My Dear Friend, Miss. Pronter, has forgiven, but hardly forgotten, my betise in allowing some of her verses to be put forward here, under a mangled version of her name (‘You claim to be a long-standing acquaintance, yet can’t even get my name right! It’s Pronter: just think about your beloved Cameras, and Prontor shutters! On second thoughts, perhaps don’t, or your woolly head will have my lines ascribed to a ‘Miss Compur’ …)
We were, of course, discussing the news. Not the hypochondriac’s news, of course: she’s from an era where there were always far more interesting things to be discussed than one’s health.
‘Afghanistan?’ she snorted. ‘Of course the Americans always blithely assumed that it was the tottering British Empire’s lack of will that meant the Raj could never conquer them; and then the equally stupid Russians made the same mistake. I wrote some lines at the time, I remember…’
Agog, I got her to produce the hand-written (pencil!) verses, and, though she would not entrust the papers to me, she permitted me to transcribe them (under her unsparing eye), and here they are (‘No Dear, that’s how we wrote and pronounced all those place-names then. Never expect to hear me alluding to …’ she drew a fierce breath here… ‘mumbai’: Bombay it was, and, here at least, Bombay it is!’
Sickle and Scimitar
The Russian came down like a bear on rampage,
Red with blood were his claws as his eyes were with rage.
Reactionary peasants, how would they still stand,
Ancient rifle on shoulder and mills-bomb in hand!
In the Kremlin, they smiled as their armour poured in
And their planes filled the sky with a murderous din.
Down the Panshur they shrieked, leaving nothing but dust
Where once had stood houses – so hot their blood-lust
To kill and destroy, both to punish and warn
The sons of the Prophet, on whom they poured scorn:
‘These primitive tribesmen who wear the burnous
Might have baffled the British, but cannot balk us!
We will push to Kabul, roll straight on to Paktya
Then sweep down from Herat through the Kush: Kandahar
Will not stop us nor frail Peshawar. We shall reach
To Karachi, pierce through to the Sea. From the beach
At Ormara, our jets can fly West – to Iran!
Where the Mullahs shall tremble, and faint to a man!
From the beach at Ormara, our jets shall fly East
Over Jamninya, Rajbot, the Gulf of Cambray
They will terrify Surat, and threaten Bombay!
To the beach at Ormara, our ships shall be brought
For supplies that we need, then, a warm-water port
We shall build, near the Gulf where the oil-sheikhs hold court!
Thus, our Empire shall range from the Pole to The Zone,
And, ere long, the whole Orient, we’ll treat as our own!’
But the stubborn hill tribesmen of Bolkh and Parwan,
Though their weapons were ancient, they yet were PATHAN;
And the warrior-spirit the Raj could not tame
Still burned in the grandson, who nurtured the flame
In his sons and his grandsons, all thirsting for fame!
And not only for fame: each warrior believes
That God blesses his cause, and each hero receives
At his death, straight in Paradise, gloriously clad
Many virgins and boys (like pearls): this war is JIHAD!
‘Let the infidel Infidel learn to his cost
That the War will be won, though the battle be lost;
That our land shall be free, though our own lives be lost!
And to what Paradise, Atheist, shall your sons be sent?
Take their corpses to Moscow: return to Tashkent!
For, by jackal and vulture, their bodies are rent.
By the Black Rock of Mecca, we fight on unbent!’
© Jethro 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file