Never a Gunner Was Seen To Run
This poem by Banjo Paterson pays tribute to the grit and valor displayed by Australian artillerymen during the Boer War. Through the energetic rhythm and colorful slang, Paterson conveys the daring and persistence of the gunners under fire.
The speaker contrasts the artillerymen’s courage with the cavalry who merely “cantered and trotted about” without engaging the elusive Boers. Meanwhile, the gunners actively sought battle, boldly wheeling their guns across the veldt despite peril.
Vivid details like “fetch up the bloomin’ guns!” capture their eagerness to support the infantry with covering fire. Paterson admiringly describes their efficiency and bravery handling the guns even as comrades fell around them.
The repetition of “never a gunner was seen to run” emphasizes their steadfastness and refusal to abandon their batteries even in chaos. The speaker declares he would choose the artillerymen over larger forces for their skill and grit in battle.
The lively rhythm, full of exclamation and repetition, injects the poem with energy fitting the dynamism Paterson celebrates in the gunners. He presents them as ideal soldiers who stuck to their duty under fire when other units retreated or failed to find the enemy.
In Paterson’s poem ‘What Have the Cavalry Done‘ we see reflections of the real daring and tenacity exhibited by the Australian artillerymen as they took on significant risks to provide support in the Boer War. His tribute captures their critical role.
- Australia sent several batteries of artillerymen and field guns to support the British forces in South Africa. They were part of the Australian contingents dispatched to fight in the Boer War.
- The harsh environment and highly mobile Boer tactics made artillery support challenging, requiring agility and bravery from the gunners. They often had to set up quickly on open ground.
- The poem refers to the Royal Horse Artillery, a British artillery unit that the Australian gunners served alongside. This unit was known for mobility and aggressiveness.
- Australian gunners saw action in major battles like Magersfontein, where they provided covering fire as infantry assaulted Boer trenches despite taking casualties.
- They routinely showed steadfastness under fire as Paterson describes, sticking to their guns even when the Boers’ rifle volleys inflicted losses.
- After the war, the Australian artillerists were praised for their adaptability and courage under adverse conditions against an unorthodox foe. Paterson’s poem encapsulates this reputation.
While glorifying their courage, Paterson also depicts the violence and danger they confront, from the “blazing heat” to seeing fellow gunners killed. Ultimately the poem is a commemoration of the Australian artillery’s audacity and stamina on the rugged veldt.
What Have the Cavalry Done
What have the cavalry done?
Cantered and trotted about,
Routin’ the enemy out,
Causin’ the beggars to run!
And we tramped along in the blazin’ heat,
Over the veldt on our weary feet.
Tramp, tramp, tramp
Under the blazin’ sun,
With never the sight of a bloomin’ Boer,
’Cause they’d hunted ’em long before—
That’s what the cavalry done!
What have the gunners done
Battlin’ every day,
Battlin’ any way.
Boers outranged ’em, but what cared they?
“Shoot and be damned,” said the R.H.A.!
See! when the fight grows hot,
Under the rifles or not,
Always the order runs,
“Fetch up the bloomin’ guns!”
And you’d see them great gun-horses spring
To the “action front”—and around they’d swing.
Find the range with some queer machine
“At four thousand with fuse fourteen.
Ready! Fire number one!”
Handled the battery neat and quick!
Stick to it, too! How did they stick!
Never a gunner was seen to run!
Never a gunner would leave his gun!
Not though his mates dropped all around!
Always a gunner would stand his ground.
Take the army—the infantry,
Mounted rifles, and cavalry,
Twice the numbers I’d give away,
And I’d fight the lot with the R.H.A.,
For they showed us how a corps should be run,
That’s what the gunners done!