ROYAL NAVAL HYMN
The Royal Naval Hymn, has in its various guises, been found regular use in the service from the 1860’s to the present day. Today it is obligatary at all major Naval occasions, and addittionally it is requisite, wheneve occasion demands that the tenets of the Royal Navy should be placed before God.
In particular it is mandatory at official naval funerals. Whether organised at state, ship or personal level.
As with all forms of Naval Music, the process by which any song or dit can be considered to have regular or traditional use within RN service is tenuous. Such songs have a habit of creeping into common usage by stealth. Until at some point, one realises, that it has always been so! Often in that interim period, very little is recorded.
What is precisely known, for this item to become labeled as the traditional Naval Hymn begins when it was originally penned as a poem, by the Presbyterian, William Whiting of Winchester, in 1860. Prior to that, there is no evidence that any piece of music, was considered under that subject heading.
The poem, was then set to the specially composed tune "Melita" by the Anglican clergyman John B. Dykes in 1861 and it well known that within a very few years it had quickly been taken up for use by sea-farers around the world. Such was the enthusiasm for this hymn, that is not difficult to assume that it found use in its original format, aboard RN ships. Indeed its informal adoption as the Naval Hymn basically occurred within a decade. Although as mentioned there is little written evidence to this process, with the main suggestion coming from its use or listing in several services and it is from the general tradition that had begun within the Royal Navy, of including the hymn, in appropriate official ceremonies, that confirmed its official status at that early date.
Coincidentally, we do also have direct evidence, that in 1879, Lieutenant Commander Charles Jackson Train, USN. The director of the Midshipman’s Choir at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, was in the habit of using the first verse, to end each Sunday Service. Whether it was his original idea or whether he was responding to a common practice is difficult to say, but in consequence, the hymn can be evidenced as earning the status of a traditional anthem and indeed is often referred to as such and in that context, was now referenced as the ‘Naval Hymn’. This first actual recorded reference to the hymn under that title.
Originally Whiting, wrote four verses, (based on the Biblical References given below), as reference to any standard hymnal will reveal. Yet within the Royal Navy, those original words were not found to be succinct enough within the establishment to express the experience of the Navy itself. Thus the process so common with all Naval Seaman’s music, was applied, to rewrite the words to insert greater relevance and by the close of the 1890’s we can note that the alternate form as given here was in use. This process can also be seen to be similarly replicated elsewhere and consequentially it should be noted there are countless alternate versions of this hymn in use around the world.
Even so, the process of evolution, within the RN, did not end with the official acceptance of this hymn as a Naval Standard. For it should be appreciated that at the turn of the century, the Navy itself was in the dramatic process of change. The Dreadnoughts and Destroyers being but two examples. Whilst given the original biblical connection source of each verse, it was soon observed that a middle or fifth verse was often required. Either to illustrate the specific dangers that those at sea are presented with, or the occasion itself.
We are able to note that the inclusion of special verses for commissioning ships etc. was then common place.
Additionally we can find in 1915, an official mention of a special being verse used by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).
This was immediately noticed and soon afterwards in Submarine depot ships, it became usual to add in the middle of the hymn the Submariners verse in lieu of the RNAS. As both verses having a commonality of syntax and construction, we can see a that the authours had borrowed from each other in their inspiration.
The control of the Naval Air Service passed to the RAF in April 1918, and thus the RNAS verse fell from use but in the 1930's with the creation of the Fleet Air Arm, it was again common for the Fleet Air Arm verse to be used. Certainly I can report from personal observation, that since at least the end of WW2 it is now the convention for the FAA verse to be universally used in all RN ships, (as seen in the published service hymnal. Yet from time to time, as needs dictate, other verses are substituted in its stead.
Verse 1 - refers to God the Father forbidding the waters to flood the earth as described in Psalm 104.
Verse 2 - refers to the miracle of Jesus stilling a storm and walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee.
Verse 4 – refers to the creation of earth by the Holy Spirit in the Book of Genesis.
Verse 5 – Makes reference to Psalm 107.
Melita is a reference to Malta, on which the apostle Paul was shipwrecked. (Acts of Apostle – Chapter 27-28).
Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea!
O Saviour, whose almighty word, the winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walked'st on the foaming deep, and calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!
Insert an appropriate Alternate Verse from those given below or omit as required
O sacred Spirit, who didst brood, upon the chaos dark and rude,
Who bade its angry tumult cease, and gavest light and life and peace:
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea!
O Trinity of love and power, our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect them wheresoe'er they go;
And ever let there rise to Thee , glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
The middle or alternate verse, in general and accepted use within the Royal Navy is that as given below for the Fleet Air Arm, but it is common at funerals or specific services too have this verse replaced by one of the alternatives.
Commissioning of a Ship (c. pre 1900)
O Father, King of earth and sea, we dedicate this ship to thee.
In faith we send her on her way; in faith to Thee we humbly pray:
O hear from Heaven our sailor's cry and watch and guard her from on High!
Decommissioning of a Ship (c. pre 1900)
And when at length her course is run, her work for home and country done,
Of all the souls that in her sailed, let not one life in Thee have failed;
But hear from Heaven our sailor's cry, and grant eternal life on High!
Lord, guard and guide the men who fly through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air, in darkening storms or sunlight fair;
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer, for those in peril in the air!
Bless those who serve beneath the deep, through lonely hours their vigil keep.
May peace their mission ever be, protect each one we ask of Thee.
Bless those at home who wait and pray, for their return by night and day.
Fleet Air Arm (c.WW2 to current day)
Strong son of man, save those who fly, swift winged across the uncharted sky,
Each anxious hour, each lonely flight, serenely challenged day or night.
O’er land and ocean safely hear, all those in peril in the air.