Soldiers and horses drown in the Kabul RiverThis print from the Illustrated London News illustrates the drowning of the 47 men of the 10th Hussars. The actions have been compressed for dramatic purposes, but a contemporary photo of the scene of the disaster shows that the river, looking deceptively calm, was around 200 yards across.

Ford O’ Kabul River


Submitted by George Stephens

One of Rudyard Kipling’s “Barrack Room Ballads,” the poem, set to a tune by Peter Bellamy, describes a tragic night in March, 1879, when the British 10th Hussars attempted to cross Kabul River to occupy Kabul, Afghanistan. The river was high with water from melting snow, and 46 men and many horses were lost.


Afghanistan, at a strategic cross roads linking North, South, East, and West, has been unsuccessfully invaded multiple times through recorded history, most recently by the British, the Russians, and UN forces, led by the United States. It has gained the nickname “the place where empires come to die.” This song seems a fitting comment on the current military adventurism taking place in Ukraine. “Gawd ’elp ’em if they blunder.”


As sung by (the late!) Tony Barrand, accompanied by John Roberts:

"Ford o' Kabul River" sheet musicDownload a PDF of the sheet music for "Ford o' Kabul River."

Lyrics

Words – Rudyard Kipling
Tune – Peter Bellamy

Kabul town’s by Kabul river—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

There I lef’ my mate for ever, wet an’ drippin’ by the ford. 

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!

There’s the river up and brimmin’, an’ there’s ’arf a squadron swimmin’

’Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark.



Kabul town’s a blasted place—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

’Strewth I sha’n’t forget ’is face wet an’ drippin’ by the ford!

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark! 

Keep the crossing-stakes beside you, an’ they will surely guide you 

’Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark.



Kabul town is sun and dust—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

I’d ha’ sooner drownded fust ’stead of ’im beside the ford.

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!

You can ’ear the ’orses threshin’, you can ’ear the men a-splashin’,

’Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark.



Kabul town was ours to take—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

I’d ha’ left it for ’is sake—’im that left me by the ford.

Ford, ford, ford o’ Kabul river, ford o’ Kabul river in the dark!

It’s none so bloomin’ dry there; ain’t you never comin’ nigh there,

’Cross the ford o’ Kabul river in the dark?



Kabul town’ll go to hell—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—

’Fore I see him ’live an’ well—’im the best beside the ford.

Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river, ford o' Kabul river in the dark!
Gawd 'elp 'em if they blunder, for their boots'll pull 'em under,
By the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

Turn your 'orse from Kabul town—blow the trumpet, draw the sword—
'Im an' 'arf my troop is down, down an' drownded by the ford.
Ford, ford, ford o' Kabul river, ford o' Kabul river in the dark!
There's the river low an' fallin', but it ain't no use o' callin'
'Cross the ford o' Kabul river in the dark.

George Stephens writes: I’ve always had a somewhat latent, but strong, interest in music. Minor childhood prodigy on clarinet, then immersion in ’50’s Philadelphia pop and soul, early exposure to the Weavers from older brothers’ records, Kingston Trio, Peter Paul & Mary; most importantly, discovery of Folk-Legacy Records. And the rest, as they say... I’ve sung with the cowboy/civil servant band Sidekicks, my late wife, Mary LaMarca, and my wife Kathy Westra Stephens, at festivals, house concerts, benefit concerts ,and where ever they’ll have us. Kathy and I have released a CD, Birds of Passage, on Folk-Legacy, now available (as are all F-L releases) from Smithsonian-Folkways.


     
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