Sergeant, Where’s Mine? – Billy Connelly
On June 3rd 1974, the Daily Mirror, which claimed ‘Europe’s biggest daily sale,’ stated about Northern Ireland that: ‘Britain must face the most sombre option of all – to pull out the troops and abandon sovereignty.’ A few days previously the London Evening Standard had carried the headline, ‘Ulster: Back-bencher makes a startling claim – HALF LABOUR MPs WANT TO PULL OUT.’ In the face of mounting casualties, it was also evident that many of the soldiers were fed up with their role in Northern Ireland. More than 200 British soldiers had been killed and many more maimed.
Also in 1974, Christopher Dobson – ‘With the troops in Ulster’s ugly world of terrorism’- had filed this report in the Sunday Telegraph [7th April 1974]: ‘To walk along Belfast’s Royal Avenue today is like walking in the past – along Ledra Street in Nicosia when Eoka’s murderers were at work. Venturing into the Bogside in Derry is like taking a patrol into Aden’s Crater district, and dropping by helicopter into a border fort is like visiting a fire-base in Vietnam’. Under the heading – ‘ANGER OF ARMY THAT FEELS BETRAYED’ – Dobson continued:
‘… There can be no surprise therefore that the average soldier is thoroughly fed up with Ireland and everything to do with it. But what surprised me was the extent and depth of the bitterness that exists among the troops, some of whom are on their fifth tour of duty in Ulster.
… Soldiers are expected to grumble, but these men genuinely felt that they were being misused and ill-treated. Their complaints ranged over pay, excessively long hours, of being “forgotten”, and in particular the inability of “the bloody politicians” to settle the appalling mess in which the soldiers found themselves …’
It was also in 1974, that Billy Connolly released his ‘Cop Yer Whack for This’ Album, which included the track ‘I’m Asking You Sergeant, Where’s Mine’ (later shortened to ‘Sergeant, Where’s Mine?’) Inspired by The Troubles in Northern Ireland, it is told from the point of view of a wounded soldier and makes ironic reference to British Army recruitment advertisements of the era that showed recruits having a grand time in exotic places and enjoying such activities as skiing.
Sergeant, Where’s Mine?
I’m lying in bed, I’m in room 26
Thinking on things that I’ve done
Like drinking with squaddies and bulling my boots
And counting the medals I’ve won.
These hospital wards are all drab looking joints
But the ceilings as much as I see
It could dae with a wee touch of paper or paint
But then again mebbe that’s me.
Chorus [once after first verse, three times after second verse]
Oh sergeant is this the adventure you meant
When I put my name doon on the line
All that talk of computers and sunshine and skis
Oh I’m asking you sergeant where’s mine?
I’ve a brother in Partick with long curly hair
When I joined up he said I was daft
He says shooting strangers just wasnae his game
That brother of mine isnae saft.
But I can put up with most things I’ve done in my time
I can even put up with the pain
But what do you do with a gun in your hand
When you’re faced with a hundred odd wains?
Before he became a star, Billy Connolly had joined the Territorial Army, while working in a shipyard. He therefore understood the impulses that could draw working class youngsters into joining the army. On ‘Cop Yer Whack for This’ he introduced ‘Sergeant Where’s Mine’ by stating: ‘I wrote this song a wee while ago after seeing a documentary on television. It was about Ulster and the children in Ulster, being in a terrible state with the war being on, and the soldiers in Ulster, being in a terrible state trying to cope with the kids and fight a war that they don’t know what it’s all about. After I saw it, about a fortnight later I was walking along Sauchiehall Street and I came to the Army Information place. I was looking in the window – you know, where all these young guys join the Army – and there was all these pictures of computers and discotheques and things, and soldiers enjoying themselves, but there was nae deed bodies in the window. And I thought, O Aye. So this is a wee song I wrote after seeing these things.’
This song was chosen by Aly Renwick who served with the Royal Engineers in Thailand and is a member of Veterans For Peace.