Egypt and Harrogate

President Nasser of Pharaoh’s old land
To suit himself seized the Suez Canal
Came Britain , with Israel to lend a hand
Along with La France to fight this grand mal

That August , near the town of Harrogate
The afternoon sun in the barrack room
Sixteen steel beds drawn up , eight facing eight
Mops , polish , bumpers and a big bass broom

Uniacke Barracks on Pennypot Lane
Home to the Army Apprentices School
Plumbers and draughtsmen will come here to train
Learn to be craftsmen by book and by tool

Colonel J.Carne was the school’s commandant
Gloucester’s leader at the River Imjin
The Medal of Honour Congress to grant
Victoria Cross from our King to win

Young boys soon to be soldiers and tradesmen
They have been named Intake Fifty Six B
From town and city , green farmland and fen
Londoners , Geordies , Yorkshire men and me

Alexandria in 1801
With rule of Egypt the contested prize
This battle that Frenchmen so nearly won
Where Ralph Abercrombie met his demise

The Gloucester’s , while on this previous mission
Attacked on two sides , they turned back to back
Our old army is full of tradition
They now wear a sphinx on the back of their cap

Service dress tunics left from World War One
Black bumpy boots with long , thin , strong laces
Berets with bows at the back come undone
Trousers held up by strong , wide, grey braces

Chinstraps are glossed to a deep gleaming brown
Toecaps of boots pick up pinpoints of light
Sitting on beds with tongue out and a frown
Good turnout achieved by shining all night

How to keep the blanco from the brass bits
To keep the brasso from the blancoed belts
These were the mysteries to tax our wits
And get the black polish into the welts

To keep us fit we clump through country lanes
From Ethelburgas School ; some saucy lasses
We pretend attack by hostile airplanes
Dive into the ditches ; silly asses

Brass badges and buttons , buffed and burnished
Shoulder flashes of red , green , blue and brown
Rebellion when buttons might be varnished
Soft red felt , backs black lace chevrons and crowns

Red coats made targets for wily Pathans
Wool tunics made the soldiers feel tacky
Soak white shirts in the shai , and shade them tan
The Hindu word for that hue is khaki

Denim blouses and slacks , faded and frayed
Brown plastic buttons put on by split ring
Only one set left , but don’t be dismayed
The jacket will hang and the trousers will cling

Eisenhower had the hydrogen bomb
Mister Nikita Kruschev had his say
“We mean to sink the United Kingdom
Aircraft carrier for the U.S.A.”

Sir Anthony Eden , weary and wan
Sir Winston Churchill made of sterner stuff
End of empire the sun never set on
A short time before would have called their bluff

The army training known as square bashing
Evolved when regiments formed up to fight
Cavalry charges might be more dashing
But infantry squares are colonels’ delight

Before going on leave ; not yet six o’ clock
Mattress on head , like a turtle on shore
Since heating goes off in the empty block
Bedding must go to the company store

Now is the end for once worldwide empire
The gunboats no longer to rule the waves
Troops , ships and aircraft to Britain retire
Enemy confronts and ally betrays

In ten short weeks we are fit to leave camp
At dawn , a bus to Harrogate Station
Stand on grey platforms , dim , early and damp
Wait for the trains with quiet elation

With thanks to  Vic Moncrieff for this contribution
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