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 tenous. 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 precisly known, for this item to become laballed as the traditional Naval Hymn begins when it was originally penned as a poem, by the Presbertarian, 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 logil 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 had occured basiccly within a decade. Although as mentioned there is little written evidence to this process, except by its listing in several services. In fact the general tradition had begun within the Royal Navy, of including the hymn, in appropriate official ceremonies.
Coincidentally, we do have direct evidence that in 1879, Lieut. Commander Charles Jackson Train, USN. The director of the Midshipman’s Choir at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, habitually used the first verse, to end each Sunday Service. Whether it was an original idea or one adopted is difficult to say, but in consequence, the hymn was earning the tatus of a traditional anthem and was often referred to, within that capacity, as the ‘Naval Hymn’. This first actual recorded reference to the hymn under that title.
Originally Whiting, wrote four verses, as reference to any hymnal will reveal. (See Biblical Reference Below.) 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, and by the close of the 1890’s we can note that an alternate form as given here was in use. This process similarly replicated elsewhere and 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 offical 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 fith 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. Whilst following the development of the flying services in the early part of World War 1 an extra verse had been inserted to update relevance.
In 1915 we can find an official mention where the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) verse was used and immediattely afterwards in Submarine depot ships, it became usual to add in the middle of the hymnn the Submariners verse in lieu of the RNAS. Both verses having a commonality of syntax and construction.
Prior too or around the time of World War 2, with the reintroduction of aircraft into the RN, it again became common for the Fleet Air Arm verse to be used. Certainbly since at least the end of WW2 it is now convential for the FAA to be used universally in RN ships and today certainly it can be found in the published service hymnal. However from time to time, as needs dictate, other verses might be 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 walkedst 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 bad’st 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 challanged day or night.
O’er land and ocean safely hear, all those in peril in the air.