Daily Chronicle, March 26, 1903

1 (“There is no limit for age as regards drafts for South Africa in peace time.”—War Office Announcement.)

Oh, we take him from the nursery and the cot.
 We abstract him from the cradle and the pram.
We teach him how to drill upon the spot,
 And how to shoot as well, the pretty lamb.
For it doesn’t matter much about his age—
 We enlist ’em long before they’ve learned to talk.
He can earn his daily ration by defending of his nation
 As soon as he can hold a gun and walk.
   O—oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
   You’re a good ’un, though you’re small.
      You’re a credit to your nursery,
      There’s no doubt of that at all.
   May your luck be never failing,
   May you ne’er run short of pap.
      God bless you, Tommy Atkins,
      You’re a splendid little chap.

Oh, the Frenchman and the German and the Russ
 Are perpetually lurking near our shores.
They would make things very warm, indeed, for us,
 If it wasn’t for the likes of you and yours.
They’re notoriously demons when they’re roused.
 They would tackle every foe till all be blue.
They would fight sans apprehension any power you care to mention,
 But they naturally shrink from touching you.
   For (as before).

So, ye babes, who in your cradles linger yet,
 Who chew in sloth the indiarubber ring,
We remember that you owe a holy debt
 Of service to your country and your King.
And, though Duty call you out to Afric’s shore,
 Do not hesitate, but be a little man.
Pressing forward, eager, willing, toddle up and take the shilling,
 And become a little Atkins while you can.
   O—oh, Tommy (as before)

P. G. W. 




“Recruits for South Africa. Lord Stanley (Financial Secretary, War Office), replying to Mr. C. E. Hobhouse, said there was no limit for age as regarded drafts for South Africa in peace time, and recruits were, therefore, dispatched to their regiments as soon as possible. South Africa was considered a very suitable training-ground for the young soldier.” (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, March 25, 1903)

John Dawson    


Wodehouse’s poem is really a parody lyric to “Private Tommy Atkins” from A Gaiety Girl (1893). A recording can be heard at the Library of Congress web site and the sheet music is also on line. In Chapter VI of The Pothunters, the staff of the Glow Worm sing the song in Charteris’s study.

Wodehouse wrote several other parodies on this lyric: “The Future Atkins”; “Tommy’s Cap”; “Tommy’s Teeth”; “Our Military Critic Speaks”; and “To Thomas, Songster.”

In addition, the following poem appeared unsigned in the “By the Way” column of the Globe on June 8, 1907, during Wodehouse’s term as editor of that column.

   The Merry Month.

(June is the month for regimental banquets. -Daily Paper.)

Oh, we take him to the Carlton or Savoy,
 And we fill him up as full as he can hold.
His organs of digestions we employ
 With viands hot and delicacies cold.
He’s a hero on the stricken field of war;
 He will tackle any foeman with a zest.
  But I think, my Thomas, when you
  Reach out gaily for the menu,
 You’re engaged upon the task that you love best.
   Oh, Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
    Have another slice of lamb;
   Try a crepinette of sweetbread,
    Or a chicken-wing, with ham.
   Have you really got no room left?
    Do you really feel you’re through?
   Then Tommy, Tommy Atkins,
    Here’s a good cigar for you.

Neil Midkiff