A Soldier's May Day

Click here for a midi file of this tune.

And tho' the dawn had barely broken,
They rose to face another day.
Their packs and rifles shouldered,
And off to war they marched away.
Old Father Thames was rising early;
They boarded ship at half-past nine,
Some left their loved ones crying
As they sailed off to join the line.

Young Thomas Hughes had joined the army
To serve his king and country
He'd left his wife and daughter
To pick the flowers of Picardy.
But as they sailed away to battle
His heart grew sore for his Marie
This note he wrote and folded
"My love, Pray do not grieve for me."

"But take good care of our sweet daughter
While I am gone across the sea
Pray God 'twill soon be over
And I'll come home to you, Marie."
Then on a second sheet of paper
He wrote these words in hope and fear
"Good man or maiden, I pray you
Pass on this note to my own dear."

"And if you do, a soldier's blessing
I swear you'll earn this very day
Good news will now befall you
All in the merry month of May."
These notes he placed within a bottle
And from the deck the bottle tossed;
He watched it float astern of them
And soon the sight of it was lost.

In June young Thomas lay a-dying
In Fricourt Wood beside the Somme
His dear love never heard from him
And now she too is dead and gone.
For eighty years the message waited
Until one showery April day
A fisherman his nets drew in
And there the soldier's bottle lay.

Now lift your glasses, friends and brethren
For Thomas did not write in vain
The records show a daughter
Though she no longer bears his name.
Long since she'd moved down to New Zealand
Her father she had never known.
But in the waning of her years
Her daddy's blessing traveled home.

Portlander Paul St. John Parker wrote this song after hearing an NPR news story about the recovery of an 80-year-old bottle with a note in it. The news story is below.

Canvey: Steve's Special Delivery

Monday, 17th May 1999

A World War One love letter in a bottle was finally delivered today to the tearful daughter of a brave soldier who kissed her goodbye as he left for battle 85 years ago.

Private Thomas Hughes' letter never made it to the beloved wife he addressed it to in England in 1914, but now his daughter Emily Crowhurst of Auckland, New Zealand, has been reunited with it -- thanks to Canvey fisherman Steve Gowan.

Steve dredged up the green ginger beer bottle with its screw-on rubber stopper as he fished for cod in the Thames Estuary.

After carefully opening the bottle, Steve, 43, found the letter with a covering note to the finder.

"Would you kindly forward the enclosed letter and earn the blessing of a poor British soldier on his way to the front this ninth day of September 1914. Signed Private T Hughes, Second Durham Light Infantry. Third Army Corp Expeditionary Force."

The simple love letter to Hughes' wife Elizabeth was short.

"Dear Wife, I am writing this note on this boat and dropping it into the sea just to see if it will reach you. If it does, sign this envelope on the right hand bottom corner where it says receipt.

"Put the date and hour of receipt and your name where it says signature and look after it well. Ta ta sweet, for the present. Your hubby."

Tragically, Hughes died 12 days later on the battlefields of France.

Steve and his wife Jan were flown out to Auckland, courtesy of New Zealand Post -- the equivalent of Britain's Royal Mail -- to personally deliver the precious bottle.

They were met today by 87-year-old Emily Crowhurst, her daughter Elizabeth Kennedy and media from all over the world.

Mrs Crowhurst told This Is Essex she remembered her father as a loving and gentle man.

She said: "It is hard to believe. It has been overwhelming. I think he would be very proud it had been delivered. He was a very caring man."

A copy of the letter has gone on display in Wellington, New Zealand, as the centrepiece of an exhibition of love letters.

Steve tracked down Mrs Crowhurst after worldwide media attention when he originally found the bottle a few weeks ago.

The People Have Songs

Verses and chorus have the same tune. Sing two verses before the first chorus and then alternate verse and chorus. Click here for a midi file of this tune.

Let us set the room ringing with the sound of our singing
When we come to the end, let us hold the chord long.
Hear the harmonies rise and all close our eyes
'Til the last cadence dies. The people have songs!

Here voices are tuned to each other in gladness
To all here in common affection belongs
Here joy and laughter meet keening and sadness
Here tyranny's cursed, for the people have songs.

Here is war parting sweethearts, here are strong, sweating sailors
And poets for beauty who ardently long.
Here are people at work singing loud at their labors
Here are marriage and drinking for the people have songs.

Respect for each other gives each one a hearing
And whether the voice be uncertain or strong
We listen with love if the heart is endearing
Supported in harmony, the people have songs.

Disdaining oppressions like others before us
Our gentleness angered by history's wrongs,
Our tradition endures, and our voices in chorus
Are lifted in hope for the people have songs.

This song comes to us from Australian Miguel Heatwole, and it has traveled far since he wrote it in 1997. I heard it in March in Portland, Oregon. Miguel has put it on a two-CD compilation of songs that can be ordered from him at

The folknik song pages are lovingly produced by Kay Eskenazi, John Kelly, and Barbara Millikan. Barbara Millikan produced the song pages for this issue.

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