What's the Good?

Original Text: 
"Woodbine Willie," M.C., C.F. [Rev. G. A. Studdert Kennedy], Rough Rhymes of a Padre (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1919): 75-80. 1919(5) 85 Cambridge University Library
2    And I've done in quite a lot;
4    So I needn't waste a shot.
5'Twas my duty, and I done it,
7For I wish I 'adn't done it,
8    Gawd! it turns me shamed and sick.
9There's a young 'un like our Richard,
10    And I bashed 'is 'ead in two,
11And there's that ole grey 'aired geezer
12    Which I stuck 'is belly through.
13Gawd, you women, wives and mothers,
15If you knowed what I'd been doin',
16    Could yer kiss me still, my Jane?
18    What it means to scrap and fight
19Could I tell ye true and honest,
20    Make ye see this bleedin' sight.
21No I couldn't and I wouldn't,
22    It would turn your 'air all grey,
23Women suffers 'ell to bear us,
24    And we suffers 'ell to slay.
27And the old world turned to 'eaven
28    When they kissed beneath a tree.
29And each evening seemed more golden,
30    Till the day as they was wed,
31And 'is bride stood shy and blushin',
32    Like a June rose, soft and red.
33I remembers 'ow it were, lass,
34    On that silver night in May,
35When ye 'ung your 'ead and whispered
36    That ye couldn't say me nay.
37Then, when June brought in the roses
38    And you changed your maiden name,
39'Ow ye stood there, shy and blushin',
40    When the call of evening came.
41I remembers 'ow I loved ye,
43'Ow I'd liked my Sunday dinner
44    As ye nestled at my side.
45For between a thousand races
46    Lands may stretch and seas may foam,
47But it makes no bloomin' difference,
49I remember what 'e cost ye,
50    When I gave ye up for dead,
51As I 'eld your 'and and watched ye
52    With the little lad in bed.
54    And shut up 'is bloomin' eyes.
55'Cause I keeps on seein' Richard
56    When I whacks 'im and 'e cries.
57Damn the blasted war to 'ell, lass,
58    It's just bloody rotten waste,
61Yes, I larned what women suffers
63But you knowed as it were worth it
64    When 'e felt to find your breast.
65All your pain were clean forgotten
66    When you touched 'is little 'ead,
67And ye sat up proud and smilin',
68    With a living lad in bed.
69But we suffers too -- we suffers,
70    Like the damned as groans in 'ell,
71And we 'aven't got no Babies,
72    Only mud, and blood, and smell.
73'Tain't the suff'rin' as I grouse at,
74    I can stick my bit o' pain;
76    What's the good and who's to gain?
77When ye've got "a plain objective"
78    Ye can fight your fight and grin,
79But there ain't no damned objective,
80    And there ain't no prize to win.
82    In a blarsted china shop,
83Bustin' all the world to blazes,
85Trampling years of work and wonder
86    Into dust beneath our feet,
87And the one as does most damage
88    Swears that victory is sweet.
89It's a sweet as turns to bitter,
90    Like the bitterness of gall,
91And the winner knows 'e's losin'
92    If 'e stops to think at all.
93I suppose this ain't the spirit
94    Of the Patriotic man.
95Didn't ought to do no thinkin',
96    Soldiers just kill all they can.
97But we carn't 'elp thinkin' sometimes,
98    Though our business is to kill,
99War 'as turned us into butchers,
100    But we're only 'uman still.
101Gawd knows well I ain't no thinker,
102    And I never knew before,
103But I knows now why I'm fightin',
104    It's to put an end to war.
105Not to make my country richer
106    Or to keep her flag unfurled,
107Over every other nation
108    Tyrant mistress of the world.
109Not to boast of Britain's glory,
110    Bought by bloodshed in her wars,
111But that Peace may shine about her,
112    As the sea shines round her shores.
113If ole Fritz believes in fightin',
114    And obeys 'is War Lord's will,
115Well until 'e stops believin',
116    It's my job to fight and kill.
117But the Briton ain't no butcher,
119And it's only 'cause 'e 'as to,
120    That 'e plays the butcher's part.
121'Cause I 'as to -- that's the reason
122    Why I done the likes o' this,
123You're an understanding woman,
124    And you won't refuse your kiss.
125Women pity soldiers' sorrow,
126    That can bring no son to birth,
127Only death and devastation,
128    Darkness over all the earth.
129We won't 'ave no babe to cuddle,
130    Like a blessing to the breast,
131We'll just 'ave a bloody mem'ry
132    To disturb us when we rest.
133But the kids will someday bless us,
134    When they grows up British men,
135'Cause we tamed the Prussian tyrant,
136    And brought Peace to earth again.


1] The Cockney accent often drops final consonants (e.g., `f' in "of" and `g' in "scrapping") and initial `h' and `th' (e.g., "'em", "'opes", "is", "'ead"). Back to Line
3] wiv: with. Back to Line
6] The speaker stands over the still-living body of a German soldier whom he has bayoneted and waits for the British medic to arrive. Back to Line
14] sich: such. Back to Line
17] dahn: down. Back to Line
25] Fritz: nickname for a German soldier, Friedrich. Back to Line
26] gloamin': dusk. Back to Line
42] arsked: asked. Back to Line
48] Boche: German. Back to Line
53] The italicized lines appear to be the speaker's silent thoughts as he looks down at the bayonetted German soldier and strikes him. 'Struth: God's truth. Back to Line
59] "Those [men] who persist in war and glory." gas on: `go on with' (OED "go" v. 86). Back to Line
60] Oughter: Ought to. Back to Line
62] seed: saw. the test: natural childbirth. Back to Line
75] allus: always. Back to Line
81] bullocks: steers. Back to Line
84] dunno: do not know. Back to Line
118] cove: chap, fellow. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: