Tommy Atkins is a famous poem from 1890 in the collection Barrack Room Ballads (1892) by Rudyard Kipling.
It captures well the long lived 19th Century view of the Army and its Redcoats as a job only for the drunken, desperate or destitute in peacetime, but how differently treated, more acceptable and valued they are in wartime.
I WENT into a public ‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ” We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
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
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.
I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, wait outside “;
But it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide.
Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap.
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul? ”
But it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes ” when the drums begin to roll
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes, ” when the drums begin to roll.
We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, fall be’ind,”
But it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.
You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
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;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An ‘Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!
Interesting the line “Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints” as single this Tommy Atkins portrayed on the card certainly isn’t.
This illustration above of Mr Thomas Atkins comes with three others, his Happy Family, all a recent vintage shop find.
These Happy Family cards are a little difficult to put a rough date on – Mrs. Thomas Atkins looks more modern or WW2 than the more Victorian looking Redcoat Mr Thomas Atkins.
The children are equally difficult to date. Miss Atkins with a then stereotypical female job of a nurse could easily be from WWI onwards. Teddy Bears are a 20th Century thing, after Rough Rider and US President Teddy Roosevelt’s discovery of a bear cub in 1902.
Master Thomas Atkins looks like a late 19th Century / 1902 print that I have somewhere of Nursery Warriors with paper hats in the style of children’s illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846 to 1886). Similar figures can be found in this Victorian Edwardian scrapbook in my collection:
An eclectic or retro mix of period clues in good several colours printing. Colour half tone dots on the faces may give some idea but then halftone was common from the 1880s onwards.
Who was Tommy Atkins?
The Tommy of the poem is ‘Tommy Atkins’, a generic or slang name for a common British soldier. A term of uncertain origin, the name “Thomas Atkins” was used in 19th Century British War Office manuals as a placeholder name to demonstrate how forms should be filled out.
Some say the name Thomas Atkins was chosen by the Duke of Wellington in honour of a brave soldier that he remembered, an idea discussed the further or challenged at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Atkins
In popular slang, “Thomas” became the more familiar “Tommy” from the First World War. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_(Kipling_poem)
Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, 31 July 2017.
A little more research on Etsy found a seller (dottycrocvintage) who listed this set or suggested a 40s looking box.
Another historical novelists’ collective (!) website shows the Victorian style of Thomas Atkins cards for Happy Families: