First published in Pearson's Magazine (with six illustrations by G. Montbard) and McClure's Magazine, both April 1896.
First collected in the Barrack Room Ballads section of 17 poems in The Seven Seas, November 1896; then Inclusive Verse 1919 and Definitive Verse 1940; Sussex Edition Vol. 33, page 133; Burwash Edition, Vol. 26. In the ORG it is numbered 666.
Six stanzas, each of seven lines with an opening rhyming couplet and then five lines which, in every stanza, end with syllables which rhyme with 'soldier and sailor too', with just one half-rhyme.
The poem is in praise of the Royal Marines, an integral part of the Royal Navy, spoken by an experienced soldier. In this respect, it is unlike other Barrack Room Ballads extolling a particular branch of the services, such as "Screw-guns", in that the speaker is not one of those being described. Its style is closer to "Fuzzy Wuzzy", where the speaker makes jocular reference to, and occasionally slightly grudging acknowledgement of, the qualities of other fighting men.
The speaker himself is somewhat unusual in Kipling's works, being a representative universal soldier who speaks for all the Army as opposed to his usual characterisation of men proud of and loyal to their own arm or regiment. This allows the speaker to stress that a Royal Marine, known as a 'Jolly', can turn his hand to anything, whether afloat or ashore and in any situation and in doing so admits that soldiers do not always manage so well. Kipling gives his speaker his usual near Cockney soldier's accent, with the many dropped aspirates to which his public had become accustomed but he also includes three (or four) grossly mispronounced words well worthy of Quiller-Couch's earlier description of '...glittering encrustations of barbaric words'. These, and the origins of 'Jolly', are discussed in the Notes on the Text.
Another unusual aspect for this type of barrack-room ballad is that the speaker is not addressing the reader but another soldier, speaking specifically of 'me an' you' as both being soldiers..
To appreciate the speaker's description of what a Jolly is and what he can do, it is useful to know a little about the history of the Royal Marines and their duties.
History of the Royal Marines. [Sources: National Archives & The Royal Marines' Museum, Eastney.]
The Royal Marines date back to 1664, when a regiment of 1200 soldiers was raised by an Order in Council to serve with His Majesty's Fleet for use by the navy. The regiment was known as "The Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot" but since the Duke was the Lord High Admiral, it was also known as the 'Admirals Regiment'. This Maritime Regiment was first used in the second war against the Dutch, 1665-1667. Between 1690 and 1702 additional Maritime Regiments were formed but subsequently strength varied according to the needs of the day. They were reduced to four companies in 1713 when war with Spain ended but new regiments were formed in 1739 for the War of the Spanish Succession, only to be reduced again for ten years in 1745.
In 1755 war with France was in the offing, so another Order in Council in April 1755 approved the recruitment of 50 new companies of a corps of Marines, formed into three Grand Divisions based at Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth. under the control of the Board of Admiralty. In 1802, with a strength then approaching 30,000, the corps was redesignated the 'Royal Marines' by King George III in recognition of its distinguished service. A fourth Division was created in Woolwich from 1805 but it was closed down in 1869.
Artillery companies of Royal Marines were created in 1804, during the Napoleonic War. In 1855 the infantry companies were designated the Royal Marine Light Infantry, known as 'Red Marines' from the infantry red of their tunics, and in 1859 the artillery companies became the Royal Marine Artillery, or 'Blue Marines', after their blue tunics, similar to those of the Royal Artillery.
This was the composition of the Royal Marines at the time the poem was written, as it was not until 1923 that the two branches were once again united as the 'Royal Marines'.
Royal Marines served as a military unit, both ashore and afloat, under their own officer or officers,who in turn were commanded by the naval Captain of their ship. From 1755 Marines came under the Naval Discipline Act whilst at sea.
During battle at sea they provided additional manpower for the guns and expert musketry defence when at close quarters. They took part in attacks on coastal installations and cutting out (capturing) enemy ships at anchor, as well as protecting watering and foraging parties.
They could also form part of boarding parties at sea and as part of prize crews to man captured ships. From 1804 the Royal Marine Artillery provided Gunners for specialist ships such as Bomb Vessels and Mortar Boats and at the end of the century Royal Marine Light Infantry and Artillery were part of a Naval Brigade for use in land warfare.
Royal Marines were volunteers and in the 18th and early 19th centuries were less likely to ‘jump ship’ than the pressed seamen. One of the reasons for the mix of sailors and Royal Marines on certain duties was to deter sailors from deserting. On board, Royal Marines were quartered between the ship’s officers and the crew to protect the officers from the crew if necessary. They guarded the powder rooms, the magazines, the spirit room, other storerooms and the entrances to the officers’ quarters and ships’ cells.
They assisted in the general sailing and maintenance of the ship when additional labour was required, such as hauling ropes when the ship was manoeuvring, turning the capstan to weigh anchor, and embarking heavy stores - and scraping off old paint.
At the time Kipling was writing, the Royal Navy was well into the steam and iron-clad era when Royal Marine detachments were focusing more on manning the new types of naval guns and on gunnery in general.