The Dirty Five

by Sam Jefferson

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95mini A song that makes you feel comfortable with your family and friends gently while looking back on life.
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I found this photograph of my Great-Grandfather, Jim Marshall (top left), with four of his friends a few months ago. He sent this photograph back from Red Car camp, where he, like many other young men, received training before being deployed to the front lines of the First World War.

If you look closely around the edges of the photograph/click on the photo, you can see where Jim wrote in pencil ‘Yours Sincerely The Dirty Five’. When I read this I knew I had to write something about them.

I started to do some research. After training, all five lads entered the ranks of the Barnsley Pal’s Battalion. They fought alongside each other right through to 1916 where they would do their bit in one of the most horrific battles in military history, The Battle of The Somme.

Jim Marshall was born on June 10th 1894, I was born on July 6th 1994. Yet it only struck me several months ago that we are almost exactly one hundred years apart. As I write this at the age of 22, it still amazes me to think that at the same age, Jim and his friends were in the thick of trench warfare.

These would be their last days together. I found an account from Jim relating that, after being ordered to fall back from the front line, he and his four friends were hit by a German mortar strike. One lad was killed instantly, two were never found.

I wanted to write a song which spoke about the fun they shared together as well as the horrors they faced in war. A song about five young working class Barnsley lads who stuck together, keeping each other’s spirits up with their jokes and jaunty songs right until the end. The story of The Dirty Five.


The Royal British Legion published a great piece about the song and the story behind it here:

It's a real honour to have the story published by an organisation who've done so much to help ex-servicemen for nearly a century.

'The Dirty Five' was also featured on BBC Radio Sheffield (26.10.16) alongside an interview in which I tell some more of their story, and of Jim Marshall's after he returned home from the front line.



There’s a photo on my table, from 1914,
Of five young lads in scruffy clothes, Larrikins you can see,
In the trenches’ thickening air, they shared the shortest life,
And the photograph is signed,
Yours sincerely The Dirty Five.

Posters went up round your town,
Young men must do their tour,
And every last one of your friends,
Had signed up for the war.

So you ran to town hall,
Swore to fight and serve the crown,
And you spoke your name so loud and brave,
Jim Marshall, of Barnsley Town.

They had you northward bound to Red Car,
To train you for the front,
They drilled you with the bayonet,
To face the machine guns.

But in the Barnsley Pal’s Battalion,
You found yourself a crew,
With jaunty smiles and calloused hands,
Four working lads like you.

Oh from the first day there was,
Singing in the dorm,
working up a storm,
The Dirty Five were usually the ones behind it all.

All so young and gone so fast,
Under a burning sky,
A band of brothers made to last,
The Dirty Five.

A photo from your last days,
At old Red Car camp,
Harry, Bert, Jack, and George,
Stood round you in the damp.

With a wash towel on your shoulder,
Jack’s clothes that barely fit,
And the others making faces,
Still a bunch of fresh faced kids.

They sent you to the front,
Things you’d never seen before,
And they tried to spend all of your youth,
On an old man’s war.

Oh from the first day you were,
Dealing out the cards,
Spinning a few yarns,
Telling jokes that always had your sergeant up in arms.

All so young and gone so fast,
Under a burning sky,
A band of brothers made to last,
The Dirty Five.

You turned 22 the summer,
Of 1916,
And the Dirty Five had stayed together,
Everywhere they’d been.

The order came, one last campaign,
Then you could all go home,
On the first day 60,000 lay,
On the burning fields of the Somme.

You dragged on through the baking air,
Falling back from the line,
Hauling back the Vickers gun,
When mortar split the sky.

You came to in a silent world,
As hellish fire rained down,
Harry burned up in the chalk,
Jack and George they never found.

You carried home from France,
And The Dirty Five were two,
No one here could understand,
The things that you both knew,

Well you knew it was all wrong,
For lads so young to have to fight,
With boys who would’ve been their friends,
On the outside.

All so young and gone so fast,
Under a burning sky,
A band of brothers made to last,
The Dirty Five.


released September 18, 2016
Music and lyrics composed and performed by Sam Jefferson.

Recorded and mixed by Ed Bersey at Sylvafield Studios, Shaftsbury,



all rights reserved


Sam Jefferson England, UK

'...a consumate songwriter, Jefferson brings a story to life' - BBC Radio Sheffield

'...a truly personal approach to the rich blues and folk traditions.' (Brighton Unsigned).

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