The Village : Inspired by Freddy Spencer Chapman

The Village, track 7 on my People Watching album, was inspired by the story of Freddy Spencer Chapman, a little known hero of WWII, sometimes referred to as “Lawrence of the Jungle”.

Freddy Spencer Chapman

Freddy was a well known naturalist, explorer, mountaineer and all round “good egg” who was enlisted in the British Army to build a presence behind Japanese lines in Malaya in 1942. He led and lived with Chinese Communist guerillas, sharing immense hardship with them whilst inflicting a serious degree of mayhem on the enemy.

He survived the war by the skin of his teeth and eventually made it back to England where he had an illustrious career as a headteacher and educationalist. With his health failing he committed suicide in 1971 to avoid “being a burden on his wife and family”.

I found his story compelling and it inspired me to write “The Village” in memory of the forgotten patriots who fought alongside him from 1942 to 1945.

… the song

In the village in the forest, they’re gathering their forces 
To march against the soldiers, who killed family and friends 
Young girls preparing rations, old women tearing bandages 
Others cleaning weapons, mothers, daughters, wives 
They are fighting for the hatred, fighting for the anger 
Fighting for their manhood, they are fighting for their lives 

Every enemy they slaughter, will bring a retribution 
They don’t care about the consequence, they have clarity of mind 
They plan to blow up bridges, set fire to trucks and wagons 
Bring chaos to the barracks, bring down the dogs of war 
They are fighting for the hatred, they’re fighting for the anger 
Fighting for their manhood, they are fighting for their lives 

The enemy lies waiting, he knows of their intentions 
Caught in a deadly crossfire, they melt back into the night 
The stragglers are returning, no expression on their faces 
Was it traitor or coincidence that tore their hopes away? 
They are fighting for the hatred, fighting for the anger 
Fighting for their manhood, they are fighting for their lives 

They know the retribution will not be slow in coming 
Another burned out clearing, where a village used to be

… more about Freddy

To learn more about Freddy Spencer Chapman you could take a look at Wikipedia. Better still read Jungle Soldier by Colin Moynihan.

… the writing of the song

I was on holiday in Tias, Lanzarote in 2014. I’d devoured all the books I’d taken with me and so dug a dog-eared copy of “Jungle Soldier” off the villa’s bookshelves. I’d never heard of Freddy but the book really gripped me.

I half-woke about 6.00am the next morning with a sentence going around in my head: “In the village in the forest, they’re gathering their forces, to march against the soldiers who killed family and friends“.

Then over the next hour or so all the other words came to my head. I was terrified of losing them as I was still half asleep. I kept repeating them over and over, continually going back to the beginning and starting again. Finally I found the courage to leap out of bed, plonk myself at the table and scribble them all out.

I then went back to bed and slept deeply for a couple of hours. When I awoke I grabbed my guitar, added a simple melody and a few chords and that was it done.

I don’t think there were any edits from that initial “brain dump” through to the recorded version 4 years later. You may also notice that there is no rhyme in the lyrics, which is a little unusual.

… the first performance

Tony Burt at Bodenham Folk Club

I first performed “The Village” on my return from holiday at Bodenham Folk Club, between Bromyard and Hereford. I explained the influence of Freddy Spencer Chapman on the song and it worked pretty well.

At the end of my set I was approached by an elderly, very tall and distinguished looking gentleman who revealed to me he had received training from Freddy during his National Service days. Small world!

2 thoughts on “The Village : Inspired by Freddy Spencer Chapman

  1. Liz

    Hi there, my mother was adopted in Northern Ireland 1947 but was born of a man named Freddie Spencer Chapman from the Army as too was was her birth mother Ann keily. That’s all the information we have sadly. We got this from an original birth certificate. Would love to know more.
    Great book on this man Freddie Spencer Chapman. Just thought my connection to Fredrick Spencer Chapman was worth telling…

    1. Tony Burt Post author

      Hi Liz

      That’s really interesting. Have you read “Jungle Soldier”? As well as covering the wartime exploits it also covers his early life and the years after the war. He was a fascinating character and there are so many apsects of his life that are in stark contrast to each other.




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