From Stan Hugill’s Shanties from the Seven Seas
In the days of sail, when sailors signed on to a voyage they were paid a month’s wages in advance. This was spent on clothing and equipment needed for the trip, as well as grog, women and the other necessities of a matelot’s life. Because they had to work this payment off before they were paid again, the first month of the voyage was known as ‘working off the dead horse.’ When the month was over and they began receiving their pay, they might perform a folk play known as ‘Burying the Dead Horse’
… The crew dress up a figure to represent a horse; its body is made out of a barrel, its extremities of hay or straw covered with canvas, the mane and tail of hemp, the eyes of two ginger beer bottles, sometimes filled with phosphorus.  When complete the noble steed is put on a box, covered with a rug, and on the evening of the last day of the month a man gets on to his back, and is drawn all round the ship by his shipmates, to the chanting of the following doggerel:—
You have come a long long way,
   And we say so, for we know so.
For to be sold upon this day,
   Poor old man.
You are goin’ now to say good-bye,
   And we say so, for we know so.
Poor old horse you’re a goin’ to die,
   Poor Old Man.
Having paraded the decks in order to get an audience, the sale of the horse by auction is announced, and a glib-mouthed man mounts the rostrum and begins to praise the noble animal, giving his pedigree, etc., saying it was a good one to go, for it had gone 6,000 miles in the past month!  The bidding then commences, each bidder being responsible only for the amount of his advance on the last bid.  After the sale the horse and its rider are run up to the yard-arm amidst loud cheers.  Fireworks are let off, the man gets off the horse’s back, and, cutting the rope, lets it fall into the water.  The Requiem is then sung to the same melody.
Now he is dead and will die no more,
   And we say so, for we know so.
Now he is gone and will go no more;
   Poor Old Man.
After this the auctioneer and his clerk proceed to collect the “bids,” and if in your ignorance of auction etiquette you should offer your’s [sic]to the auctioneer, he politely declines it, and refers you to his clerk!
This was how Richard (later Sir) Tangye, bound for Melbourne aboard the Parramattain 1879 recalled the ceremony aboard that ship. (Richard Tangye, Reminiscences of travel in Australia, America, and Egypt, London, 1884).
Amazingly, on the same ship and the same voyage a young man named George Haswell took the trouble to document the sailors’ work shanties. He was a skilled musician and transcribed the words and music of their songs, including the ‘Dead Horse’ ceremony described by Tangye (bottom of first page and top of second page, below, for melody).

(SLNSW)NB: Very early use of ‘folksong’ here, especially in its combined form – yes, you really wanted to know that!)
There are many other accounts of this maritime ceremony, which was extant before 1845. It must have been eerie in a probably empty sea at dusk, as well as enjoyable for crew and passengers. Certainly, all accounts involve alcohol. 
But what did it sound and look like as the crew advanced across the deck chanting and pushing or pulling a horse-shaped structure, sometimes with glowing and occasionally, if the captain allowed, with fireworks? We’ll never know. But we can hear the song in a very nice modern rendition by the Ian Campbell Folk Group.
The Dead Horse ceremony usually took place in one of the ocean regions known as ‘the horse latitudes’. Respectively, 30-35 degrees north of the equator and 30-35 degrees south of the equator, these were areas where the winds often died away, becalming sailing ships. As the legend goes, if a ship was becalmed long enough in one of these regions for the drinking water to run out, any horses (and presumably other livestock) might be thrown overboard to preserve water for the crew. A bit more folklore – might even be true!
Graham Seal


The following rhyming slang letter appeared in a World War 1 British ‘trench journal’, or soldiers’ newspaper known as The Direct Hit of July, 1917. Apparently penned by Lce-Corp. A. J. Lilliman, RF, it provides an insight into the popularity of rhyming slang among World War 1 troops. It is couched in the form of a letter to the writer’s sister, providing some news of training camp activity and expected departure to the front and of a planned visit home during an upcoming period of leave. It is unlikely that this letter was ever sent, or that it was ever meant to be; it seems more likely to have been a manifestation of the fascination for rhyming slang at the time and place, something the editor of the Direct Hit also mentions in introducing the letter. Many of the terms are not recorded in the usual compilations and dictionaries of rhyming slang, or have other meanings, and so can either be considered personal inventions of the writer and/or terms that had a brief and perhaps restricted currency among those with whom he socialised.
Many thanks for the all-the-better and the Windsor Castle received the last pip-squeak. I am glad to hear mother and the old pot-and-pan are still keeping fit, and that the Giddy-Gaby is doing well. The contents of the parcel were highly appreciated by the Sain-Foys in my water-butt; the piper’s knees went down well for supper with a piece of mine-host made in front of the old-cove, and a drop of pig’s ear. The you-can-bets smoked like small American bars. Keep on sending the bones-and-rags. The give-and-take was one of the best, whilst the small-kits came in very handy on the stiff-as-starch.

We are all still hiding in the rob-and-pillage and expect to be here until the lager beer. I suppose we shall be going on-our-knees early in the wedding ring; it is quite time we put some of the Germans’ Hampstead Heath down their ugly nanny-goats. I am fed-up with cleaning my small-trifle to satisfy the Sergeant’s mince pie, and with firing nothing but muddy-banks.
I went sick the other day with a saucy-goat, but the oh-dear-oh! only gave me a darling-mine with Sleeping Beauty, so I went on first-aid the following day. I am pleased to say I am quite William-Tell again now, although the tough-as-leather has left me off with a bit of a up-the-hill and a slight old-toff.
I had a double-mine from Jimmy last week. He has been in the iron-wrenches for three weeks now, and so far has come through all John-Bright. He says he is going back to the fried-fillets in a day or two for a give-and-be-blest. I am glad he is safe and baker’s-round, for Jimmy was always a good world’s-endt o me.
Now I must hurry up with my you-and-me, get a wave-after-wave and a shine up just call in the always-man to light me to my white-and-red tonight, and then I’m off to the knock-me-down to see the pictures at the new near-and-far.

I am hoping to see you shortly, for I believe we are to get four day’s Adam-and-Eve. So keep you’re eye on six o’ clock, and be sure to meet me at the Birth-of-a-Nation when I let you know the only-way I am coming, and the time the might-and-main will arrive.
Write soon, and don’t forget the old-nags.
Your loving Brother, SAM.
Lce-Corp. A. J. Lilliman, RF.
The rhyming slang terms used in this letter translate as:
just-missed-her  sister
all-the-better  letter
Windsor-Castle  parcel
last pip-squeak  last week
old pot-and-pan  old man (father)
Giddy-Gaby  baby
the Sain-Foys  the boys
water-butt  hut
piper’s knees  cheese?
mine-host  toast
old-cove  stove
pig’s ear  beer
you-can-bets  cigarettes
American bars  cigars
give-and-take  cake
small-kits  biscuits
stiff-as-starch  march
rob-and-pillage  village
lager-beer  new year
on-our-knees – overseas
wedding-ring  spring
Hampstead Heath  teeth
nanny-goats  throats
small-trifle  rifle
mince-pie  eye
muddy-banks  blanks
saucy-goatsore throat
oh-dear-oh!  MO – Medical Officer
darling-mine  number nine pill ( a laxative)
Sleeping Beauty  duty
first-aid  parade
William Tell  well
tough-as-leather  weather
up-the-hill  chill
old-toff  cough
double-mine  line (letter)
iron-wrenches  trenches
all John-Bright  alright
fried-fillets  billets
give-and-be-blest  rest
safe and baker’s-round  safe and sound
world’s-end  friend
you-and-me  tea
wave-after-wave  shave
always-man  batman
broom-handle  candle
white-and-red  bed
knock-me-down  town
near-and-far  cinema
Adam-and-Eve  leave
[the] six o’ clock  clock
Birth-of-a-Nation– station (from the title of D W Griffith’s movie just released at this time)
only-way  day
might-and-main  train
old-nags  fags (cigarettes)


Almost certainly not. Unless it was one of the 756 listed specimens bottled up in museums and other institutions around the world.[1]But soon, you might just be able to see one again.
Extinct on the mainland of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger, was hunted to oblivion in its one remaining haven. The last of these enigmatic animals died of neglect in Hobart’s Beaumaris Zoo in 1936. Someone forgot to put the creature back into its cage and it perished of exposure. 
But the Tiger still haunts us. Ever since then, people have reported seeing ghostly survivors in the wild and there is a long history of Thylacine hunting in Tasmania and beyond. Substantial rewards have been offered for verified sightings or other evidence of the beast’s existence. As with other modern ‘ABC’ (Alien Big Cat) legends, these tales quickly vanish into the air. But the belief remains strong with many and the quest continues.[2]
The Thylacine was certainly a striking animal. Appearing like a brown wolf with black-brown stripes across its back and down its long tail, the ‘Tassie tiger’, as locals say, was more of a kangaroo than a dog or wolf. It was a carnivorous marsupial, its young suckled and protected in a pouch, kangaroo-style. This perceived oddity was reflected in the scientific name given to it, Thylacinus cynocephalus, meaning a pouched dog with a wolf-like head. 
Full grown, the animal stood around 60 centimetres high, grew up to 180cm long and weighed around 30 kilograms. Thylacines barked or yelped infrequently and were anything but tiger-like in demeanour, preferring to hide rather than fight. They sometimes died of fright as soon as they were caught.[3]
Aboriginal traditions on the mainland and in Tasmania provide evidence in rock art and lore of the tiger’s once wide distribution around the country. But the advance of European settlement, the possible effects of natural selection and disease, as well as the exaggerated fear of attacks on livestock, eventually eradicated the animal.The  loss of these creatures was foretold as early as the 1850s when the famous naturalist John Gould predicted: 
‘When the comparatively small island of Tasmania becomes more densely populated, and its primitive forests are intersected with roads from the eastern to the western coast, the numbers of this singular animal will speedily diminish, extermination will have its full sway, and it will then, like the Wolf in England and Scotland, be recorded as an animal of the past…[4]
Scientists are now planning to resurrect the species. This possibility exists because so many stuffed, desiccated and otherwise preserved Thylacine specimens with intact DNA are kept in museums around the world. Researchers have recently turned their attention to this ‘archive of bodies’ created from the colonisation of Australia and the European desire for the exotic. 
Ostensibly, this was proper scientific curiosity. But while all the specimen-collecting preserved genetic material that might make resurrection of the Thylacine possible, the museums in which the bodies are stored are still ‘repositories of loss’. They suggest that our ongoing fascination with the Thylacine, reflected in the alleged sightings and the quest for resurrection, are projections of our shared guilt over the extinction of what was a shy and relatively harmless animal. 
Australia holds the unenviable world record for mammal extinctions.[5]National Threatened Species Day is held on the anniversary of the sad and lonely death of the last Tiger each September 7.Tasmanian Tiger skins have become expensive collectors’ items. If scientists do manage to resurrect the creature, at least that will end. 

Graham Seal

[1]The International Thylacine Specimen Database at 
http://www.naturalworlds.org/thylacine/mrp/itsd/itsd_1.htm, accessed May 2018.
[2]There is an extensive literature on the long history of posthumous thylacine hunting, see Col Bailey, Lure of the Thylacine: True Stories and Legendary Tales of the Tasmanian Tiger, Echo Publishing, South Melbourne 2016, for some examples of sightings, as well as innumerable online sites, including the Wikipedia entry, which provides a reasonable and referenced overview.
[3]Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania at http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=4765, accessed April 2018.
[4]Quoted in Robert Paddle, The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 223.
[5]Penny Edmonds and Hannah Stark, ‘On the trail of the London thylacines’, The Conversationat https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-on-the-trail-of-the-london-thylacines-91473, accessed April 2018.


Cartoon from a trench newspaper
The defeat of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at Mons in August 1914 was a crushing early blow that gave rise to a still controversial legend of divine intervention and assistance known as ‘The Angels of Mons’. This persistent story is well-known, but the war generated an endless array of other enigmatic trench legends, myths and rumours.
According to this grisly tale, the Germans were recovering bodies from the battlefield and boiling them down in specially-constructed factories to make tallow for candles. Despite no evidence ever being presented to support this fantastic rumour, it was widely believed and re-told throughout the war. So poor was the credibility of atrocity stories that Lord Northcliffe the newspaper mogul, offered a prize for any authentic photograph of a German atrocity. The prize was never claimed.
There were ongoing rumours of enemy agents in the allied trenches, usually disguised as officers, like the mysterious German spy, usually in a British major’s uniform, who was said to appear in allied trenches just prior to an attack.
As well as the creepy major in the trenches, spies were spotted everywhere, as they would be for the rest of the war. At this early point in the conflict there were reports of suspicious characters all over Britain and throughout the forces in France.
These stories were given some credence by real events in which a number of German espionage operations had been uncovered. But most of the stories, such as the German arrested on his way to the local water supply with a pocketful of deadly poison, were urban legends of the time, the result of fear rather than clandestine enemy activity.
In 1915, another mysterious story began to circulate. It was said that wounded British and French soldiers had been assisted in the trenches by a ghostly white figure. Usually the soldier was sheltering from a hail of bullets and shrapnel, through which the white figure seemed to pass without difficulty or injury. The phantasm reached the soldier who then lost consciousness for a moment or two, and subsequently found himself magically removed from danger. He then notices that there is a wound on the apparition’s hand. The figure explains that it is an old wound which has recently reopened.
The French called this apparition or hallucination ‘The Comrade in White’, a term adopted by the British, who also called him the ‘Helper in White’. Many found this legend a much-needed consolation and it would continue to be heard throughout the war.
The Times of May 10, 1915 ran the first press report of the story which claimed that a group of Canadians wounded in the fighting near Ypres had come across one of their officers who had been crucified:
‘He had been pinned to a wall by bayonets thrust through his hand and feet, another bayonet had been driven through his throat and, finally, he had been riddled with bullets.’
A similar horrific tale was picked up by the Canadian press and related in a number of versions and stories of crucified Canadians, as well as British and Australian troops, continued throughout the war. There were numerous attempts to verify the stories, but they never were, though the belief that the event, or something like it had occurred, was certainly strong among Canadian troops at the front and also many on the home front.
An early legend involved mysterious brigades of Russian soldiers in sealed trains passing through transportation junctions. They were said to be in full battle dress and with snow upon their boots – in summertime. These were usually said to have originated in the Russian city of Archangel and to be travelling to the Western Front to reinforce the British and French.
It was said that the British had suffered catastrophic losses against the Germans, that hospitals were full to overflowing with wounded troops and that there had been an insurrection in Paris.
A large naval battle had been fought off Holland in which the British were also rumoured to have suffered devastating losses, including the death of Admiral Jellicoe. British naval ports were said to be clogged with war ravaged ships.
 It was said that the defenders of the forts at Liege were not Belgians but British soldiers in Belgian uniforms. The British were paying the French rent for the trenches they were occupying and Vickers machine gunners fired their water-cooled weapons in order to boil water for tea.
Many other rumours swirled through the home front and battlefront during the war years:
·      One was a tale told in many wars of the ‘Wild Deserters’, a horde of refugees from all armies, who lived underground, emerging onto the battlefields at night to forage and pillage the dead and dying.
·      Most World War 1 soldiers were familiar with the rumours about ‘free shooters’ who were not fussy which side they shot at.
·      There were stories born of envy or wishful thinking, such as those about the enemy having women in their trenches.
·      Other rumours were spawned by fear and suspicion, including the belief that disloyal Belgians had signalled allied positions to German gunners
·      And there were revenge stories, like that about ‘The Admiral’, a crazed inventor who was horribly killed when one of his own devices of death malfunctioned.
Like most myths, these were the product of ignorance, fear and wishful thinking.
KEYWORDS: World War One trench myths, soldiers newspapers


Singing was a pronounced feature of the Great War, 1914-18. Soldiers sang in camp, on the march, in the trenches and wherever else they felt the need. 1st Lieut. Elmer Hess of the 15th Field Artillery wrote in his diary:
‘The battalion moved again to the front.  The left side of the road was filled with trucks, ammunition, retreating French soldiers, field hospitals-all in great confusion.  We marched until midnight with practically no rest and on into the morning.  We could hear the songs sung by the American artillery marching ahead.’
Many of these songs were made by the soldiers themselves. They were based on their experiences and attitudes to the war and to the authority of officers and were circulated among themselves without commercial involvement or intention. Rifleman Patrick MacGill of the London Irish fought at Loos and left a brief but evocative account of such songs and their singers. He wrote:
‘Their origin is lost; the songs have arisen like old folk tales, spontaneous choruses that voice the moods of a moment and of many moments which are monotonously alike. Most of the verse is of no import; the crowd has no sense of poetic values; it is the singing alone which gives expression to the soldier’s soul.’
One of MacGill’s comrades observed the essential difference between trench songs and those sung elsewhere: ‘”These ‘ere songs are no good in England,” my friend Rifleman Bill Teake remarks. “They ‘ave too much guts in them.”’
Here are some of the most widely sung songs among British, Canadian, Australian and, later, American troops in the trenches …
The Ragtime Infantry
One of the earliest and eventually most widely-heard trench ditties of the war was known variously as Fred Karno’s Army’ or ‘The Ragtime Army’. Sung to the hymn tune ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, its lyrical variations were many, though the core of satirical self-deprecation remained the same. Ragtime was a form of popular music of the period and Fred Karno was a renowned comic, whose crazy stage antics were the perfect metaphor of the madness in which the soldiers found themselves:
We are Fred Karno’s army, the ragtime infantry,
We cannot shoot, we cannot fight, what bloody use are we?
And when we get to Berlin, the Kaiser he will say:
‘Hoch, hoch! Mein Gott, what a bloody useless lot
Are the ragtime infantry’.
The Bells of Hell
A Royal Welch Fusilier wrote home in December 1917 describing the songs he heard in the trenches. He thought they expressed ‘the men’s stoical cynicism, which is always cheerily, and usually blasphemously expressed’. He gave the lyrics of ‘The Bells of Hell’:
The bells of hell ring ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me;
The herald angels sing ting-a-ling-a-ling,
They’ve got the goods for me.
Oh death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling
Oh grave, thy victoree!
The bells of hell ring ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.
Hush, Here Come a Whizzbang
A whizzbang was any kind of artillery shell, as in the trench parody of a pre-war pop song titled ‘Hush, Here Comes the Dream Man’:
Hush, here comes a whizzbang,
Hush, here comes a whizzbang,
Now, you soldiers get down those stairs,
Down in your dug-outs and say your prayers.
Hush, here comes a whizzbang,
And it’s making straight for you,
You’ll see all the wonders of no-man’s land
If a whizzbang – crump! – hits you.
Keep Your Head Down, Allemand
One of the popular trench ditties of the war, referring to the enemy as Alleymand (Allemand) from the French for German, described what each side did when the other was erecting barbed wire defences:
Keep your head down, Alleymand,
Keep your head down, Alleymand,
Last night in the pale moonlight
I saw you, I saw you,
You were fixing your barbed wire
So we opened rapid fire
Keep your head down, Alleymand.
I Want to go Home
A widespread trench ditty summed up the effect that machine guns had on morale:
Machine guns they rattle, Jack Johnston’s they roar,
I don’t want to fight with these Fritz anymore,
Take me over the sea where the Germans they can’t get at me,
O my, I don’t want to die
I just want to go home.
My Little Wet Home in the Trench
A soldier parody of the pre-war hit song ‘My Little Grey Home in the West’, this ditty was known not only to Canadian, but also Australian troops and would probably have been sung by British soldiers as well. ‘Jack Johnson’s’ were large, loud shells that left dark smoke in their wake, named after the African American boxer of the period.
I’ve a little wet home in the trench,
Where the rainstorms continually drench,
There’s a dead cow close by,
With her hoofs towards the sky
And she gives off a beautiful stench.
Underneath in the place of a floor,
There’s a mass of wet mud and some straw,
And the ‘Jack Johnsons’ tear
Thro’ the rain sodden air,
O’er my little wet home in the trench.
There are snipers who keep on the go,
So you must keep your napper down low,
And their star shells at night
Make a deuce of a light,
Which causes the language to flow.
Then bully and biscuits we chew,
For its [sic] days since we tasted a stew,
But with shells dropping there,
There’s no place to compare
With my little wet home in the trench.
The Purple Platoon
Some ditties were even more directly critical of the war and those running it, as in the Australian version of some short but pointed couplets:
Our officer’s out on his favourite stunt,
Taking us out for a souvenir hunt,
Taking us out in front of the wire,
Getting us killed by our own rifle fire.
We used to be fifty-odd non-coms and men,
We used to be fifty but now we ae ten,
And if this cross-eyed war doesn’t end ruddy soon,
There’ll be no Aussies left in our purple platoon
The Wrong Way to Tickle Marie
There were few subjects that the Tommies, Poilu’s, Diggers and, later, the Doughboys, did not subject to musical mistreatment. Usually their ditties were to the tune of popular songs of the war or immediate pre-war period, such as ‘Tipperary’ and were often sexually suggestive:
That’s the wrong way to tickle Marie,
That’s the wrong way to kiss!
Don’t you know that over here, lad,
They like it best like this!
Hooray pour le Francais!
Farewell, Angleterre!
We didn’t know the way to tickle Marie,
But we learned how, over there!
Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire
Comments on the perceived inequities between officers behind the liens and the fighting men at the front were not uncommon in trench songs. In one or another of many versions, this one was very popular:

If you want to see the infantry, I know where they are,

They’re hanging on the old barbed wire,
I’ve seen them, I’ve seen them,
Hanging on the old barbed wire I’ve seen them,
Hanging on the old barbed wire.
If you want to see the generals, I know where they are,
They’re miles and miles behind the lines,
I’ve seen them, I’ve seen them,
Miles and miles behind the lines I’ve seen them,
Miles and miles behind the lines.
The fresh troops arriving from America in 1917 were full of the same confident enthusiasm that the British troops had initially possessed. An American ditty to the tune of ‘I Wish I Was in Dixie’ expressed a no-nonsense approach to winning the war by finishing off, or ‘canning’, the German leader:
We’re off to can the Kaiser,
Hurray! Hurray!
In Kaiserland we’ll take our stand,
Until we can the Kaiser.
Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go and can the Kaiser.
The following year allied troops did exactly that.

MORE: Graham Seal, The Soldiers’ Press: Trench Journals in the First World War, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
KEYWORDS: World War One; Great War; trench songs; soldier songs


Who doesn’t love a good treasure yarn? Even the FBI, it seems. Along with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the feds have set up camp at Dents Run, Elk County PA, the rumoured site of some Civil War gold.

The story goes that a wagon load of Union gold bars was lost in the rugged mountains in this part of the country in 1863 and never seen again. Rumours have abounded ever since and many people have tried to locate the trove. As usual, details are contradictory and murky, but wait for it – there is a map! And even ‘a mysterious note found decades ago in a hiding place on the back of a bed post in Caledonia, Pa.’.

They don’t come much better than this one (though the Nazi Gold train is hard to beat). Anyway, the FBI suddenly descended on the site and started digging. They must like the yarn, as well. Perhaps they were hoping to find the gold to pay their wages in the threatened shutdown of US government functions?

No results reported yet, of course, just a lot of speculation and gold hunter excitement. It must be true if the FBI is on the job!

Read all about it here. And a further update in which the FBI reports they found nothing – sure. The legend lives!

Civil War gold, treasure, FBI