Andrew Poleson with Grace Anderson [The Heights of Alma] SA1974.07.6
Grace Anderson [The Heights of Alma] SA1974.07.7
Grace had sung through this ballad with Andrew Poleson and immediately afterwards sang it alone – a somewhat better rendering which includes one more verse.. We include both renderings here.
This is a patriotic broadside ballad dating from 1854 celebrating a costly and bloody battle during the Crimean war. It very quickly found widespread circulation in broadsheets issued by numerous printers (Roud index no. 830).
Whalsay versions stay very close to broadsheet texts – see for instance the copy in the National Library of Scotland:- http://digital.nls.uk/broadsides/broadside.cfm/id/16451/criteria/Alma. The ballad clearly must have travelled far and we are grateful to the American ballad enthusiast Charles Biada: he emailed us to say that, “Cecil Sharp collected an American parody of this song from a Confederate veteran named Philander Fitzgerald, altered to describe a wildly apocryphal Southern victory at the Battle of Shiloh.” You can find Fitzgerald’s verses if you click here. The music transcription given in the second entry on that page shows us that the tune sung by Fitzgerald is very different from the fine strong air sung in Whalsay.
The battle-cry Faugh-a-ballagh! (Gaelic for ‘Clear the way!’) mentioned in the penultimate verse is the motto of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, now known as the Royal Irish Regiment.
You loyal Britons pray draw near
Unto the news I’ve brought you here;
With joy each British heart does cheer
For the victory gained at Alma.
It was on September the eighteenth day,
In spite of the salt sea’s dashing spray,
We landed safe in the Crimee
Upon our route for Alma.
That night we lay on the cold, cold ground,
No tents nor shelter could be found;
With rain we all were nearly drowned
To cheer our hearts for Alma.
Next morning a burning sun did rise
Beneath the eastern cloudless skies;
Our gallant chief Lord Raglan cries,
“Prepare to march for Alma.”
And, when the Alma came in view,
The stoutest heart it would subdue
To see the Russians’ motley crew
Upon the heights of Alma.
They were so strongly fortified
With batteries on the mountainside,
Our general viewed their force and cried,
“We’ll get hard work at Alma.”
Lord Raglan and Marshal St. Arnaud
Our gallant men to victory led,
And with the Frenchmen by our side
We gained the heights of Alma
The balls did fall as thick as rain
When we the batteries strove to gain,
And many a hero there was slain
Upon the heights of Alma.
The Thirty-third, the Seventh and Fusiliers,
They climbed the hill and gave three cheers,
When “Faugh-a-ballagh!” did rend our ears
From Hibernian sons at Alma.
Our Highland lads in kilt and hose,
They were not last you may suppose;
They boldly faced the Russian foes
And gained the heights of Alma.