Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

The 51st Highland Division's Farewell To Sicily

Hamish Henderson (1919 –02)
Tune: Farewell To The Creeks by Pipe Major James Robertson

The pipie is dozie, the pipie is fey
He winna come roon for his vino the day
The sky o'er Messina is unco an grey
An a’ the bricht chaulmers are eerie

Fareweel ye banks o Sicily
Fare ye weel ye valley an shaw
There's nae Jock will mourn the kyles o ye
Puir bliddy swaddies are weary
Fareweel ye banks o Sicily
Fare ye weel ye valley an shaw
There's nae hame can smoor the wiles o ye
Puir bliddy swaddies are weary

Then doon the stair and line the waterside
Wait your turn, the ferry's awa
Then doon the stair and line the waterside
A’ the bricht chaulmers are eerie

The drummie is polisht, the drummie is braw
He cannae be seen for his webbin ava
He's beezed himsel up for a photy an a
Tae leave wi his Lola, his dearie

Sae fare weel ye dives o Sicily
Fare ye weel ye shielin an ha’
We'll a mind shebeens an bothies
Whaur kind signorinas were cheerie
Fare weel ye banks o Sicily
Fare ye weel ye shielin an ha’
We'll a mind shebeens an bothies
Whaur Jock made a date wi his dearie

Then tune the pipes and drub the tenor drum
Leave your kit this side o the wa
Then tune the pipes and drub the tenor drum
A’ the bricht chaulmers are eerie

Words:
Ava: at all
Bliddy: bloody
Bothy: hut for shepherds, and for using on the hills
Chaulmers: rooms, chambers
Dozie: stupid (dozened : stupefied, dazed)
Fey: acting strangely, as if doomed, facing calamity
Ha’: hall
Kyles: sea-straits
Mind: remember
Pipie: piper
Shaw: thicket
Shebeen: place selling unlicensed alcohol
Shielin: summer hut on high pasture
Swaddies: soldiers
Unco: strange, uncanny

Gordeanna McCulloch who brought this song to Sangschule, told us about the historical background of the song which expresses ambivalent feelings about leaving a place where you’ve lived and made connections in spite of painful experiences – in order to go home.  For the war-weary men, who had fought in Africa and Sicily,waiting on the waterside to be shipped back to Britain and looking back at the “eerie” lights of the town, it was no quiet return home, just the chance to be made ready for another bit of the war, the invasion of North West Europe, D Day.

How Hamish came to write the song is recorded in his own words, in 1993, in a literary magazine Cencrastus which is quoted by his biographer Timothy Neat in vol.1, The Making Of  The Poet.

On 16th August, 1943, near Linguaglossa in Sicily he heard a massed pipe band playing, left the jeep he was being driven in and headed towards it, pushing through crowds of Sicilians. The 153 Brigade, made up of Gordon and Blackwatch battalions were playing a beautiful retreat air, and the march that followed was one of Hamish’s favourites, “Farewell to the Creeks”, composed during World War 1 by Pipe Major James Robertson of Banff.

 Hamish said “And while I listened to it, words began to form in my head – particularly one recurrent line ‘Puir bliddy swaddies are weary’ … And they were too!” The other lines came fast and that night Hamish sang the completed song. He wrote it out for the troops and “it took off with amazing speed” preceding him back to Scotland.

Hamish Henderson as an Intelligence Officer had been with the 51st Highland Division through the African campaign in the 2nd World War and landed with them to invade Sicily in 1943. After the successful campaign in Sicily they parted company as 
Hamish was ordered to stay behind and join the 8th Army’s invasion of Italy. In 1945 he was the officer charged with accepting the formal surrender of the Italian forces.