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, the name "Thomas Atkins" was used in nineteenth century War Office manuals as a placeholder name to demonstrate how forms should be filled out.[4][5] In popular use, "Thomas" became the more familiar "Tommy". (In the second volume of her biography of the 1st Duke of Wellington (Wellington the Years of the Sword and its sequel) Elizabeth Longford suggests that the Duke was sent a draft paybook to approve and the Duke crossed out the original placeholder name and substituted the name of Thomas Atkins, a private in the 33rd Foot and gives some details of the man's service. She asserts that the original paybook was still in existence when she wrote the books in the 1970's)

The poem[edit]

The poem is written in a colloquial style of English,[2][3][6] and comprises five verses of eight lines each. 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 named Tommy Atkins. In the poem, the soldier talks about the respectful way he is treated by others when he is needed to fight a war and presents it as a bitter contrast against the poor treatment he receives when he is not.[7] For example, he laments being refused service by a pub owner for being a "redcoat".

O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play—[8]

— lines 5-6

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 poem ends with a suggestion of change. The soldier calls for those who talk of improving things for soldiers to take action, and reminds the reader 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. ^ 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. ^ Brown, Malcolm (2013). "Preface". Tommy Goes To War. The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-9457-9.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Hopkins, R. Thurston (1916). Rudyard Kipling: A Literary Appreciation. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. p. 224.
  7. ^ Kendall, Tim, ed. (2013). Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-19-958144-3.
  8. ^ Kipling, Rudyard (1940). Rudyard Kipling's Verse (Definitive ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. pp. 396–398. OCLC 225762741.

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