Jody Baker: Baynes On The Soldier Murray, Rudyard Kipling And Yale University

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

We honor the brave soldier named Murray. He saved Dr. Watson’s life on the battlefield. In considering the life of Murray, we can benefit greatly from a study of Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads. They depict keenly the life and the hardships of the British Field Forces of Murray’s day. Kipling’s ballad Gentlemen-rankers is one of these. It deserves special attention. 

The British term “Gentlemen-ranker” is defined in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (E. Cobham Brewer; Century Edition 1970; Harper and Rowe, Publishers): 

“Gentlemen-ranker- In the days of the small regular army before World War I, this term was applied to a well-born or educated man who enlisted as a private soldier. It was considered a last resort of one who had made a mess of things.” 

In 1892 Rudyard Kipling published a poem or ballad recognizing the Gentlemen-rankers of the British Field Forces. In 1898 Guy Scull, of Harvard, wrote some music for Kipling’s Gentlemen-rankers to be sung in barracks-room style. The poem, as a song, was then frequently sung at Yale from 1907 through 1909. In 1910 Meade Minnigerod and George Pomeroy, both of Yale, converted Kipling’s song, Gentlemen-rankers, to new and different wording. The new lyrics were applied to the old tune of Gentlemen-rankers. Thus, was created the Whiffenpoofs Song of Yale Glee Club fame.

We are familiar with the Wiffenpoofs’ version: “To the tables down at Mory’s; To the place where Louie dwells; To the dear old Temple bar we love so well;  … etc. etc.”  

Now, when we think of Murray and recite or read Kipling’s Gentlemen-rankers, we are entitled to sing it out, barrack-room style, to its original tune which was later adopted by the Whiffenpoofs:  


“To the legion of the lost ones, to the cohort of the damned, 
         To my brethren in their sorrow overseas, 
Sings a gentleman of England cleanly bred, machinely crammed, 
         And a trooper of the Empress, if you please. 
Yea, a trooper of the forces who has run his own six horses, 
         And faith he went the pace and went it blind, 
And the world was more than kin while he held the ready tin, 
         But to-day the Sergeant's something less than kind. 
         We're poor little lambs who've lost our way, 
         Baa! Baa! Baa! 
         We're little black sheep who've gone astray, 
         Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree, 
         Damned from here to Eternity, 
         God ha' mercy on such as we, 
         Baa! Yah! Bah!
“We have done with Hope and Honour, we are lost to Love and Truth, 
         We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung, 
And the measure of our torment is the measure of our youth. 
         God help us, for we knew the worst too young! 
Our shame is clean repentance for the crime that brought the sentence, 
         Our pride it is to know no spur of pride, 
And the Curse of Reuben holds us till an alien turf enfolds us 
         And we die, and none can tell Them where we died. 
         We're poor little lambs who've lost our way, 
         Baa! Baa! Baa! 
         We're little black sheep who've gone astray, 
         Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree, 
         Damned from here to Eternity, 
         God ha' mercy on such as we, 
         Baa! Yah! Bah!”

Inspector Baynes

(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at

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