Was this song made for the singer or was Dick Gaughan born to sing this song? The first time that I heard him sing it the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The mix of his voice, the song itself, and his unique ability to get a bagpipe like quality out of his guitar make this something extaordinary
The late Hamish Henderson wrote the song. During the Second World War he was an intelligence officer attached to the Eighth Army, of which the 51st was a part. Following on from the desert campaign in North Africa they took part in the invasion of Sicily.
He wrote the song, while watching the troops preparing to leave the island. They were going back to the UK to prepare for the D-Day invasion. Henderson was going to Italy in part to work with the Partizans fighting Mussolini and Hitler. The pipe band were playing the tune “Farewell to the Creeks”, (a popular pipe tune written by Pipe Major James Robertson) and according to his account the words of the song came almost ready formed as he fitted them to the music. The lyrics are in a Scots dialect and slightly obscure to non-natives. Some words may even be slightly obscure to other Scots who speak a different dialect. Helpfully Dick Gaughan publishes the lyrics and a Scots-English dictionary on his website.
Dick Gaughan also recorded an earlier version on his album “Kist of Gold”