Singer calls on his companions to drink, for the English are at war with the French (Germans, Russians). The singer vows to show the enemy "British play": "We'll fight until we die/Before that they shall come and drink old England dry."
Singer calls on his companions to drink, for the English are at war with the French (Germans, Russians). The singer vows to show the enemy "British play"; "With our swords and with our cutlasses, We'll fight until we die/Before that they shall come and drink old England dry." A national hero (Lord Raglan, Lord Roberts, Churchill) swears he shall be true to his country and crown, and that cannons will rattle and bullets fly before they drink old England dry
Anne Gilchrist dates the original of this song to the time of the Napoleonic Wars. It was sung by a group known as The Boggens who would go around the village of Haxey (Lincolnshire) during the week preceding the day of the Hood Game, a combat ritual game. - PJS
The Napoleonic date is of course possible, but I personally think it's older. The British have, of course, fought the French for as long as both nations existed. But the reference in Kennedy's text to fighting the *Germans* "with our swords and our cutlasses" argues against such a date -- and postponing to the World Wars hardly helps.
Personally, I'd guess (very tentatively) that this dates to one of the "Succession Wars" of the eighteenth century. During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), for instance, Britain was allied with Austria against France (e.g. Battle of Dettingen, 1743), and sometimes Prussia (which started the war, then backed out, then went back in). It therefore fits the situation better than the Napoleonic era.
The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) doesn't fit quite as well, since the German states were mostly on the same side as England in opposing France -- but it has the advantage of bringing in a Churchill before Winston (and note that the Kennedy text does not refer to *Winston* Churchill, merely "Churchill"): The Duke of Marlborough's name was John Churchill.
This, of course, is not to deny that the song could be adapted to later wars, as in the version collected by Cecil Sharp, which was adapted to the Crimean War by the insertion of Lord Raglan (the British commander on the Black Sea front) into the song. - RBW