Saturday, March 08, 2008

Kipling: Snarleyow

This feels like a Kipling night. We haven't had one of those for months.

The subject of "Snarleyow" is horse artillery, and the men who manned the guns.

Rudyard Kipling was born in 1865 (at the end of the American Civil War) and died in 1939 (two years before the beginning of the Second World War). He was born in India, which at the time was a subject state of the British Empire.

He wrote about military matters, primarily, and about the countries in which he traveled over most of his life. He wrote, for example, about "The Man Who Would Be King" (India), the Boer War (Africa), and other British Military Adventures which occupied his early adulthood.

Because he traveled and lived with British troops, his stories and poems faithfully reflected the plight of the common British soldier. His insight and genius were such that he is the most widely quoted and most popular author if military poetry in the world (he won the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature ... the first author in English in the history of the Prize)

In the United States Army, the motto of Infantry is "Queen of Battle";
the Artillery motto humorously said to be "Artillery Lends Dignity To What Would Otherwise Be A Sordid Affair".

But during the years of the Horse Artillery, dignity was often sacrificed to expediency: changing position to a better firing point ... and getting the hell out of the way of the invading hordes.

In these endeavors, the priority was to 'save the guns'. Moving to avoid being over-run was important: the artillery batteries were valuable because they were a force multiplier of an army, but they did not have a security element to protect him. If the artillery and the rest of the army (cavalry and, at the time, to a lesser extend the infantry) were separated, the guns would lose the support of the armed element and vice versa.

Successfully moving artillery to a better firing point would save an army if done expeditiously, and if the effort failed ... even if the artillery were only 'late' ... it could result in the loss of an army. Any thing, person or event which impeded the safe repositioning of the guns was (literally) trampled over.

The guns were a priority which could never be ignored.

"Anything it takes. Anything at all."

This priority is faithfully described and defined here.

THIS 'appened in a battle to a batt'ry of the corps
Which is first among the women an' amazin' first in war;
An' what the bloomin' battle was I don't remember now,
But Two's off-lead 'e answered to the name o' Snarleyow.
Down in the Infantry, nobody cares;
Down in the Cavalry, Colonel 'e swears;
But down in the lead with the wheel at the flog
Turns the bold Bombardier to a little whipped dog!

They was movin' into action, they was needed very sore,
To learn a little schoolin' to a native army corps,
They 'ad nipped against an uphill, they was tuckin' down the brow,
When a tricky, trundlin' roundshot give the knock to Snarleyow.

They cut 'im loose an' left 'im—'e was almost tore in two—
But he tried to follow after as a well-trained 'orse should do;
'E went an' fouled the limber, an' the Driver's Brother squeals:
“Pull up, pull up for Snarleyow—'is head's between 'is 'eels!”

The Driver 'umped 'is shoulder, for the wheels was goin' round,
An' there ain't no “Stop, conductor!” when a batt'ry's changin' ground;
Sez 'e: “I broke the beggar in, an' very sad I feels,
But I couldn't pull up, not for you—your 'ead between your 'eels!”

'E 'adn't 'ardly spoke the word, before a droppin' shell
A little right the batt'ry an' between the sections fell;
An' when the smoke 'ad cleared away, before the limber wheels,
There lay the Driver's Brother with 'is 'ead between 'is 'eels.

Then sez the Driver's Brother, an' 'is words was very plain,
“For Gawd's own sake get over me, an' put me out o' pain.”
They saw 'is wounds was mortial, an' they judged that it was best,
So they took an' drove the limber straight across 'is back an' chest.

The Driver 'e give nothin' 'cept a little coughin' grunt,
But 'e swung 'is 'orses 'andsome when it came to “Action Front!”
An' if one wheel was juicy, you may lay your Monday head
'Twas juicier for the niggers when the case begun to spread.

The moril of this story, it is plainly to be seen:
You 'avn't got no families when servin' of the Queen—
You 'avn't got no brothers, fathers, sisters, wives, or sons—
If you want to win your battles take an' work your bloomin' guns!
Down in the Infantry, nobody cares;
Down in the Cavalry, Colonel 'e swears;
But down in the lead with the wheel at the flog
Turns the bold Bombardier to a little whipped dog!

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