Poem – ‘Return of the C.I.V.’

William Hall Burnett wrote poetry throughout his life but as George Hull mentions in an anthology he edited and published in 1902 – ‘Unfortunately, Mr Burnett has not kept copies of many of his poems, and this circumstance prevents me giving an adequate or representative selection’[1]. He was also very poor at providing the dates on which he wrote the poems; one exception is entitled the ‘Return of the CIV’ which is dated the October 18th 1900.  This poem does not appear to have been published in a newspaper[2] but was contained in ‘A few Specimen Poems and Aphorisms’[3].  The following extract gives some information about the formation of the C.I.V, or The City of London Imperial Volunteers’ and an interesting commentary on their ’home-coming’ which was not without incident.

Return of the C.I.V.


The C.I.V. have been a success from the first to the last. The happy idea of the Lord Mayor was promptly taken up and briskly carried out. The Volunteers of the Metropolitan districts came forward in far greater numbers than were wanted. In a few days Colonel Mackinnon, in supreme command, had a regiment under him of 1,600 men. Lord Albemarle was given charge of the infantry section, and Major McMicking, of the artillery battery, of four 12½- pounder Vickers-Maxims. Towards the expenses the Corporation voted £25,000, the Livery Companies some £50,000, and the banks and merchants still further contributed. Charles Wilson, M.P., gave transport facilities which were worth another £15,000. In less than a month from the publication of the Lord Mayor’s appeal the first contingent started after receiving the Freedom of the City and attending a farewell service in St. Paul’s. They had, as will be remembered, a magnificent send-off and an enthusiastic reception at Cape Town. They return bronzed and hardened by some of the most trying work in the campaign. Their spirit, and endurance, and steadiness under fire have been warmly applauded by Lord Roberts, who, in recognition of their claims to be soldiers among soldiers, has become their honorary colonel. There has been nothing like their reception on Monday (29th October 1900) and the unexpected excitement of the public, who had so wide a personal interest in them, must perhaps excuse the inadequacy of the arrangements of the authorities. Certainly, if there were enough police, there were not enough soldiers; indeed, there should have been enough soldiers to free a sufficient portion of the police to deal with rowdyism and worse. An example or two should be made on these occasions of the blackguards and drunkards but the authorities are indulgent,  fatally indulgent sometimes in order that civic functions may not suffer from next day’s contamination in the police court.

As the formal return and welcome of the C.I.V. took place on Monday 29th October 1900 the dating of the poem is slightly strange as it appears to anticipate the event.  The event itself was not without its difficulties with the authorities being criticised for inadequate preparation to cope with much rowdyism in sections of the crowd. What follows is William’s poem.


When Kruger’s pride enwaxen high,
Unleashed his mercenary host,
Britannia said: “Old man, we’ll try
And break you, whatsoever the cost.”
So forth we sent our khaki tribe,
With only valour for their tribe.

Oh, weary hearts that ache and mourn
For steps that homeward trend no more.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Their task is done,
Scatheless they rest for evermore.
Lo, Hark!  The city’s sons they come
With blare of trump, and roll of drums!

Never in any place or time,
Were sent such legions to the war;
Full in the flush of manhood’s prime,
Across wide seas, to lands so far.
All, all, on duty’s mission bent,
Like locust myriads, forth they went.

Oh, weary hearts that pine and mourn!
Fathers and mothers, ye do well.
But in the “undiscovered bourne
Are guerdons more than love can spell.
So hark!  The khaki tribe, they come,
With blare of trump, and roll of drums!

The endless seas are crossed again;
Storm-torn, war-rent, the banners fly!
What are the terrors of the main?
Or of the war that hath gone by?
No white-lipped welcomes greet their fame,
But universal fierce acclaim.

“Tis yours that yearn, and yours that sigh,
This martial sight, this glittering train!
“Tis true that on the veldt they lie,
Our lads, that ne’er return again;
But, by the Cross on St Paul’s, they lie,
Who says that Christian souls can die.

They rest for ever with their Lord,
Nor strong stars fret, nor hot suns glare’
Not spendthrifts waste, nor misers hoard
And hot lust not after prayer,
And, by the Cross on St Paul’s, they lie,
Who say their valorous deeds shall die.

So, heigh, the music wakes the street,
The people crowd in court and lane,
With joy we hear the tramping feet,
With pride remember all the slain.
Hark! Hark! The khaki lads, they come’
With blare of trump, and roll of drums!

Oct 18th 1900


William retired from the editorship of the Blackburn Standard and Weekly Express in 1898 and two years later it ceased publication.  On Saturday 03 November 1900 this overtly Conservative paper published an opinion piece on the C.I.V. – which gives an insight into the thinking prevalent in certain sections of society – which in an even more extreme form echoes the sentiments of William’s poem.

An Object Lesson.

The object lesson of last Monday, when the Regiment of City Imperial Volunteers marched through acclaiming crowds in London on their return from the war, happens to fit in smoothly with some lessons in Imperial unity that we recently have had. The regiment consisted of men trained and drilled in the regiments of a citizen army which is the voluntary and spontaneous gift of the people to the national defence. The organisation, equipment and maintenance of the regiment were the special gift of the City of London to the Empire. Among the thirty thousand or so of regulars and volunteers who turned out to line the streets and welcome home their brothers in arms were a few distinguished invalids, volunteer soldiers from the colonies, who, disabled by wounds or disease, have been sent to the motherland to recuperate. Therefore, we had in the magnificent object lesson, every link in the vast circle of Imperial unity. “We are all Imperialists now.” exclaimed Mr. Secretary (Joseph) Chamberlain in the course of that admirable exposition of the loftiest Imperial sentiment which distinguished his memorable speech in the City of London the) other night. Mr. Chamberlain rightly insisted on the importance of this fact, that in the righteous war of self-defence which is now drawing to a close, all the self-governing colonies had sent their sons to join the great army under Lord Roberts in fighting the battles of the motherland. He excepted India aid its feudatory princes, whose hearty offers of assistance could not be accepted. But even India sent its quota, its gallant regiment of “Lumsden’s Horse,” so named in honour of that general of distinguished Indian service, Sir Peter Lumsden. But the chain is now complete, and in China they have been fighting shoulder to shoulder with the regiments of France, of Germany, of Russia, of the United States and of Japan, the regiments of native Indian troops, and the contingents which the Indian princes have offered. These fine fellows have fought as bravely and endured the toil and hardship as patiently as have the sons of Australia and of Canada, the volunteers and militia of England, and the troops of the line, in their arduous fight against the tyrannous and desolating power of the Boer Republics. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Bt, Conservative) whose enthusiasm is even more significant than Mr. Chamberlain’s, has not failed to grasp the same idea, and in his speech at Liverpool he appreciated and acknowledged that the blood of those brave men who had fallen in South Africa had welded the Empire together. It is the duty of the Government and people alike to conserve the proud traditions of that mighty Empire, the splendid heritage, that linked ring of sister provinces or states which engirdle the world, and within which some four hundred millions of people own pleased and proud allegiance to Our Sovereign Lady, the Queen-Empress. Mistakes of policy may occur; blunders in administration may mar the military perfection of the Imperial machine; but the daughter states and the motherland have learned to trust and support each other, and it only remains for a wise generous and far-seeing Government in this country to continue the administration of Imperial affairs, in order that the peace, prosperity and unity of the whole Empire may be assured.

[1] Hull, George, Poets and Poetry of Blackburn, Blackburn: J, & G. Toulmin, Printers, “Times” Office, Northgate, (1902),

[2] Or at least does not appear in any of the newspapers in the British Newspaper Archive.

[3] Burnett, William Hall, A few Specimen Poems and Aphorisms, Blackburn: R Denham and Co, Southport: Shackerley Literary Agency (1907) pages 26-27

[4] Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News – Saturday 03 November 1900

[5] Blackburn Standard – Saturday 03 November 1900


  1. Elizabeth Rawlinson-Mills

    Hall Burnett’s poem is a great example of the huge outpouring of support from poets of all political stripes for the C.I.V. on their return in 1900. I find it fascinating that this volunteer force provided a focus for ordinary civilians’ hopes and fears over the South African War, offering consolation in the face of repeatedly bad news from the front. You’d hardly guess from this, or from any other poems published to celebrate the C.I.V.’s triumphant return in Oct 1900, that the war was to drag on for another two dreary and inglorious years, and would end with a situation in South Africa which would do precisely the opposite of “welding the empire together”. It seems to me that while the actual progress of the war in South Africa continued to be dire, from a British point of view, civilians looked to the C.I.V. for evidence of British character and pluck and worthiness, and wrote poems which hang on to these qualities as a kind of promise of future success, however awful the news (among which so many of these poems were published) really was. Fascinating – thanks.


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