The Disillusioned Trooper in ‘Fed Up’
This poem by Banjo Paterson provides a witty first-hand perspective on the frustrations facing Australian cavalry during the Boer War. Through the voice of a grizzled trooper, Paterson airs the grievances and dark humor that developed in response to the difficulties of the campaign.
The speaker first notes the lack of classic cavalry charges or open combat against the evasive Boers, complaining of endless patrols under artillery fire instead. The danger without glory leaves him “fed up.”
He derides the inaccuracy of the enemy rifles, yet concedes the shellfire is lethal. Paterson thus blends bravado with hints of fear at the mercy of long-range guns.
The trooper considers joining other units like the Mounted Infantry or Infantry, but finds each has their own frustrations, from being left behind to exhausting long marches without ever reaching the enemy.
Paterson voices a range of complaints from different branches interspersed with the unifying refrain of the trooper being “fed up.” This structures the poem as a catalog of grievances born of hardship and dashed expectations.
Under the grumbling humor, we also gain insight into the daily experience of Australian troops struggling to adapt to the confounding style of guerrilla warfare. Paterson reveals the toll of constant vigilance, deprivation, and psychological strain.
Real events and experiences in the Boer War
Paterson amplifies the grievances for humor, the core issues of ‘Fed Up‘ includes – ineffective tactics, elusive foe, deprivation – reflected the actual Australian experience. By giving voice to a grumbling soldier, Paterson vented real frustrations in the ranks.
- The confusion and frustration for traditionally-trained cavalry dealing with the Boers’ hit-and-run tactics is captured accurately. Cavalry charges were obsolete.
- Artillery bombardments were used constantly by the Boers, forcing the British/Australians to dismount and take cover rather than directly engaging.
- Mounted infantry units did complain of being left to garrison captured towns after the cavalry had moved on to chase Boers. They wanted more action.
- Foot soldiers did endure long marches across the veld trying to intercept highly-mobile Boer commandos, who mostly avoided pitched battles.
- Logistical issues meant supplies were limited at times, with staple foods like bully beef and biscuits causing morale issues due to monotony.
- Soldiers endured psychological strain from endless patrolling without ever directly seeing the enemy. This constant tension wore down morale.
The poem transcends being just a comic rant through empathy with the soldiers thrust into an unprecedented type of conflict that defied their training and morale. Paterson channels authentic frustrations through the no-nonsense voice of the disillusioned trooper.
I ain’t a timid man at all, I’m just as brave as most,
I’ll take my chance in open fight and die beside my post;
But riding round the ’ole day long as target for a Krupp,
A-drawing fire from Koppies—well, I’m fair fed up.
It’s wonderful how few get hit, it’s luck that pulls us through;
Their rifle fire’s no class at all, it misses me and you;
But when they sprinkle shells around like water from a cup
From that there blooming pom-pom gun—well, I’m fed up.
We never get a chance to charge, to do a thrust and cut,
I’ll have to chuck the Cavalry and join the Mounted Fut.
But after all—What’s Mounted Fut? I saw them t’other day,
They occupied a Koppie when the Boers had run away.
The Cavalry went riding on and seen a score of fights,
But there they kept them Mounted Fut three solid days and nights—
Three solid starving days and nights with scarce a bite or sup,
Well! after that on Mounted Fut I’m fair fed up.
And tramping with the Footies ain’t as easy as it looks,
They scarcely ever see a Boer except in picture books.
They do a march of twenty mile that leaves ’em nearly dead,
And then they find the bloomin’ Boers is twenty miles ahead.
Each Footy is as full of fight as any bulldog pup,
But walking forty miles to fight—well, I’m fed up!
So after all I think that when I leave the Cavalry
I’ll either join the ambulance or else the A.S.C.;
They’ve always tucker in the plate and coffee in the cup,
But Bully Beef and Biscuits—well! I’m fair fed up!