I watched a hobby horse crossing the school playground yesterday, its owner carrying it under her arm. It had been years since I had seen one. The school choir had been singing Rolf Harris’ old song ‘Two Little Boys’, the choir director said that the song still brought a tear to his eye.
Two little boys had two little toys
Each had a wooden horse
Gaily they played each summer’s day
Warriors both of course
I remember Rolf Harris singing ‘Two Little Boys’ back in 1969 and being told that the song was rubbish and that the real world wasn’t like that. Of course, I believed what I was told; when you are a child, you believe what people tell you.
I didn’t know then that the song was not a 1960s composition but dated back to 1902, nor did I know that it was inspired by a Victorian novel set during the Napoleonic War – but those things are incidental. Was Harris right?
I would have said , “No” – until two months ago.
I met a British forces chaplain, who had seen recent frontline duty. “What will men die for, Ian? They won’t die for queen and country. They won’t die for democracy and freedom – whatever those things mean. What they will die for is their mates”. The men he would talk to, facing danger and death, would give everything for the blokes beside them.
There can be no stronger example of mates standing together than the trenches of World War I- some of the sections of the British army were actually called ‘Pals’ battalions. Boys from the same streets and the same villages joined up together, and fell together.
Reading the 1911 Dublin census details for the village here, I found that two brothers from our church who died together on 1st July 1916 were three years apart in their ages – one was 22 and one was 19 on that awful day. Isn’t it likely that as they sat in their trench the evening before, that they remembered being boys in Ballybrack?
It has taken me thirty-eight years to realize that Rolf Harris was right.