We’re a very tiny army, as armies go to-day,
Just an army of the Tropics and beginning to decay.
We thought you had forgotten us-so long we’ve been away.
We’ve most of us had fever or a tropical inside,
And we’ve foot-slogged half a continent; we’re not supposed to ride;
And lots of us have lost the trail and crossed the Great Divide.
Perhaps the blokes in Flanders our little bit will scorn,
‘Cos we’ve never had an order that gas masks must be worn,
And have never heard a “nine point five“ or a Hymn of Hate at morn.
But how’d you like to tramp it for a solid month on end,
And then go on another month till your knees begin to bend,
Or when you’re out on picquet hear a lion answer “Friend”?
And what about a scrapping up a mountain three miles high,
A-swearing and a-panting till you thought your end was nigh,
And then to bump a Maxim gun that’s dug in on the sky?
And would you like anopheles and jigger-fleas and snakes
To “chivvy” you from dusk till dawn, and fill you up with aches,
And then go on fatigue all day in a heat that fairly bakes?
There wasn’t any Blighty, no, nor mails in twice a week:
We had no concerts ‘hind the lines; we got too bored to speak,
And there was no change of rations; and our water bottles leak.
So don’t despise our efforts, for we’ve done our level best,
For it wasn’t beer and skittles, those two years without a rest,
And though the world forgot us we think we stood the test.
We’re a cohort from the tropics, and we’ve come from far away,
Just an unremembered legion, fret with fever and decay.
And all of us are weary, and lots have lost the way.
We’re a tiny little cohort, and we’re glad to have a spell
From fever and from marching and a sun that burns like hell,
And now we’re back amongst you, we’ll very soon get well.
Just a tiny army, as armies go to-day,
Just a handful from the tropics, and beginning to decay,
Just a Legion of the Lost Ones-who have wandered far away.
Just a remnant who’ve been fighting for you and for your race;
Just a cohort from the northward, where we’d worse than Huns to face.
We thank you for your welcome, and we think you’re very kind,
But we’d ask you to remember – all our mates we left behind!
Written by Owen Letcher in 1918 and first published in the Johannesburg “Star”. Letcher fought with the King’s African Rifles out of Nyasaland into German East Africa. He wrote an autobiographical novel about his experiences: “Cohort of the Tropics”.