image illustrating the poem "Right in the Front of the Army" by Banjo Paterson, set during the Boer War. The scene captures the essence of the poem with its depiction of Australian soldiers bravely advancing in a dramatic and dusty battlefield.

Right in the Front of the Army by Banjo Paterson

Jostling For Glory

This comic poem by Banjo Paterson satirizes the boastful claims and jostling for glory between different units and groups during the Boer War. Through ironic humor, Paterson critiques the self-promotion and exaggeration surrounding war service.

Written from the perspective of one unit mocking another, the poem centers around the constant refrain of varied troops declaring “Right in the front of the army!” when claiming responsibility for victory.

Paterson humorously applies this refrain to unlikely groups – even war correspondents and rear support units deny being “at the rear” and instead assert they were heroically leading the fight. By ascribing the refrain to all involved, Paterson skewers the bravado and competitiveness for recognition.

His ironic tone continues by joking that with everyone at the “front,” there is no army rear or back at all. This witty reversal highlights the absurdity and transparent self-interest when different factions jostle for glory.

Grandstanding and Egos

While ‘Right in the Front of the Army‘ exaggerates for humorous effect, the selfish jockeying for fame and influence Paterson satirizes reflected genuine occurrences during the war. His poem provided social commentary on the grandstanding and egos emerging from war, even in a comic tone. The reality was likely more nuanced, but Paterson encapsulated the issue in an entertaining caricature.

  • The exaggeration of exploits and vying for recognition Paterson mocks was common among units and officers seeking promotion or fame.
  • War correspondents were notorious for embellishing stories to make their reports seem more daring or significant.
  • Certain units did gain reputations either fairly or unfairly – for example, Australian light horsemen and British artillery garnered praise, while Yeomanry cavalry became scorned as ineffective.
  • Lord Roberts was a famous British commander in South Africa. His conventional tactics came under criticism for failing to adapt to Boer guerilla warfare.
  • Inter-unit rivalries and tensions occurred, as diverse groups like British regulars, Australian/Canadian volunteers, embedded foreign attachés competed for leadership roles and glory.
  • Rank inflation was common as officers took higher temporary titles than their qualifications merited to sound more important.

While comedic, the poem contains the sober message that victory takes cooperation, not individual grandstanding. Through lighthearted satire, Paterson thus critiques the jingoism and desire for acclaim that war inflames in people. He implies a more reasoned perspective is needed.

Right in the Front of the Army

“Where ’ave you been this week or more,
’Aven’t seen you about the war?
Thought perhaps you was at the rear
Guarding the waggons.” “What, us? No fear!
Where have we been? Why, bless my heart,
Where have we been since the bloomin’ start?
Right in the front of the army,
Battling day and night!
Right in the front of the army,
Teaching ’em how to fight!”
Every separate man you see,
Sapper, gunner, and C.I.V.,
Every one of ’em seems to be
Right in the front of the army!

Most of the troops to the camp had gone,
When we met with a cow-gun toiling on;
And we said to the boys, as they walked her past,
“Well, thank goodness, you’re here at last!”
“Here at last! Why, what d’yer mean?
Ain’t we just where we’ve always been?
Right in the front of the army,
Battling day and night!
Right in the front of the army,
Teaching ’em how to fight!”
Correspondents and Vets in force,
Mounted foot and dismounted horse,
All of them were, as a matter of course,
Right in the front of the army.

Old Lord Roberts will have to mind
If ever the enemy get behind;
For they’ll smash him up with a rear attack,
Because his army has got no back!
Think of the horrors that might befall
An army without any rear at all!
Right in the front of the army,
Battling day and night!
Right in the front of the army,
Teaching ’em how to fight!
Swede attaches and German counts,
Yeomen (known as De Wet’s remounts),
All of them were by their own accounts
Right in the front of the army!

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