The Men That Fought At Minden

 

The twenty-third in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here and here.  In his poems Kipling was fond of the theme of education.  In several poems he tied in education with another great theme of his poetry, the British Army, Kipling being fascinated by the rough and ready process by which soldiers learned how to be soldiers.

One feature of the British Army that has helped make it such a formidable force over the centuries is the pride in regimental history taken by officers and men.  In the poem The Men That Fought at Minden a sergeant, or perhaps a corporal, is using the battle of Minden as an example to tell new recruits what to expect as they learn how to be soldiers.

On August 1, 1759 an Anglo-German army won a striking victory over a larger French army at the battle of Minden in Germany.  The victory was one of the numerous victories won by the British in 1759, the Annus Mirabilis, which included the taking of Quebec.  The following British regiments fought at Minden and are known as Minden regiments:   12th of Foot, 20th Foot, 23rd of Foot, 25th of Foot, 37th of Foot and  51st Foot.  Minden Day is still observed on August 1, when the men of these regiments wear roses in their caps.  Lord George Sackville was cashiered from the British Army due to cowardice that day.  As Lord George Germain he would serve as George III’s Secretary of State during the American Revolution, contributing greatly to the British loss in that War.  The Marquis de Lafayette’s father died at the battle, and sparked in Lafayette a strong desire for revenge on the British that he brought to fruition in the aid that he brought to the American cause in the Revolution.

Kipling published this poem in 1896 as part of his second series of Barrack Room Ballads, poems on the British Army as seen through the eyes of common soldiers.

The noncom in the poem is remarkably ignorant of the actual battle of Minden, but he is no doubt completely accurate in his description of what the recruits can expect as they learn to be soldiers.  He is telling them not to be disheartened by their experiences, and that all soldiers of the regiment start out the same way.  They are part of the chain that stretches back through the history of the regiment, and for most of the soldiers that knowledge they ultimately will take pride in, although probably not as much comfort as they take in the beer mentioned at the end of the poem!  Here is the text of The Men That Fought at Minden:
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The men that fought at Minden, they was rookies in their time –

So was them that fought at Waterloo!

All the ‘ole command, yuss, from Minden to Maiwand,

They was once dam’ sweeps like you!

Then do not be discouraged, ‘Eaven is your ‘elper,   We’ll learn you not to forget;

An’ you mustn’t swear an’ curse, or you’ll only catch it worse,

For we’ll make you soldiers yet!

The men that fought at Minden, they ‘ad stocks beneath their chins,

Six inch ‘igh an’ more;

But fatigue it was their pride, and they would not be denied

To clean the cook-‘ouse floor.

The men that fought at Minden, they had anarchistic bombs

Served to ‘em by name of ‘and-grenades;

But they got it in the eye (same as you will by-an’-by)

When they clubbed their field-parades.

The men that fought at Minden, they ‘ad buttons up an’ down,

Two-an’-twenty dozen of ‘em told;

But they didn’t grouse an’ shirk at an hour’s extry work,   They kept ‘em bright as gold.

The men that fought at Minden, they was armed with musketoons,   Also, they was drilled by ‘alberdiers;

I don’t know what they were, but the sergeants took good care

They washed be’ind their ears.

The men that fought at Minden, they ‘ad ever cash in ‘and

Which they did not bank nor save,

But spent it gay an’ free on their betters – such as me –

For the good advice I gave.

The men that fought at Minden, they was civil – yuss, they was –

Never didn’t talk o’ rights an’ wrongs,

But they got it with the toe (same as you will get it – so!) –

For interrupting songs.

The men that fought at Minden, they was several other things

Which I don’t remember clear;

But that’s the reason why, now the six-year men are dry,

The rooks will stand the beer!

Then do not be discouraged, ‘Eaven is your ‘elper,

We’ll learn you not to forget;

An’ you mustn’t swear an’ curse, or you’ll only catch it worse,

For we’ll make you soldiers yet!

Soldiers yet, if you’ve got it in you –

All for the sake of the Core;

Soldiers yet, if we ‘ave to skin you –

Run an’ get the beer, Johnny Raw – Johnny Raw!

Ho! run an’ get the beer, Johnny Raw!

2 Responses to The Men That Fought At Minden

  • No fewer than ten units of the present-day British Army claim descent from those that fought at Minden, and are presented with roses on Minden Day, 1 August. They are based in Scotland and Wales as well as England, and include a battery of the Royal Artillery which during the Korean War had roses flown out from Japan which they wore in action. A painting commemorating this hangs in the RA Mess at Larkhill.

    The Seven Years War is significant. It was the first world war and established Britain as a world Power. The Royal Navy reached a peak of efficiency – it was the most complex organization in the world and is admirably described by Dr NAM Rodger in his book ‘The Wooden World – an anatomy of the Georgian Navy’, a groundbreaking work which effectively demolishes the ‘rum, sodomy and the lash’ myth.

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