“The Old Barbed Wire (I Know Where They Are)”


"If you want to find the privates, I know where they are (x3) -- They're up to their knees in mud (or: "Hanging on the old barbed wire"). I saw them...." Meanwhile, the captains, colonels, and generals enjoy themselves and stay away from the fighting


Internal evidence clearly dates this to the First World War, with its trenches and barbed wire and mud that threatened to swallow the Allied armies whole. What's more, until WWI, officers -- including brigade and sometimes even divisional officers -- were expected to lead their men from the front. Only in the twentieth century did officers become so valuable that they were allowed to "lead" from the rear. - RBW


  1. Sandburg, pp. 442-443, "Where They Were" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Lomax-ABFS, pp. "If You Want to Know Where the Privates Are" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Roud #9618
  5. BI, San442


Alternate titles: “If You Want to See the Captain”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1927 (Sandburg)
Keywords: soldier war
Found in: US