Til Christmas, in December

“When all of this will over be!”
So says the common discourse
Pete Currie struck a melody
To toast the whiskey sauce

For he could bonnie tunes extract
From piping bags of air
That like a sword through silence hack’d
A highland debonair

From dusk til dawn they jigg’d & reel’d
Piano, fiddle, drums
Couples canoodling in a field
When soft the songbird comes

As golden beams uplit Glencloy
The boat would soon be leaving
What tendernesses, girl & boy,
When kisses swirl with needing

George Goldthorpe stood with liquid eyes
His Sarah deep in dreaming
Too painful twas to say goodbyes
So stole away tears streaming

But other lassies came to wave
Away their ain sweethearts
More eyes move moist, the anchors hoist
The ‘Glen Sannox’ departs.

The siren sounds a long farewell
The decks did dwindle small
None watching back could e’er fortell
If they’d come back at all

With bonhomie & clear concord
The Brodick boys reach Glasga’
Go marchin’ up the Cathcart Road
One gallant gang together

Sings, “why the deuce should I repine
& be a danger-dodger,
I’m twenty three and five feet nine,
I’ll go and be a sodger!”

They reach the office where recruits
Did heckle at street-loungers
“Oi, cowards in yer civvie suits,
Yer just a bunch of scroungers!”

So many Arran lads were there
Like Billy King from Corrie,
Lamlash has sent a handsome pair –
Hamilton, Montgomorie –

Lochranza’s Orr, the Pirnmill Craigs
Stewart from Slidderie –
Who’d serv’d before at Douglas Haig’s
State office in New Delhi –

From Shiskine there came Bannatyne,
& from Kildonan Cumming,
As all together in a line
They stood the ‘Boat Song’ humming

Square-shoulder’d soldier weighs men up
Oer smart steps thirty inches
Some goblet & some dixie cup
Some swans, some pixie finches

He’d won the title of sergeant
In battles with the Boers
Whose scarr’d cheeks tinted with argent
Like horsey hackamores

“Lissen ‘ere, I’ve never saw
Such raw, roun’-shouldered rookies,
Gawd ‘elp ‘Is Majesty if you’re
To save ‘is oven cookies”

‘Owever, we’re ‘ere for the cause
We’ll work wi’ wot we got
So ‘One-one-two!’ Platoon! Form Fours!”
Men roll’d in rows of robot

The sarge commands with confidence
He’s always been obey’d,
With pockets full of sixpence
From the King; from men array’d

The Brodick boys all pass the trial
Sent up to Perth for training
First steps amang the rank & file
That hankers for campaigning

The Ninth Black Watch becomes their life
With brothers from all Scotland
Angus & Lanark, Stirling, Fife
Answers the grand demand

To fight for country & for king –
Much better than the office,
The auld back break of harvesting,
Or clawing dirty coal face;

When, looking good in kilted pants
& tilting the glengarry
If out on leave, in street or dance,
Might meet a lass to marry

From plough & pity, dock & mill
Men happy made departure
To have a slap at Kaiser Bill
Each starts back-arching marcher

Steadily, & blade-by-blade,
They goosestep to & forth;
Broomsticks for rifles, on parade
The cradle of the north

That incubates the tartan hound
That into battle wades
With one almighty biting bound
Across the barricades

“Gie’s but the weapons, we’ve the will
Ayont the main, to prove once more
Auld Scotland counts for something still
All in a saugh o’ war…”

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