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(Cecily Fox Smith)

Overseas in Flanders the sun was dropping low,
With tramp and creak and jingle, I heard the gun teams go,
When something seemed to set me a-dreaming as I lay
Of my own Hampshire village at the quiet end of day

Cho: Home, lads, home, all among the corn and clover
Home, lads, home, when the working day is over,
For there’s rest for horse and man when the longest day is done
And they’ll all go home together at the setting of the sun.

Brown thatch with garden blooming with lily and with rose
And the river running past them so quiet where it flows
Wide fields of oats and barley, and the elder flowers like foam
And the sky all gold with sunset, and the horses going home.

Oh Captain, Boxer, Traveller, I see them all so plain
With tasselled ear-caps nodding all along the leafy lane
And somewhere a bird is calling, and there’s swallows flying low
And the lads are sitting sideways and singing as they go.

Well gone is many a lad now, and many a horse gone too,
Of all the lads and horses from those old fields I knew,
For Dick fell at Givenchy and Prince beside the guns
On that red road of glory, a mile or two from Mons.

Dead lads and shadowy horses, I see them all the same,
I see them and I know them and I call them each by name,
Riding down from harvest, when all the west’s aglow
And the lads all sitting sideways and singing as they go

Chorus 2
Home lads, home, with the sunset on their faces
Home, lads home, to those quiet, happy places,
For there’s rest for horse and man when the longest day is done
And they’ll all go home together at the setting of the sun.

Chorus 1.

“Home Lads, Home” – Cicely Fox Smith and the folk process.

Many people are now familiar with the poet, Cicely Fox Smith (dates), whose
work has been set to music
by a number of folk performers including Alan Fitzsimmons, Pint and Dale, and
Dave Webber. Her poems
(like many of Kipling’s) seem to have a natural affinity with the folk
tradition, and it is interesting
to see how the “folk process” has had an impact on one of her poems, “Homeward”,
published in 1916.
A number of people have asked me about the different sets of words that seem to
be around for this song,
so I hope the following notes will provide an explanation.

The “folk process” is a term often used to describe the subtle way in which
songs change when they
are transmitted via the oral tradition. Singers “remember” slightly different
versions of the tune and words,
occasionally changing a word or place name to fit their local context more
comfortably, and so on.
As a result, we end up with often quite widely different versions of the same
song cropping up in
different areas. The existence of an original printed source does not seem to
be a barrier –
if the people want to make a work their own, they will go ahead and do it!

I first came across the words of “Homeward” in 1983, in a magazine called “This
England”, where they
were credited to “an unknown Hampshire soldier” and given the title “Going home
together” . The poem
simply cried out for a musical setting, so after some time at the piano, the
song “Home, Lads, home”
came into being. I made one or two alterations to the words while I was in the
course of writing the music;
some of these were simply to do with scansion. However I must confess to
changing the word “river” to “Meon”,
and the line “riding down from harvest” to “riding down from Swanmore”. I also
used one verse as a chorus.
The reason for the changes was that the descriptions fitted the Meon Valley
(where I was working at the time)
very well, and I wanted to give the song an even stronger sense of place. The
first line in the magazine
version, incidentally, began “Overseas in India”. This version of the song
soon found a home among
folk performers and was recorded by Bermuda Quadrangle, Roger Watson,
Cockersdale and others.

Some time later, I was told that the words were in fact by Cicely Fox Smith, but
it was a number of years
before I saw a copy of her original words. In the meantime, Mick Ryan asked to
use the song in his World War I
folk opera “A Day’s Work”, and we changed the first line to “Overseas in
Flanders” for obvious reasons.
I was very surprised when I eventually gained access to the original words,
which started –
“Behind a trench in Flanders”!

Clearly, the folk process had been at work, as the version published in “This
England” had a number
of differences from CFS’s original. Presumably, someone liked it enough to
learn it off by heart,
and time and memory (or memories) did the rest of the editing! The next factor
in the song’s evolution,
was when my husband Steve and I decided to do some research into the life of
Cicely Fox Smith.
We discovered that she had in fact lived very near the Meon Valley in the
1930’s, but prior to that she was
living in the North of Hampshire. From what we have gleaned from the Records
Office, we are now virtually
certain that at the time of writing the poem in question, she was living in
Chilbolton, at St. Michael’s Cottage,
a few minutes walk from the River Test. So…in performance I now no longer
mention the Meon, or Swanmore,
although most other people who sing the song still do! In my own performance of
the song I am gradually
working back towards the original words, but it isn’t easy to change it much now
that so many people know it
(and lots of them think it is traditional)!

I think it is a tribute to Cicely Fox Smith’s ability to touch the heart in
simple language, that despite
numerous minor alterations, the integrity and essence of her poem has stayed the
same. From what I have come
to know of her, I think she would not be averse to the idea of her poems
becoming part of a living
English tradition.

Sarah Morgan 30/8/02

@war @farming @animal
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