The Future Atkins

[It is suggested that, as “brains will in future take the place of  great armaments”, more attention should be paid to the education of soldiers.]

OH, we take him from the city or the plough,

   And we give him Latin grammars of his own;

We teach him to distinguish μή from οὔ,

   And how to use the works of Mr. BOHN.

We don't pay much attention to physique,

   We are working now on quite another plan;

      If his prose correct and terse is,

      And he writes good Latin verses,

   He's the model of a military man.

          O-oh, TOMMY, TOMMY ATKINS,

             You're a scholar, you've a brain:

          Any crux or doubtful reading

             You are able to explain.

          You're a student of the Classics,

             May you stick to them like glue!

          Oh, TOMMY, TOMMY ATKINS,

             Here's our best respects to you.

I admit the smell of powder makes you faint,

   I own you are not handy with a gun,

Perhaps your views on drill are rather quaint,

   But what is that when all is said and done?

The merest dullard knows enough to fight:

   A fool is bright enough to save his skin:

      All those Generals in the past erred,

      What we want are men who've mastered

   The various intricacies of πριν.

          O'oh, TOMMY, TOMMY ATKINS,

             You're not dashing-no; but still

          You're a sort of Dr. PORSON

             With a touch of STUART MILL.

          Though you stoop when you are marching,

             Though your aim is far from true,

          Oh, TOMMY, TOMMY ATKINS,

             Here's our best respects to you.

The battles that we fought in days of yore

   Were absolutely lacking in finesse,

Coarse, vulgar saturnalia of gore,

   When courage won, and learning counted less.

A certain skill and pluck was needed then;

   All that, however, we're about to change.

      No need to stab or shoot, your

      Battles, TOMMY, in the future

   Will be fought with dictionaries at long range.

          O'oh, TOMMY, TOMMY ATKINS,

             Keep your mind alert and bright;

          On the field of Armageddon

             You will shortly have to fight.

          You will have to guard our Empire,

             Stock your brain with knowledge, do –

          Oh, TOMMY, TOMMY ATKINS,

             We civilians lean on you.

So though perhaps you're not exactly tall,

   What need for us to cavil at your height?

What matter if a warrior be small,

   If he can construe Æschylus at sight?

Though your back is not so straight as we could wish,

   Though your eyesight isn't all that it might be,

      Though you're puny, meagre, skinny,

      You can make short work of Pliny,

   You are fit to take a classical degree.

          O'oh, TOMMY, TOMMY ATKINS,

             You're a good 'un , no mistake;

          False quantities and howlers

             You are never known to make.

          Vastly different from the dunces

             Brawling loud at Waterloo,

          Oh, TOMMY, TOMMY ATKINS,

             We are very proud of you.

First published in Punch, October 21, 1903.


  1. -Tommy Atkins: Tommy Atkins has been used as a generic name for a common soldier for many years. The precise origin is a subject of debate, but it is known to have been used as early as 1743.

  1. -Bohn: translator of classical Latin works.

  1. -Dr. Porson: scholar of the Greek classics

  1. -Stuart Mill: John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), British philosopher, political economist, civil servant and Member of Parliament, was an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century.

Awe-struck Tommy (from the trenches): "Look, Bill—soldiers!"

Punch, February 14th, 1917.