Speeches To Rouse Soldiers

Speeches to rouse Soldiers #

Before a major battle, leaders of the army attempt to rouse the spirits of their troops with a pep talk – a call to arms. Coaches of major sporting teams will do much the same.

Homer and Shakespeare caution about becoming seduced by the gilded tongue or the Dithyrambic - the nature of an impassioned oration.

World War II #

Stephen Sewell demonstrates:

Both Britain and Germany were led by men who were artists - they were both painters and both great orators." In a sense they summoned each other up.

“And at the very moment that Churchill was delivering his ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’, the Foreign Office was drawing up plans for capitulation and saying that Churchill’s speech was a load of old cobblers. And yet it was the magnificence of Churchill’s language - that magnificent rhetoric - that gave them a pathway through to winning the war.”

“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with increasing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

This speech was likely the turning point in Britain’s resolve to defeat the barbarian Nazis.

Other Winston Churchill quotes:

“It’s no use saying we are doing our best, we have to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

Never give UP, Never GIVE up! NEVER give up!

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.

If you’re going through hell, keep going”

Volodomyr Zelensky #

And ordinary man in extraordinary times Zelensky speaks directly to camera with a focused presence and open intensity, sometimes showing a small smile, placing one hand on his heart or raising a fist in the air. The viewer feels warm emotion behind his words. Since the invasion, he has delivered his speeches in casual military-style clothes – a T-shirt, cargo pants, and old sneakers, emphasising that he is an ordinary man speaking for his country in extraordinary times.

These factors make his addresses accessible and powerfully human, in stark contrast to the seemingly inhuman brutality of war.

Shakespeare #

Shakespeare creates a number of speeches in his plays demonstrating distinct styles; a positive inspiring rallying call or negative fear-inducing diatribes spurring men to fight for survival or the enemy to capitulate.

John Bell claims had Henry V not made that speech, the English might have lost the Battle of Agincourt. This is all Shakespeare’s doing of course, we’ll never know what the real Mark Antony or Henry V said, but the lesson holds good; oratory can affect the course of history. Recall the inspiring words of Abraham Lincoln, Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Recall the rabble-rousing rhetoric of Hitler, Mussolini and Donald Trump, pitched to play on prejudice, hatred and ignorance. Shakespeare’s great orations also remind us of the paucity of expression of many of today’s political leaders, their reliance on slogans, obfuscation and weasel words.

A public speaker today might take note of the oratorical skills of Henry V, he knows how to read the state of play. Unlike most politicians, he knows more than one tune. He can urge his troops over the top with stirring jingoism:

The following excerpts illustrate contrasting techniques to arouse soldiers to fight in battle.

The first is Henry V at the siege of Harfleur

SCENE I. France. Before Harfleur. Alarum. Enter KING HENRY, EXETER, BEDFORD, GLOUCESTER, and Soldiers, with scaling-ladders


Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’


In a lengthy ultimatum to the citizens of Harfleur in Normandy town, Henry offers them “mercy” if they surrender. He then itemises the consequences if they don’t, speaking not as a king but:

“as I am a soldier,
A name that in my thoughts become me best”:
If I begin the battery once again,
I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur
Till in her ashes she lie buried.

The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the fleshed soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.

Washing his hands of responsibility he repeatedly asks, “What is it then to me?” if his soldiers rape women and kill children, and the city is “Enlinked to waste and desolation”. As if morbidly fixated on licensing sexual violence, he repeats:

What is’t to me, when you yourselves are cause, If your pure maidens fall into the hand Of hot and forcing violation?

Henry promises defiance will lead to “The filthy and contagious clouds /Of heady murder, spoil and villainy”. Yet again, the same threats come, still casting blame for violence on the citizens themselves:

Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters,
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused Do break the clouds

Was Shakespeare aware of the barbarity of that speech? Many argue that he did.

The next one is Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUdotxA0ws8

while the second is a poem by Bruce Dawe about a Drill Sargeant addressing new recruits in training.

You can also watch an abusive Drill Sargeant from Full Metal Jacket here:


Henry V

Here is Eissa Blake’s (SMH) review of Damien Ryan’s production of the play:

Henry V is a play Damien Ryan sees as the story of a ruler who pre-emptively invades another sovereign country, with very loose, very corrupt justifications, and kills thousands of people who are trying to defend their homeland."

It is a hard play to stage for a modern audience, Ryan says. “You can make Henry a villain, but then you rob the play of its point and render its spine-chilling moments cynical. I wanted to find a way to show what war does to young people, while these kids are having their boys’ own adventure. It’s about them coming to the realisation it’s a story full of hypocrisy and destruction.”

Far from glorifying war, Henry V condemns it, Ryan says. “There’s a line in the epilogue:

‘They lost France and made England bleed’.

It was all futile, stupid and pointless. All that inspirational struggle for nothing. That’s the coda of the play. It’s Shakespeare talking to us.

France. Before Harfleur Alarum. Enter the KING, EXETER, BEDFORD, GLOUCESTER, and soldiers with scaling-ladders

The King is leading his men into battle and he acknowledges the difference between their deportment during peace and times of war. He appeals to their sense of honour, patriotism and expectations of their families to prove their valour. The entire address is respectful uplifting and rousing.

In Contrast we have the abusive tirade of Bruce Dawe’s Drill Sergeant:

Weapons Training #

*And when I say eyes right I want to hear
those eyeballs click and the gentle pitter-patter
of falling dandruff you there what’s the matter
why are you looking at me are you a queer?
look to your front if you had one more brain
it’d be lonely what are you laughing at
you in the back row with the unsightly fat
between your elephant ears open that drain
you call a mind and listen remember first
the cockpit drill when you go down be sure
the old crown-jewels are safely tucked away what could be more
distressing than to hold off with a burst
from your trusty weapon a mob of the little yellows
only to find back home because of your position
your chances of turning the key in the ignition
considerably reduced? allright now suppose
for the sake of argument you’ve got
a number-one blockage and a brand-new pack
of Charlies are coming at you you can smell their rotten
fish-sauce breath hot on the back
of your stupid neck allright now what
are you going to do about it? that’s right grab and check
the magazine man it’s not a woman’s tit
worse luck or you’d be set too late you nit
they’re on you and your tripes are round your neck
you’ve copped the bloody lot just like I said
and you know what you are? You’re dead, dead, dead *

Analysis: #

weapons training

I Sound Effects

Read the poem aloud. Comment on the Sound Effects,

verbal music, its rhyme, rhythm and melody. Assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. (Blending repetition patterns, slow/ movement, Melody, tone, mood, atmosphere, voice.

As a dramatic monologue, this diatribe, tirade or harangue would likely be delivered in a shrill, strident monotone with few pauses. The tenor of the persona (a N.C.O. squad instructor) is extremely bullying condescending, derisive and at times even contemptuous and abusive to his audience as he exhorts them to learn their trade of killing the enemy. This is one of the few of Dawe’s poems that actually has a rhyme pattern imposing a discipline and sense of poetic purpose on the poem.

II Subject Matter

The poem is an example of a sergeant (martinet) dressing down a squad of recently enlisted recruits, likely for the air force of an Asian Campaign (references to “mob of little yellows”, “a pack of Charlies” and “their rotten fish-sauce breath” suggest Vietnam War a distinctive brand of in-built war propaganda.

III. Themes

The poet through the persona of a drill Sargeant (martinet) is inculcating the philosophy that it pays to learn to kill the enemy before he gets a chance to kill you.

Dawe is also suggesting that the all aspects of War are degrading, brutalising and dehumanising. While the language of the sergeant may be acceptable on the parade ground, it would be rejected by civilised society hearing it in their home surroundings or in respectable school classrooms.

Some critics claim that the persona is voicing his own fears of the men, his sexual inadequacy and his own vulnerability and mortality.

Futility of most of the parade ground exercises which are not relevant to actual fighting especially to the airforce pilots.

IV. Poetic Technique

Structure, images. (visual, auditory, olfactory tactile ,gustatory) figures of speech. contrast antithesis, unity irony etc

Dramatic Monologue that begins in mid sentence with a conjunction - And

Images are base, crude and generally appeal to the visceral (gut) rather than the heart and never anywhere near the cerebral (mind).

Humour of the smutty kind is meant to keep us amused but is merely degrades and alienates by turning grim facts into a joke to make life (death) bearable.

Address is glazed - the ‘you’ is not individualised, it could any dehumanised recipient of racism,, militarism or sexism.

**Rhetorical Questions: **

  1. “what are you looking at? Are you queer?”
  2. “what are you laughing at?”
  3. “what could be more distressing than….”
  4. “what are you going to do about it?”





eyeballs“click” dandruff “pitter patter”

Short sharp syllables


diction, tenor, level, euphemism, punctuation ambiguity, connotation evocative, emotive/demotive, omission, etc.

Language used as a weapon of invective and insult.


Lack of most – except for question marks.

Dawe preferred the lower case even in his titles – though later publishers changed this.

Aggressive & Bullying – Abusive, Brainwashing, conditioning, fear and hate

Eye-balling talk. Derisive and demeaning:

tripes around your neck”, dead, dead

Prejudicial Pejoratives - labels

are you a queer? little yellows, pack of Charlies, rotten fish sauce..

Blather and Drivel

eyeballs click, pitter patter of dandruff, copped the bloody lot (Australian idiom)

Smutty and Crude

Life and love are precious even to the drill instructors. They are “the key” (double meaning) “Cockpit drill” and “the old crown jewels

No rifle has the life-affirming qualities of a woman’s tit.

Put-downs questioning the recruits’ manhood

  1. “are you queer?”
  2. “crown jewels”
  3. “turning the key”
  4. “you’d be set”

Clichés and Australian Idioms

  1. “If you had one more brain”
  2. “unsightly fat”
  3. “you’d be set”
  4. “copped the bloody lot”
  5. “worse luck”
  6. “tripes” is slang for “guts”