A soldier's farewell to the girl he left behind

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2011, 12:00am


War songs

Major conflicts like the American Civil War and the first and second world wars produced many classic poems and songs. Some, written by ordinary people faced with the horrors of war as well as professional poets and songwriters, paint a true and moving picture of the effects war has on everybody involved.

The second boer war was fought from 1899 to 1902 in South Africa between British and Dutch settlers who had colonised that part of the African continent.

Goodbye, Dolly Gray was a popular song written in England and performed all over the country at the time. It works well both as a song and a poem. The words don't really need music to get their simple, powerful message across.

Goodbye, Dolly Gray

The girl in the poem is an ordinary girl saying goodbye to her boyfriend as he goes off to fight in the Boer war.

But she could be any girl saying goodbye to any boy as he goes off to war. Dolly Gray could be alive today and have just said farewell to her boyfriend as he leaves to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan or any other country at war.

Goodbyes do not change where war is concerned.

I have come to say goodbye, Dolly Gray

It's no use to ask me why, Dolly Gray

There's a murmur in the air, you can hear it everywhere

It is the time to do and dare, Dolly Gray

Goodbye, Dolly, I must leave you, though it breaks my heart to go

Something tells me I am needed at the front to fight the foe

See, the boys in blue are marching, and I can no longer stay

Hark, I hear the bugle calling, goodbye Dolly Gray

Hear the rolling of the drums, Dolly Gray

Back from war the regiment comes, Dolly Gray

On your lovely face so fair, I can see a look of fear

For your soldier boy's not there, Dolly Gray

For the one you love so well, Dolly Gray

In the midst of battle fell, Dolly Gray

With his face towards the foe, as he died he murmured low:

'I must say goodbye and go, Dolly Gray'

Dolly and her boyfriend

Answer these questions about the poem. Make sure you have read the poem at least a couple of times.

1 The poem can be divided into how many sections?

2 What is happening in each of these sections?

3 What is the overall mood of the poem?

4 Who or what does Dolly Gray symbolise?

5 Who is speaking in the first two verses of the poem?

6 Who takes over for verses 3 and 4?

7 How does the person in verses 1 and 2 feel about what is happening?

8 What is the effect of the final line?


Write a letter from Dolly to a friend in London in which Dolly tells what happened and how she felt when she had to say goodbye to her boyfriend. Dolly does not say anything in the poem, so we have to imagine what her reactions and feelings are.

Start your letter off with 'Dear Sally' and end it with 'Your affectionate friend, Dolly'.


1 Two sections

2 In the first, a boy says goodbye to his girl before he goes to war. In

the second, someone gives the girl the news that her boyfriend has been killed.

3 The poem is simple, sad and tragic.

4 Dolly symbolises any girl who sees her boyfriend go off to war.

5 Dolly's boyfriend

6 An observer who knows what has happened to Dolly's boyfriend.

7 He is resigned to the fact that he has to go to war.

8 The final line sadly reflects the goodbye the boy said in the first verse.