Wha Saw the Forty Twa

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WHA SAW THE FOURTY TWA. AKA- “Wha Saw the Forty-Second.” AKA and see “March Past,” “Wha' Wad'na Fecht for Charlie.” Scottish, English; Air, Polka, Morris Dance Tune (2/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The title refers to the British 42nd Regiment, the famous Scottish 1st Battalion Black Watch. The tune has been employed for a number of uses, including for a polka step in the North West (England) polka tradition and Irish polka (a variant called “Din Tarrant's (6))." It is perhaps most famous as an air belonging to the song “Wha’ Widna Fecht for Charlie,” but the melody also is associated with another song, a Glasgow street song, called “Wha saw the 42nd”, with the refrain:

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Marching doon the Broomielaw
Some of them had kilts and bunnets,
Some o’ them had nane ava’,
Some o’ them had tartan troosers
Marchin’ tae the Broomielaw!..... [Ed.: the Broomielaw was the Glasgow dock from which troopships sailed]

David Murray (Music of the Scottish Regiments, Edinburgh, 1994) says the song might refer to the irregular dress of replacement troops, made up of reservists and volunteers who had little notice before having to embark for overseas. Thus there was little time to equip or uniform them prior to marching to the troopships. Murray says the Black Watch absorbed the tune and played “Wha saw the 42nd” when leaving a station; it was played when the regiment departed for the Korean War in 1953.

The song itself has been much parodied and rewritten. Nigel Gatherer finds several variants, including “Wha saw the cotton-spinners?” which refers to a strike in Glasgow in the 1880’s. Another song, "Fa' sa' the tattiehowkers" goes:

Fa' sa' the tattiehowkers,
Fa' sa' them gane' awa'
Fa' sa' the tattiehowkers, Comin' through the Brechinlaw.

or

Wha saw the tattie howkers,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the tattie howkers, ....[howkers – from the Scottish ‘to dig’: tattie howkers = potato diggers]
.......... the Berwick Law?

Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Wha saw them gang awa?
Wha saw the Forty-Second,
Gaein' tae the wappenshaw. .... [wappenshaw = military parade]

Some o' them gat chappit tatties,
Some o' them gat nane ava;
Some o' them gat barley bannocks,
Gaein' tae the wappenshaw.

Wha saw the Forty-Second (etc.)

Some o' them had tartan troosers,
Some o' them had nane ava;
Some o' them had green umbrellas,
Marchin' doon the Broomielaw. ... [Broomielaw is a dock in Glasgow harbor from which troopships often sailed]

Gatherer says that other variants mention the "Zulu war" and "Wha saw the bonnie lassies" (…Some had shoes and stockings on, ithers they had nane at a'" which is supposed to have referred to a pleasure boat tragedy).

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Wade (Mally’s North West Morris Book), 1988; p. 7.

Recorded sources:

See also listing at:
Hear Derek Hoy's session recording of the song at the Internet Archive [1][2]




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