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Composer: Malcolm Whyman
I am grateful to the Cheshire band Nelson Peach for introducing me to this song, one of many composed about ‘Pals’ brigades formed in various English cities during the First World War. I have a penchant for grass-roots folk-heritage songs that tell a simple tale without frills and “the outside privvy’s stench” is certainly grass-roots. PALS battalions were recruited in many northern towns in the first world war — Barnsley, Accrington, Manchester to name a few — the idea being that men could serve alongside their friends. Someone in the War Office realised that enticing young English blokes to volunteer to be slaughtered was a breeze if you got their mates to join the same unit. It creates a bond whereby everyone was fighting for their town and each other. For those young blokes and their families who were long-term unemployed and on the breadline, there were more pragmatic reasons for signing up than simply “for King & country”. This song tells it as it was.

Lyrics

Now the Nottingham Lads have sailed away, bound for a foreign shore
And they said farewell to the poor relief, and the dust of the factory floor
And they said farewell to the terraced row and the outside privy’s stench
And they’ve taken a chance on a trip to France and the mud of a German trench.

And you hear them tell that war is hell and the life of a soldier’s harsh
Then they give a laugh, well life was cheap on the streets of narra marsh
Where a new recruit gets a khaki suit and he eats three times a day
And there’s many’s the pail of Shipstone’s Ale you can buy with a soldier’s pay.

They was under fire in the mud and wire when the gas came drifting in,
And the letters from the Colonel informed the next of kin
That they died for king and country, though they’d never seen their king
So what then did they die for ‘cos they never owned a thing.

In a musty, fusty terraced room there’s a medal made of lead
In the dusty light, inscribed in white, says “a Nottingham Lad lies dead”
And it wasn’t the thrall of Kitchener’s call that made him for to stray
Just the khaki suit of the new recruit and the three square meals a day.

Now the Nottingham Lads have sailed away, bound for a foreign shore
And they said farewell to the poor relief, and the dust of the factory floor
And they said farewell to the terraced row and the outside privy’s stench
And they’ve taken a chance on a trip to France and the mud of a German trench.

© PhilDrane Music 2016