The English Penny
Oh Sister, you have asked to hear my story,
And in this calm, it seems a world away,
When heroes fought for principles not glory,
And the sound of battle thundered every day.
They knew that, as the day of battle it drew nearer,
And the sun’s bright rays o’ercame the dark of night,
With the armoury of her station gleaming clearer,
‘English Penny’ she stood ready for the fight.
Detrained in ‘37 at Albacete,
From there to work with nurses brave and good,
At Tarancon, Jarama and Brunete,
In the days when Spain was red – with Spanish blood.
And unlike this room so peaceful and so calming,
It’s the dreadful sounds of battle still I hear,
The chaos of the transports to the front line,
And the bombing raids when children cried in fear.
And unlike the coolness of an English autumn,
I still feel the cruel Murcian sun,
Working day and night with army surgeons,
All to heal the damage wrought by shell and gun.
And unlike the softness of this bed I lie in,
It’s the endless toil of nursing I recall,
Dividing up the living from the dying,
In those makeshift wards in burnt out schools and halls
And quite unlike this sober conversation,
It’s the strutting demagogues that I abhor,
Who play upon the basest of emotions,
All to march young men and women off to war.
Music: Na-Mara, Lyrics P. McNamara
Penelope Phelps, later Fyvel, volunteered as a nurse with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War where she was affectionately awarded the soubriquet, The English Penny. Although badly wounded, Penny returned home and lived to a great age. This song uses her own words in an imagined conversation with a modern-day nurse to contrast the comforts of her later life with the privations she suffered during the conflict in Spain.