The Five Nations

Half-Ballad of Waterval

(Non-commissioned Officers in Charge of Prisoners)

Rudyard Kipling

WHEN by the labour of my ’ands
    I’ve ’elped to pack a transport tight
With prisoners for foreign lands,
    I ain’t transported with delight.
    I know it’s only just an’ right,
        But yet it somehow sickens me,
For I ’ave learned at Waterval 1
        The meanin’ of captivity.

Be’ind the pegged barb-wire strands,
    Beneath the tall electric light,
We used to walk in bare-’ead bands,
    Explainin’ ’ow we lost our fight;
    An’ that is what they’ll do to-night
        Upon the steamer out at sea,
If I ’ave learned at Waterval
        The meanin’ of captivity.

They’ll never know the shame that brands—
    Black shame no livin’ down makes white—
The mockin’ from the sentry-stands,
    The women’s laugh, the gaoler’s spite.
    We are too bloomin’-much polite,
        But that is ’ow I’d ’ave us be . . .
Since I ’ave learned at Waterval
        The meanin’ of captivity.

They’ll get those draggin’ days all right,
    Spent as a foreigner commands,
An’ ’orrors of the locked-up night,
    With ’Ell’s own thinkin’ on their ’ands.
    I’d give the gold o’ twenty Rands
        (If it was mine) to set ’em free
For I ’ave learned at Waterval
        The meanin’ of captivity!

1. Where the majority of English prisoners were kept by the Boers.    [back]

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