TOMMY ATKINS?

" For it's Tommy this and Tommy that, and Tommy, wait outside, But it's Special train for Atkins, when the trooper's on the tide." Thus writes Rudyard Kipling in " Barrack Room Ballads." Who was this Tommy Atkins, that his name should symbolise our British private soldier ? Was he the hero of some epic struggle in a battle of long ago, who fought on single-handed in the face of desperate odds ? Was he one of those lucky lads who carried a field marshal's baton in his knapsack ? Surely some splendid tale of heroism or fame attaches to his memory ? But, no! A most prosaic explanation must be given. It was once the custom in the British Army to issue to recruits little books in which were recorded particulars as to the soldier's name, age, date of enlistment, medals, and such like. For the guidance of the not-over-bright, a printed form, showing exactly how details should be entered, accompanied the manual, and the name of the imaginary soldier which appeared on these forms was-" Thomas Atkins."