Page:Great Speeches of the War.djvu/316

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
Rudyard Kipling

Or a band — not necessarily a full band, but a band of a few brasses and wood winds — is immensely valuable in districts where troops are billeted. It revives memories; it quickens associations; it opens and unites the hearts of men more surely than any other appeal. In that respect it assists recruiting perhaps more than any other agency. The tunes that it employs and the words that go with them may seem very far removed from heroism or devotion; but the magic and the compelling power are there to make men's souls realize certain truths which their minds might doubt.

More than that. No one—not even the adjutant—can say for certain where the soul of a battalion lives; but the expression of that soul is most often found in the Band. It stands to reason that a body of 1,200 men whose lives are pledged to each other's keeping must have some common means of expressing their thoughts and moods to themselves and to their world. The Band can feel the mood and interpret the thought.

A wise and sympathetic bandmaster — and most that I have known have been that—can lift a battalion out of depression, cheer its sickness, and steady and recall it to itself in times of almost unendurable strain. You will remember a beautiful poem by Sir Henry Newbolt describing how a squadron of "weary big dragoons" were led on to renewed effort by the strains of a penny whistle and a child's drum taken from a toyshop of a wrecked French town. And I remember in a cholera camp in India, where the men were suffering very badly, the Band of the 10th Lincolns started a regimental sing-song one night with that queer defiant tune, "The Lincolnshire Poacher." You know the words. It was merely their regimental march, which the men had heard a thousand times. There was nothing in it except—except all England—all the East Coast—all the fun and daring and horseplay of young men bucketing about the big pastures by moonlight. But, as it was given, very softly, at that bad time in that terrible camp of death, it was the one thing in the world which could have restored — as it did — shaken men to pride, humour, and self-control. This is, perhaps, an extreme case, but by no means an exceptional one. A man who has had any experience of the Service can testify that a battalion is better for music at every turn—happier, easier to handle, and with greater zest for its daily routine, if that routine is sweetened by melody and rhythm—melody for the mind and rhythm for the body.