The Old Man’s Song

Ian Campbell

At the turning of the century I was a lad of five
My father went to fight the Boers, he never came back alive
My mother had to bring us up no charity did she seek
She rubbed and scrubbed and scraped along on seven-and-six a week

At the age of twelve I left my school and went to get a job
With growing kids my ma could do with the extra couple of bob
I knew that longer schooling would have stood me better stead
But you can’t afford refinement when you’re struggling for your bread

When the Great War started I did not hesitate
I took the royal shilling and went to do my bit
We fought in blood and sweat and mud three years or thereabouts
Till I copped some gas in Flanders and was invalided out

When the war was over and we’d settled with the Hun
We went back to Civvy Street we thought the fighting done
We sought to earn our wages but we were out of luck
Soon we found we had to fight for the right to go to work

In ’26 the General Strike found me upon the street
By then I had a wife and kids their needs I had to meet
The brave new world was coming and the brotherhood of man
But when the strike was over we were back where we began

I struggled through the thirties out of work now and again
I saw the Blackshirts marching and the things they did in Spain
I brought me kids up decent and thought them wrong from right
But Hitler was the man who came and taught them how to fight

Me daughter was a land girl she got married to a Yank
My son he got a medal for stopping one of Rommel’s tanks
He was wounded near the end of the war and convalesced in Rome
He married and Eyetie nurse and never bothered to come home

Me daughter writes me every week a cheerful little note
About the coloured telly and the other things she’s got
She’s got a son a likely lad he’s just turned twenty-one
Now I hear he’s been called up to fight in Vietnam

Now we’re on the pension and it doesn’t go too far
Not much to show for a life that’s been like one long bloody war
When I think of all the wasted lives it makes me want to cry
I don’t know how we’ll change things but by Christ we’ll have to try