"The Song of the Exiles"


(notes by John McGivering
and John Radcliffe)

the poem

[May 12th 2017]


The first publication of this poem was in the United Services College Chronicle no. 16, 15 October 1883, signed 'Gigs'. It was included in the Schoolboy Lyrics section of later collections, but - written after his arrival in India - was not one of the poems published in Lahore under that title in 1881 by Alice Kipling. It is listed in ORG as No 74.

See Andrew Rutherford (p. 198) for details of a later and amended version dated November 1883, sent to Dunsterville ('Stalky') in 1884. See KJ 156 pp. 6/7 for a note by Roger Lancelyn Green on the "Dunsterville version" of the poem.

Collected in:
  • The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
  • Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Rutherford, p. 198
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 1189.
The poem

The United Services College had been founded in 1874 to provide education and a route into the army for the sons of serving officers. Many of them were posted to India, and others - like Kipling - found their way there as civilians. Kipling was devoted to the school and to Cormell Price, the Head, and sent a number of poems, like this one, back to him for publication in the school magazine, the United Services College Chronicle. Here he writes of old boys of USC serving in India as new generations take their places at the 'Coll'.


See the notes in this Guide on Stalky & Co., the 'Stalky' stories themselves, Something of Myself Chapter II, "The School Before its Time.",, "An English School", and "The Boar of the Year".

In the Kipling Library at Haileybury, the school with which USC is merged, there is a selection of books by former pupils, including Colonel H. A. Tapp whose works include United Services College, 1874-1911.

Notes on the text


'Gigs' Although he called himself 'Beetle' in Stalky & Co. Kipling's school nickname was 'Gigs' or 'Gigger', short for 'Gig-lamps', because of the spectacles which he wore for his very short sight.

[Verse 1]

Barrack the school was accommodated in a terrace of houses: 'Twelve bleak houses by the shore.' as Kipling describes it in "A School Song". Like an army barracks, it was not luxurious accommodation.

pignuts Conopodium Magus a perennial herb, common in Europe; the part below ground is said to be similar to a chestnut. More popular with pigs than with people, but perhaps the more hungry boys of USC enjoyed digging them up on the hill behind the school.

[Verse 2]

Gym gymnasium, a large building used for physical training and an assembly-room.

knives schoolboys usually carried penknives for sharpening pencils and carving their names on desks or other unsuitable places.

[Verse 3]

call-over the schoolboys assemble usually twice a day and answer to their names as they are called out. 'Roll-call' in present-day schools.

messes a word of several meanings, in this context the building containing the officers' quarters, their dining-room and a sitting-room, usually called the ante-room. The mess in a large barracks would have rooms for playing cards (though not for money), billiards etc.

[Verse 4]

'India's coral strand' from the well-known hymn; 'From Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strand' in which Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826), affirms the call of the world's peoples for Christian enlightenment.

[Verse 5]

Bombay the great port city on the west coast of India. Kipling was born there in 1865. Now called Mumbai.

Dum-Dum Site of an arsenal near the town of the same name in West Bengal which gave its name to an expanding bullet which inflicted appalling wounds; now banned for use in warfare as too inhumane.

lines a word of many meanings, here a street or section of a camp or more permanent constructions with accommodation for people - the 'civil lines' - and with horse-lines etc., for the military.

Karachi another great city, and seaport, a former capital of Pakistan on the shores of the Arabian Sea. The ancient capital of Sindh.

O.U.S.C. A man who was educated at the United Services College, common usage for 'Old Boys' of British public schools, thus O.C. - Old Cheltonian, O.W. - Old Wellingtonian, etc.

[Verse 6]

Cachar A District in Assam, north of Calcutta.

Quetta provincial capital of Baluchistan State, Pakistan.

Frontier war In British India there was always concern about a possible invasion by the Russians, as described in Kim, "The Man Who Was", and other tales and poems.

[Verse 7]

Naga Hills mountains between India and Myanma

Tibet traditional homeland of the Tibetan people - including the Lama in Kim. The highest inhabited region on earth, it covers some 2.4 million square km at an average height of 16,000 feet (4,800 metres) above sea-level. .

[Verse 8]

R.A. Royal Artillery. See "On Fort Duty", "Ubique", and "Screw-Guns".

kutcha temporary, inferior, the opposite of pukka.

[Verse 9]

Ghats The mountain ranges parallel to the Eastern and Western coasts of India.

[Verse 10]

prance to move in an ostentatious, exaggerated manner suggestive of 'showing off', here giving a derogatory picture of a mounted officer with his men.

gurah-log European soldiers,

Murree a pleasant hill-station in Rawalpindi District some 19 miles) (30 Km.) north-east of Islamabad, in Pakistan, established in 1851 as an army sanatorium.

Jutogh a cantonment town in Shimla District, Himachal Pradesh, in northern India.

flashing signal the heliograph - see "The Way that He Took" (Land and Sea Tales) and "A Code of Morals".

[Verse 12]

Northam a village between Westward Ho! - where USC was established - and Appledore, in North Devon.

ŠJohn McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved