(N.S.W. Contingent)


(Notes by Mary Hamer)

the poem
[January 24 2008]

Publication history

One of the suite of sixteen ‘Service Songs’ which close The Five Nations. According to Carrington written in 1901 see Background for “M.I.” Collected in I.V. 1919, D.V. 1940, the Sussex Edition vol. 33 and the Burwash Edition, vol. 26. When it was collected for the Sussex Edition Kipling expanded the subscript to read (New South Wales Contingent).


According to Durand (see below), some years after the war a group of men in New Zealand were arguing about this poem; one of them confirmed that he had identified a small wattle-bush in Lichtenberg, after being attracted to it by the fragrance. It is said that the haunting refrain of the poem was directly derived from words uttered by an Australian soldier and overheard by Kipling.

Notes on the text

(by Mary Hamer drawing on various sources, in particular
Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling" 1914.)

[Title and subscript] Lichtenberg a pretty little village in the western Transvaal, built round a market square. The trees which shaded its houses were cut down in 1901 when Boer General de la Rey (1847-1914) wanted to make it easier to defend.

N.S.W. contingent Australian soldiers from New South Wales in south east Australia. When the Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899, it was seen as an opportunity for Australia, at that time made up of six colonies on the brink of federation, to show its commitment to Britain. Over 16,000 Australian troops, all volunteers, served in it, mostly in mounted troops sent out by each individual colony. See also notes to “The Young Queen”.

[Stanza 1] wattle a plant of the mimosa family, found in Australia.

[Stanza 2] small wet fine rain. In writing this poem, Kipling appears to have been echoing the intense late medieval poem:

O westron wind, when wilt thou blow
that the small rain down can rain?
Christ that my love were in my arms
and I in my bed again.
sold-out shops because the railway was being used exclusively for military purposes, shops could not replenish their stocks.

[Stanza 4] Hunter River ... vines a major river of New South Wales. Today grapes continue to be grown by small producers for the famous wine industry of Hunter Valley.


©Mary Hamer 2008 All rights reserved