This song tell the story of my gt gt uncle George Warren, a miner and former soldier who was called up to return to the ranks in 1914 and was wounded at Mons, in fact he was likely back at the front, (and I assume wounded a second time), before being posted to Indian in October 1915. India figured largely in George’s life, he was first posted there as a wide eyed young boy, and later saw out the last three years of the war there (which effectively saved his life). The song begins and ends with the melody of the Sufi devotional song,’ Lal Shabaz Qalandar’ celebrating Syed Usman Marwandi, a holy man who advocated religious tolerance, in his case between his fellow Muslims and Hindus, the sort of man we need now! George and Aggie wed in the local registry office, because their wedding was disapproved of, as he was a protestant and she was a catholic. ‘Lal Shabaz Qalandar’ – ‘the red noble Sufi saint’ has been performed by many singers, notably the late Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan, who came from Faislabad, where George had been a soldier, many years earlier. The piano accompaniment is by my friend Bruce Rafeek.
One sunny afternoon a young lad was sauntering in the toon,
when a man with shiny buttons came and laid some money doon
well he talked of distant lands, of wondrous sites and exotic scents
and next thing I had joined a group of men the Royal Scots Regiment.
Well the next 8 years I passed in lands of tiger & mongoose
in Faisalabad & Rangoon, tasting spice and mango juice,
The dhal was very canny, but pease pudding I sorely missed
so farewell Raj, I went back to Leadgate where dear Aggie I kissed.
So I wed me lovely Aggie without parson, or pomp or priest
and though back hewing coal, at last, from drill, I was released.
Then the war clouds started gathering and marching boots were heard
and all too soon the letter came to call up the reserve.
I was ordered down to Plymouth and from there we did sail for France
we got a hero’s welcome from the French with song and dance
August brought bravos and wine, blisters, and dusty miles
until we reached the town of Mons, and there rested for a while.
Next day they gave us breakfast, hot bangers served with lead,
I heard a crack, I was knocked down, at least I wasn’t dead,
so they sent me back to blighty to my family and my friends
to spent some time in my dear Durham home getting over from my wounds
But very soon a telegraph told me report at Glencorse,
and as me train, steamed from Leadgate, I pondered on the worst
but they sent me back, to spend the war, in the Punjab, and then Bombay
far from the bloody western front where hundreds died each day
And now I feel that bullet was a blessing and not a curse
& though I still walk with limp well things could be much worse
and as I think back to those times, and those far fabled places
I hear the call to prayer, the temple songs and the Blaydon Races.
Worde & music Michael Burns August 2014 All rights reserved