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(Ian Campbell tune traditional, 'Nicky Tams')

At the turning o' the century I was a boy of five
Me father went to fight the Boers and never came back alive.
Me mother was left to bring us up, no charity she'd seek,
So she washed and scrubbed and brought us up on seven and six a

When I was twelve I left the school and went to find a job
Wi' growin kids me Ma was glad o' the extra couple o' bob;
I knew that better schoolin' would've stood me in good stead
But ye can't afford refinements when you're strugglin' for your bread.

And when the Great War came along I didn't hesitate
I took the royal shilling and went off to do my bit,
I lived on mud and tears and blood, three years or thereabouts
Then I copped some gas in Flanders and got invalided out.

Well when the war was over and we'd finished with the Hun,
We changed back into civvies and we thought the fighting done,
We'd won the right to live in peace but we didn't have no luck,
For we found we had to fight for the right to go to work

In '26 the General Strike found me out in the streets,
For I'd a wife and kids by then and their needs I couldn't meet,
For a brave new world was coming and a brotherhood of man
Then when the strike was over we were back where we began.

Well, I struggled through the '30s, out of work now and again
I saw the blackshirts marching and the things they did in Spain;
But I raised my children decent andI taught them wrong from right,
But Hitler was the lad who came and taught them how to fight.

My daughter was a landgirl, she got married to a Yank
And they gave my son a gong for stopping one of Rommel's tanks.
He was wounded just before the end and he convalesced in Rome
He married an Eyetie nurse and never bothered to come home.

My daughter writes me once a month, a cheerful little note
About their colour telly and the other things they've got.
She's got a son, a likely lad; he's nearly twenty-one
And she tells me now they've called him up to fight in Vietnam.

Well, we're living on the pension now, it doesn't go too far
Not much to show for a life that seems like one long bloody war.
When you think of all the wasted lives it makes you want to cry
I'm not sure how to change things, but by Christ we'll have to try.

Judith Small's 'Mothers, Daughters, Wives' has a related theme,
as do some of Eric Bogle's songs.
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The Old Man's Tale/Old Man's Song [Ian Campbell] (Properly called The Old Man's Song;set to the tune of Nicky Tams. Midi made from notation in The Big Red Songbook (Pluto Press, 1977). )


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