This is a question my mother asked me and I wasn't able to answer. She is trying to identify a short story she read as a girl. It would have been written in the 1950s or earlier, and almost certainly by a British author.

An explorer is exploring a desolate world (possibly a future Earth) and finds humans reduced to a hunter gatherer existence. They sing a song that the explorer eventually realises is a corrupted version of George Formby's hit Bless 'Em All.

I have ransacked my collection trying to find this but without success. Googling has found me just one reference here:

There's a rather touching science fiction story of about twenty years ago which recounted a future anthropologist lost among savages in the future Britain. He hears a strange garbled song which goes:

Balasamo, balasamo
Bina mosha sada rosha
Chumila balasamo

And, as he dies of wounds at the end of the story he makes the connection between the devolved residents and their song.

This plot device of a popular song corrupted by time is tantalisingly familiar, but I cannot pin down the memory. Of course it's possible the device has been used more than once and I'm dimly remembering some unrelated story. If anyone can identify the story I and my mother would be most grateful.

  • I get a hit on "Voices in the Dust" by Gerald Kersh, but I can't find a copy right now to verify.
    – DavidW
    Oct 21 '20 at 12:00
  • @DavidW BOOM! That's it. I found a copy of Kearsey's anthology Nightshade and Damnations and the story is in it. What did you Google? I searched and searched with no luck. I'll give you a chance to answer if you can find a copy (cough, Z Library, cough) or failing that I'll add an answer tomorrow. Oct 21 '20 at 12:38
  • I did a Google books search for "balasamo" and got a very small number of possible hits: anthologies by Merril and Kersh and vol. 220 (1947-48) of The Saturday Evening Post. There were no previews available, but the provided snippet was almost the same, and looking up the page numbers in ISFDb gave me the story title.
    – DavidW
    Oct 21 '20 at 14:22

This appears to be Gerald Kersh's "Voices in the Dust of Annan" (1947) (alternate title "Voices in the Dust"). Kersh is an English author, and the time frame matches. It appears to have been first published in the September 13th, 1947 edition of The Saturday Evening Post which is available at the Internet Archive.

The nameless protagonist has landed in northeast England, intending to make his way to Annan - the ruins of London. After passing through various savage and/or devolved peoples along the way he reaches the apparently deserted ruins.

One night in the ruins he captures a three-foot-tall man trying to steal his coat; he follows this man's trail to where his people live, only to fall and injure himself.

He hears them sing:

It seemed to part of me that from some indefinable part of the near distance I heard again that thin, agonized singing which I had heard once before. Male and female voices wailed a sort of hymn:

"Ah-h-h, Balasamo,
Balasamo! Oh!
Sarnacorpano! Oh-oh!
Binno Mosha,
Sada Rosha,
Chu mila Balasamo! Oh!"

His injured leg gets infected, and as he lies dying he finally connects "Balasamo" to "Bless 'em all" and the other song they sing "Ookil'karabin" to "Who Killed Cock Robin."

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