logo Enthusiasms No 58
A collection of shorter pieces on subjects of
interest, outrage or enthusiasm ...

Seeking Out the Harland Road

Some years ago I recorded a couple of verses of a song from Walter Pardon, the well-known Norfolk singer.  Walter called the song The Harland Road and his recording can be heard on the double CD Put a Bit of Powder on it, Father - the other songs of Walter Pardon (Musical Traditions MT CD 305-6).  These are the words that Walter sang:

The Harland Road (Roud 13654)

Come and see the Kaiser, all on the Harland Road.
Come to the back and [see?] the place where I abode.
You mustn't touch a rabbit, or anything that's there
'Til up to Harland Sitting, you surely will appear.

Lies when you're sleeping, lies when you're dead.
Lies all around you, lies on your head.
Oh, if you are a liar, you know you're very wrong,
For liar is the Kaiser's song.
Walter sang the words to the tune Rosalie the Prairie Flower, a song that had been written in 1858 by the American composer George Frederick Root (1820 - 95), who was also known as 'G.  Frederick Wurzel'.  Root also composed a number of other songs that became well-known both in America and in Britain.  These included The Battle Cry of Freedom (1861), Just Before the Battle, Mother (1863), Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching (1864) and Ring the Bell Watchman (1872). 

Rod Stradling, writing in the booklet that accompanies Put a Bit of Powder on it, Father, had this to say about The Harland Road:

We have absolutely no idea what this is about at all!  There's nowhere called Harland in my AA British Isles Atlas ...  I had though that it might be the Norfolk pronunciation of Holland, that being the old name for an area of the county, but this is pure guesswork, and still doesn't make much sense. 
To be honest, I did have some thoughts about the song, but time had been short when we were putting the CDs together and I decided to keep my opinions to myself, hoping, I suspect, that I would one day discover where the song came from and what, exactly, it was all about.  Well, some years later, I have been unable to trace Walter's song to any specific source.  But, here are a couple of ideas that just might be relevant.

Firstly, though, two things have struck me about the song - mention of the Kaiser in both stanzas and the repetition of the words lies/liar in the second stanza.  It seems to me that the use of the word Kaiser could suggest that the song dates from the time of the Great War (1914 - 18), the Kaiser then being well-known as the leader of the German nation and army.  And, the invitation to “Come and see the Kaiser” suggests that the song was written by somebody who was actually fighting the Kaiser - or, at least, the Kaiser's army.  In fact, the Kaiser is named in several other Great War songs that seem to have originated in the trenches.  Here are a couple of examples:

Kaiser Bill, he went to war
Athirst for blood and slaughter:
He lost his crown - so he feels sore;
And so he bloody well oughter.

(Tune: Yankee Doodle)

Oh! We're in Kitchener's Army,
We are the A.S.C.*
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
So what earthly use are we?
And when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say:
“Hoch! Hoch! mein Gott!
What a bloody fine lot
To draw six bob a day.”

(Tune: The Church's One Foundation)

* The A.S.C. was the Army Service Corps (also known as 'Ally Sloper's Cavalry') and was responsible for operating the army's transport.
Secondly, it seems perfectly feasible to me to suggest that the Great War Tommies would have been thoroughly pissed-off with their leaders who, I'm sure they believed, had done nothing but lie to them throughout the Campaign.  And, repetition, as a song form, was quite well known during this period.  Take, for example, the song Grousing which was apparently 'suppressed' by Company Commanders who felt that it was detrimental to good discipline.  The words were sung to the hymn tune Holy, Holy, Holy.
Grousing, Grousing, Grousing,
Always bloody well grousing.
Roll on till my time is up,
And I shall grouse no more.
Grousing, Grousing, Grousing,
Always bloody well grousing.
Roll on till my time is up,
And I shall grouse no more.

Raining, raining, raining,
Always bloody well raining.
Raining all the morning,
And raining all the night.
Raining, raining, raining,
Always bloody well raining.
Roll on till my time is up,
And I shall grouse no more.

Marching, Marching, Marching,
Always bloody well marching.
Marching all the morning,
And marching all the night.
Marching, Marching, Marching,
Always bloody well marching.
Roll on till my time is up,
And I shall march no more.
So, assuming that Walter's song does date back to the Great War, where exactly was the Harland Road?  I have checked quite a number of reference works that deal with this period.  But to no avail.  Nevertheless, I do have a couple of suggestions.  To begin with, in 1914, men from the Belfast ship making firm of Harland & Wolff joined the Ulster Division, which managed to raise thirteen battalions for the three Irish Regiments - the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rifles - then based in Ulster.  Today there is a rather faded memorial to the Harland & Wolff dead that can be seen attached to the seaward wall of the Thompson Dock pump house in Belfast.  During the Great War it was often the case that men from one part of the country, or from one town for that matter, would fight side by side in the same battalion.  If the Harland & Wolf volunteers were kept together, then there is a possibility that their trenches could have been known locally as 'the Harland Road'.

My second suggestion concerns events that occurred during the period 9th - 14th April, 1917, at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  There were strong German defences along the ridge and the Germans had repulsed several previous attacks against their positions.  However, on the 9th April, 1917, the 46th Canadian Infantry Battalion (South Saskatchewan) - codenamed 'Harland' - attacked the ridge during a particularly thick snowstorm and captured most of the German emplacements.  On the 13th April, Canadian soldiers crossed over the ridge and passed through the villages of Angres and Givenchy.  They were later relieved by men from the 1st Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.  Could it be that these latter men followed the Canadian troops up 'the Harland Road', that had been so-named because of the Canadian's codeword?

As I said, these suggestions are just that - suggestions.  If there are any Great War experts reading this who feel that they would like to add their pennyworth, then, please, let's hear from you.

Mike Yates - 17.5.07


Rod Stradling - e-mail: rod@mustrad.org.uk  Tel: 01453 759475
snail-mail: 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Glos GL5 2HP, UK

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