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Bearing in mind this is a site about music used by the Royal Navy. - I am on occasion asked to advise on the appropriate music, that can be used to accompany a shipmate across the bar.

The following offers some informal suggestion, for there is never a wrong way to do these things. Yet sometimes, you need to know, that you have done the best you can. In that context, I hope you might find the following useful.

Suggestions on how this page might be improved - are gratefully accepted.

Royal Navy & Royal Marine Funerals - Follow Link to Merchant Navy Funerals
There is little published or recorded information to be obtained on the subject of RN or RM funerals, but as always the padre is the person to talk to and he always follows the service book for the respective denomination.

But in general - What I  think you are looking for is the manner in which the traditions of the service  have for centuries been  'copper plated' to that basic service.  -

Aboard ship, burials at sea would be conducted according to guidance in the drill book, with the ships company in No1 uniform (or if the ship was at threat from an enemy, then they might be in working dress). At a convenient time after the battle, the funeral party and such members of the ships company available, would assemble on the foredeck etc. to witness the committal. The padre or senior officer reads the appropriate words, leads the prayers and hymn (usually the Naval Hymn). At the point of committal a ships bugler would play the Last Post, after which the deceased would be tipped over the side. (Alternatively a group of Boatswains mates would pipe as the deceased again was tipped into the deep).

Ashore - Church If a ceremonial party or military band is present. As the mourners and band approach the church, marching in file the band would play -

Flowers of the Forest

Alternatively, if the naval mourners have assembled in the churchyard as the coffin arrives, - As the hearse or funeral carriage approaches. The company comes to attention.

The band plays - Flowers of the Forest as the coffin is dismounted from the hearse and conducted to the church.

As the coffin travels from the gate to the church. The band plays

The Dead March of Saul

Inside the church - as the coffin is transported to the front. - typical music is played on the organ, relevant to the wishes of the family, and in keeping with the deceased and occasion.

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After the ceremony - It is usual, as a mark of respect, for - the congregation to leave first and line the route between church door and the burial site / hearse at gate,

The principle mourners will follow the coffin as it is carried
between the assembled mourners lining the route, -

- A piper might at this stage play a lament or the bugler play the last post.

- If a Private burial - As the coffin approaches the hearse, so the Last Post is played and rifles fired.

As the hearse leaves , the congregation will disperses -  The band plays

The Girl I left Behind Me

At Graveside ( but see Private Burial above - It is usual for the last post to be played and rifles fired in witness, as the coffin is lowered to its final rest.

Ashore at a crematorium - If you have a uniformed coffin party, they would carry in the coffin, and then take their 'reserved' seats for the service. On completion they would then take their place at the front of the hall near the coffin. On caps and salute.
Otherwise the normal pattern of Crematorium service is followed.
It is common at civilian organised funerals of ex Naval men, to play the Last Post as the curtains close.

If rifles are to be fired, at this juncture, a signal is passed to the firing party and they are fired outside.

The Flag - It  this is a formally organised event by the Navy,  and the deceased has died in service his coffin will be decorated with the Union flag (sometimes referred to as the Union Jack), unless the family requests otherwise and it should be note that this a traditional practice, exercised for all members of the Armed Forces and other public services such as the Police and Fire Brigade.

In a funeral is organised by the family. If the deceased served in the Navy or Marines for some significant period of his life and he or the family have expressed a desire for the coffin to carry either the Union flag or the respective ensign, then he is entitled to that honour.

It is usual for a man on active service to be represented, by the Union Flag, and if ex service it maybe more appropriate to use the appropriate ensign itself.  Ex service men are as entitled to the Union flag as serving men.

Any person active in the British Legion / Naval Association, might wish to take guidance from them in respect to their own standard, being displayed or carried with the funeral cortege.

Before a coffin is lowered into a grave,  the flag is removed and  can be ceremoniously folded, by the coffin party, into a triangle for presentation to the Widow or oldest Son. This process needs the skills of at least two coffin beaters, alternatively if the flag has been borrowed, such presentation probably inappropriate.

At a crematorium, it is customary to remove it and fold it before the curtains are closed.


Flag used as a Coffin Pall

If a national flag is to be used on a coffin, it should be placed,  so that flag covers the whole coffin, effectively the top left corner of the flag is over the deceased’s left shoulder and the opposite end of the head rope is over the deceased right shoulder.

The flag should be removed before interment or cremation and folded.

If the flag is to be retained by the next of kin it can be folded using the Royal Navy’s method described  here, based on a 1:2 flag (138cm x 276cm) with no fittings (ie. ropes, toggles or clips):

The Union Flag is pulled taut. The Union Flag is folded in half, lengthways. Keeping the Union Flag taught it is then folded

in half (lengthways) a second time. You now have a long rectangle.

You now create triangular folds - take the bottom right corner and to the opposite edge (i.e. the bottom edge of the rectangle now lies alongside the left side
take the triangular portion and fold it  upwards , left side rejoins left side and you again have a rectangle .

Create a second triangular fold  as above but starting with the opposite corner, to make another triangle, then fold that up to a rectangle.

This continues until you reach the head of the Union Flag. Any remainder is folded down from the top and tucked away into the folds of the triangular shape

The Union Flag ready for presentation

Practice first.


Music for the Funeral Service -

NOTE:-  It is usually obligatory to have the Naval Hymn.

Click >> - NAVAL HYMN <<- Press Me

Another suitable Hymn - The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended


Britain’s greatest Naval Hero, Lord Nelson was given a state funeral, although in his case it was organised by the military and not naval authorities. Only as an after thought was a forty eight strong naval contingent invited to escort the coffin car. These men being predominantly drawn from the crew of HMS Victory. Afterwards these men can be thought to have exacted their own revenge, for this miserly representation, for instead of folding up the shot torn ensign that had adorned the coffin, they tore it into pieces for souvenirs.

Additionally there was also a small group of Greenwich pensioners lining the church steps and there was a 100 strong RM contingent given a part to play.

As the funeral car processed from the Admiralty to St Paul's cathedral it was accompanied by military bands playing

- Dead March in Saul.

Other typical pieces of music for funerals are -

Rule Britannia, Heart of Oak or The Evening Hymn as played by the Royal Marines


Bidding Farewell to Shipmates

The above should give you some ideas that you might adapt for your needs.

Remember Crematoriums provide basic facilities and organise you into 30 minute slots - You should plan no more than a twenty minute service. Therefore if you need longer - use a church for the service and the Crematorium for a private committal. Or book a double session at the Crematorium.

Some Common Procedures at Funerals
The funeral services / undertakers, will often want to  place the coffin in the chapel, either before the congregation files in, or precede the family and congregation into the chapel, placing the coffin at the front. - Pick suitable music for the organist or CD player to play during this time.

The minister will either follow the coffin giving the usual words or open the service in like manner once everyone has taken there seat.

 In the service it is usual to have prayers, bible readings and to have two congregational hymns, (always pick well known hymns that can be sung with gusto and meaning as everyone likes a good sing).

The eulogy or family tribute is generally spoken between the hymns, the minister will guide you in this process.

If you choose to use a particular piece of music, that had relevance to the deceased, for example he wrote it etc. Please ensure you give reference to it in the tribute speeches or on the service sheet, so the congregation can be part of that associaton.

After the second hymn there are further prayers before the minister closes the curtains with the Prayer of Committal.

You can if you have time request the local Naval establishment to provide a bugler who will play the last post for you - or Some British Legion units can also offer this service.

Alternatively as the curtain's close you can play a recording Heart of Oak or Sunset or another appropriate item. (Note the Royal Marines Band have some excellent recordings - Please look at the Web. If the Crematorium have video projection facilities and many do, play Sunset / Evening Hymn video with the Ensign be lowered

A short medley of sea music could be played as the mourners leave.

If you decide to play any copyright recordings it is essential to acknowledge these in the  service sheet.

A possible order of Service in a Crematorium

  • Opening Music - Trumpet Concerto - Haydn

  • Welcome & Opening Prayers.

  • Hymn - Eternal Father (The Naval Hymn) Tune -  Melitia -  Please carefully select your verses

  • Family Tribute

  • Bible Reading  - John 14 1-6

  • Short Address by Minister (on Hope?)

  • Prayers including the Lords Prayer

  • Hymn - (The Evening Hymn if not used later or one of relevance to the deceased or a good alternative is Abide with Me).

  • Reading or Poem

  • Prayers of Commendation, and Committal

  • (Last Post on Bugle) could be played here

  • Closing Prayer  and Blessing

  • Closing Music - Ashokan Farewell - Flowers of the Forest - The Girl I left Behind Me.

With thanks to the family of Gerald Rodney Hutson (1934-2016) - who served in the FAA -  for the above suggestion

------ o 0 O 0 o ------


Officially this Bugle Call is only played at sea for a funeral. Ashore at memorials and funerals.

It also forms a special part of the Royal Marines Sunset display.


As You Depart
Barry E. Scott ( 1948 - ) for Michael 2007

Though my heart lays heavy in sorrow, as you depart from here.
May we take just a very brief moment,  to picture the memories we shared,
And as we hold our breath together, let us sip from that treasure of life,
  For each sip, that we take will feed me and I hope serve as your guide and your light.

Though my heart lays heavy in sorrow, as you depart from here.
Let us pause together for a while, so you know how deeply I cared,
For though my eyes now weep, in sadness, and my arms ache; to reach out and hold,
 Take strength, my heart, 'tis not good bye or farewell, but simply a kiss - Goodnight!


Crossing the Bar
Alfred, Lord Tennyson ~ 1809 to 1892

Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar, when I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep, too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep, turns again - home.

Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell, when I embark;
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place, the flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face, when I have crossed the bar.

Just A Common Sailor
Can anyone help with this tune - please

He was getting old and paunchy, and his hair was falling fast,
He sat around the table telling stories of the past,
Of a war that he had fought in, and the deeds that he had done,
Of his exploits with his oppo’s, they were heroes every one.
And tho’ sometimes to his children his tales became a joke,
His wife she listened carefully, for she knew of what he spoke.
But we will hear those tales no longer for He has passed away,
And the worlds a little poorer for a sailor died today,
He’ll not be mourned by many, perhaps by his children and his wife,
For he lived a quiet , ordinary, uneventful life.
Who worked to raise his family, till to old to earn his pay,
No the world won’t know his passing, tho’ a sailor died today.

When politicians leave this earth their bodies lie in state
And thousands note their passing and always say that they’re great.
The papers tell their histories from the time when they were young,
But the passing of our old sailors go unnoticed, go unsung.
Yes it’s too easy to ignore them, their brave hour too long ago,
Yes its too easy to laugh at them, when they recall the friends they know.
But why fete the politician who breaks promises every day, And not those who saved their country in their ordinary way.
He was just a common sailor , and his ranks are growing thin, Who won for us the freedom, in that terror and that din,
When they stood so firm in battle, each a hero in his way,
No the world won’t know his passing, tho’ a sailor died today.

Merchant Navy Funerals
On several occasions I have been asked to assist with music gor a Merchant Marine funeral and as since World War One the bravery and fortitude of those men have been nationally recognised, whilst there is a close connection now between the two services, with both often serving together. I feel it appropriate to add what I am able.

Musical Tradition

Like the Royal Navy, the merchant man has a long tradition  of singing, in the foc'sle and ashore when in groups and of course no more apparent that in the exhibition of its Work Shanties. Of this tradition, perhaps one song has come to be representative of the Merchant Fleet and that is Maggie May.

Aboard ship,
Again little is recorded, excepting that at sea, a man is shrouded in his hammock, and with a dry tear wiped from the eye, he is slipped over the side with the appropriate words.

Funerals Ashore
Today, because of the recognition earned in the two Word Wars, national memorial services, always include representation of the Merchant Marine and no cenotaph is complete, unless at the appropriate times, it wears a wreath honouring the lost of that service. No where is this more apparent, than at the British Legion Festival of Remembrance. Of course in days gone by, that service, unlike the more regimented cousin, had no tradition in ceremonial parade, for marching or standing in file and therefore the legion, in its search to locate an appropriate marching song, chose what is perhaps the most significant of all tunes.

All the Nice Girls Love A Sailor

One that for generations now has been used to accompany a parade of Merchant Men, whether that be to church, or on other ceremonial situations like Remembrance Sunday. For decades that tune, has also been used to precede a coffin into a church.

The following is sensitively arranged from the classic tune of Maggie May, has been well received for such occasions. It is written and arranged by Martyn Hancock ( ) an ex Royal Marine Bandsman, it is copyright to him., but can be played for personal use.


Naval Hymn

Eternal Father Strong To Save

Like the Senior service this is a requisite for all seafaring men. The version used for the Merchant Marine is the four verses in the standard hymn book. To date there is no middle verse known in tradition for the Merchant Marine Also see the RN Page By clicking this LINK


Committal or Leaving the Church
Suitable music can be either Flowers of the Forest or The Girl I left Behind Me as noted above

last Edit May 2014
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