The Objects

23rd Jun 1815

Source: Digital Collections, National Library of Scotland

http://digital.nls.uk/street-literature-about-napoleons-wars/pageturner.cfm?id=74587950&mode=fullsize

The Eighteenth of June

Contributed by: Oskar Cox Jensen

Like so many ballads of the period, this ‘object’ exists in different forms in different places. Composed by an unknown soldier in the wake of the battle, learnt from him by an injured Scot, Jim Shoubridge, and taken back to Falkirk, the song was immediately printed in a chapbook as ‘The Famous Battle of Waterloo’, in nine verses, set to a tune from the Seven Years’ War. A century later it was collected from a Sussex singer’s rendition as the ‘Eighteenth of June’, with three verses and a chorus, to a different tune, and tidied up by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Unlike many loyalist domestic productions, it is a song of tragedy and compassion (text given in 'Further Information'). Rather than revelling in victory, these were soldiers articulating the pain and shock of an incredibly violent battle, identifying with the forlorn figure of Napoleon and committing the first-known ‘facts’ of the battle to oral memory – when it began (not with the first deaths, but with their getting up) and ended; how many died (‘sixty thousand brave soldiers’); and, most obviously, the fatal date itself.

The later tune is mournful, in a minor key, returning to the same sad phrase in solemn, inexorable repetition. It matches the lyrics beautifully, accentuating the imagined grief of young girls at home, and dramatising ‘the thunder of five hundred cannon’. It is unsurprising that, unlike so many other topical ballads, it survived to be sung two centuries later. The clip in the link below left shows Martin Carthy's interpretation.

Geolocation

Text from Ralph Vaughan Williams et al., ‘Songs Collected From Sussex’, Journal of the Folk-Song Society 2 (1906). p. 193


All you people who live at home easy, and are far from the trials of war,
Never knowing the dangers of battle, but are safe with your family secure:
Know you the long scythe of destruction has been sweeping the nations all round,
But it never yet cut with the keenness that it did on the eighteenth of June.

And what a sad heart had poor Boney, for to take up instead of a crown,
A canter from Brussels to Paris, lamenting the eighteenth of June.

It began about five in the morning, and it lasted till seven at night.
All the people looked on in amazement; they had never yet seen such a sight.
And the thunder of five hundred cannon proclaimed that the battle was on,
And the moon in the sky overshone all, recording the eighteenth of June.

And what a sad heart had poor Boney, for to take up instead of a crown,
A canter from Brussels to Paris, lamenting the eighteenth of June.

All you young girls with sweethearts out yonder, who go daily to buy the black gown,
It’s a thousand to one I will lay you your love fell on the eighteenth of June.
Sixty thousand stout-hearted brave soldiers who died made an awful pall tune,
And it’s many the girl will remember with sorrow the eighteenth of June.

And what a sad heart had poor Boney, for to take up instead of a crown,
A canter from Brussels to Paris, lamenting the eighteenth of June.


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