Tommy (Kipling poem)

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"Tommy" is an 1890 poem[1] by Rudyard Kipling, reprinted in his 1892 Barrack-Room Ballads.[2] The poem addresses the ordinary British soldier of Kipling's time in a sympathetic manner.[3] It is written from the point of view of such a soldier, and contrasts the treatment they receive from the general public during peace and during war.


The Tommy of the poem is Tommy Atkins, a generic slang name for a common British soldier. A term of uncertain origin,[a] the name "Thomas Atkins" was used in nineteenth century War Office manuals as a placeholder name to demonstrate how forms should be filled out.[5][6] In popular use, "Thomas" became the more familiar "Tommy".

The poem[edit]

The poem comprises five verses of eight lines each and is written in a colloquial style of English.[2][3][7] The second half of each verse begins with a variation of the refrain "it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that".

The narrator is a British soldier who describes the poor treatment he receives in Britain (for example, he laments being refused service by a pub owner for being a "redcoat"). He sees that the soldiers are praised only when sent to war or on the front line.[8]

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot.[9]

— lines 33–34

Tommy rejects both sides of this duality, saying that he and his fellow soldiers are neither "thin red 'eroes" nor "blackguards", but just ordinary men. The soldier calls for those who talk of improving things for soldiers to take action, and the poem ends by claiming that "Tommy" is well aware of the way he is treated.

T. S. Eliot included the poem in his 1941 collection A Choice of Kipling's Verse.


  1. ^ In the second volume of her biography of the 1st Duke of Wellington (Wellington: Pillar of State), Elizabeth Longford suggests that the Duke was sent a draft paybook to approve and crossed out the original placeholder name, replacing it with Thomas Atkins, the name of a private in the 33rd Foot. She gives some details of the man's service and asserts that the original paybook was still in existence when she wrote the biography in the 1970s.[4]


  1. ^ Murrison, Andrew (2011). "Chapter One: Tommy's raw deal". Tommy This an' Tommy That: The military covenant. London: Biteback Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84954-255-5.
  2. ^ a b Bevis, Matthew (2007). "Chapter 1: Fighting Talk: Victorian War Poetry". In Kendall, Tim (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-19-928266-1.
  3. ^ a b Ricketts, Harry (1999). Rudyard Kipling: A Life. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishsers. p. 162. ISBN 0-7867-0830-1.
  4. ^ Longford, Elizabeth (1975) [1972]. Wellington: Pillar of State. Panther Books. p. 33.
  5. ^ Brown, Malcolm (2013). "Preface". Tommy Goes To War. The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-9457-9.
  6. ^ Woollacott, Angela (1994). "Introduction". On Her Their Lives Depend: Munitions Workers in the Great War. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-520-08397-0.
  7. ^ Hopkins, R. Thurston (1916). Rudyard Kipling: A Literary Appreciation. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. p. 224.
  8. ^ Kendall, Tim, ed. (2013). Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-19-958144-3.
  9. ^ Kipling, Rudyard (1940). Rudyard Kipling's Verse (Definitive ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. pp. 396–398. OCLC 225762741.

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