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. Rhetoric can cast a spell on its audience, suspending our cerberal capacity in favour of emotions.

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.”

Apparently it was not recorded in Parliament and Churchill had to perform it again in a B.B.C. studio.

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

Hitler’s rousing speeches were most effective before the war, and after 1943, he stopped addressing the naiton.

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.

Harfleur #

The first is Henry V at the siege of Harfleur

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.

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 Battle of Agincourt: #


The entire address is respectful uplifting and rousing.

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

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.

Contrast of Speeches - Richard III #


Why, then ’tis time to arm and give direction.

His oration to his soldiers

More than I have said, loving countrymen,
The leisure and enforcement of the time
Forbids to dwell upon: yet remember this,
God and our good cause fight upon our side;
The prayers of holy saints and wronged souls,
Like high-rear’d bulwarks, stand before our faces;
Richard except, those whom we fight against
Had rather have us win than him they follow:
For what is he they follow? truly, gentlemen,
A bloody tyrant and a homicide;
One raised in blood, and one in blood establish’d;
One that made means to come by what he hath,
And slaughter’d those that were the means to help him;
Abase foul stone, made precious by the foil
Of England’s chair, where he is falsely set;
One that hath ever been God’s enemy:
Then, if you fight against God’s enemy,
God will in justice ward you as his soldiers;
If you do sweat to put a tyrant down,
You sleep in peace, the tyrant being slain;
If you do fight against your country’s foes,
Your country’s fat shall pay your pains the hire;
If you do fight in safeguard of your wives,
Your wives shall welcome home the conquerors;
If you do free your children from the sword,
Your children’s children quit it in your age.
Then, in the name of God and all these rights,
Advance your standards, draw your willing swords.
For me, the ransom of my bold attempt
Shall be this cold corpse on the earth’s cold face;
But if I thrive, the gain of my attempt
The least of you shall share his part thereof.
Sound drums and trumpets boldly and cheerfully;
God and Saint George! Richmond and victory!


Richard’s call to arms is consistent with Shakespeare’s portrayal of a Machiavellian tyrant. He first resorts to denigrating Richmond’s followers as desperate nobodies who are guilty of envy and then appeals to his followers by assuring them of his secure protection for their lands and wives as long as he remains their sovereign. After derisively referring to Richmond as a paltry fellow and milksop, he turns to the device used by all insecure tyrants – FEAR. The threat that these rats will lie with our wives and ravish our daughters. It is more of a rant, an abusive diatribe rather than an uplifting or inspiring call to arms.

His oration to his Army

What shall I say more than I have inferr’d?*
Remember whom you are to cope withal;
A sort of vagabonds, rascals, and runaways,
A scum of Bretons, and base lackey peasants,
Whom their o’er-cloyed country vomits forth
To desperate ventures and assured destruction.
You sleeping safe, they bring to you unrest;
You having lands, and blest with beauteous wives,
They would restrain the one, distain the other.
And who doth lead them but a paltry fellow,
Long kept in Bretagne at our mother’s cost?
A milk-sop, one that never in his life
Felt so much cold as over shoes in snow?
Let’s whip these stragglers o’er the seas again;
Lash hence these overweening rags of France,
These famish’d beggars, weary of their lives;
Who, but for dreaming on this fond exploit,
For want of means, poor rats, had hang’d themselves:
If we be conquer’d, let men conquer us,
And not these bastard Bretons; whom our fathers
Have in their own land beaten, bobb’d, and thump’d,
And in record, left them the heirs of shame.
Shall these enjoy our lands? lie with our wives?
Ravish our daughters?

There is no evidence that at any time Richard experiences any crises of conscience or self revelation puncturing his self illusions. Even his last night when he is visited by the ghosts of his past, he shows little self-knowledge. Richard is very much a product of his environment or conditioning; he has seen all his uncles and cousins claw their way to the top to grasp the crown and has no compunctions in doing the same. At the end we feel no remorse for the deserved death of this tyrant.

The final word goes to Richmond, who assumes the title of Henry VII after his victory over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field:


Fellows in arms, and my most loving friends,*
Bruised underneath the yoke of tyranny,
Thus far into the bowels of the land
Have we march’d on without impediment;
And here receive we from our father Stanley
Lines of fair comfort and encouragement.
The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar,
That spoil’d your summer fields and fruitful vines,
Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough
In your embowell’d bosoms, this foul swine
Lies now even in the centre of this isle

Shakespeare succeeds in demonising Richard and elevating Henry VII, Elizabeth I’s Grandfather, as a champion of justice and virtue. If only history were that clear cut. As a work of art, Richard III ranks very highly.

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


In Contrast we have the abusive tirade of Bruce Dawe’s Drill Sergeant addressing new recruits in training.

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”