The aim of this site, is to illustrate the songs, music, one liners, shouts, special phrases that are or have actually been sung, spoken or used by the sailors of the Royal Navy over the centuries - In addition the site explores the genre. subject, situation and context within which the songs were performed.
Please note this is a non-fund raising site and arrangements have been made to deposit all associated correspondence and material in Naval Museums.
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and from necessity are required to entertainment themselves, which is true even in the modern era. Indeed it is a process, which can still be likened to the Victorian / Edwardian family evening, in the parlour, where the family would gather around the piano. Perhaps conversely and less accurately, you could observe the football crowds in the after match pubs, chorusing as they get into their cups.
To this add the factor, that the military man in general, and the naval man in particular, owns a very special sense of humour. Whilst from generation to generation, the sailor also passes on centuries old traditions as well as speaking a unique language.
Then it might well, be appreciated, that during the passing of those traditions, there will be many categories of song and diferent occasions, where songs, yarns, black-cat stories and jokes, will be used.
If that is the case, and I assure you it is, then it follows, that in illustrating the songs only, will lack authenticity as the context, occasion and manner of the singing will be lost.
So with your help, I hope to redress that situation here, so that the sailors songs are recorded properly.
Readers will know, that in the Merchant service, Work Songs (Sea Shanties) were used to assist in carrying out herculean tasks. That is one example of using different types of songs in different categories. Do not suppose that the Merchant Seaman would also sing those same shanties, in his mess. For there he had a different type of song.
The RN man is the same. He had his work songs, even if they were not the true rip-roaring shanties, he still sang as he painted ship, holystoned etc. He had a group of songs, that he would use, like commentary pieces, to remind himself of the pipe colours, or chants used to time the firing of salute guns etc. He would sing only a certain type of song as he prepared to go ashore, or reminded himself what a bugle call meant, or which he sang as he looked forward to a run ashore. Then there were songs used in the context of sport and then the old songs used to entertain himself.
. Throughout this study, remember that a sailor would never let a good song or tune go to waste. Thus when it was no longer to be used in one category, it might easily be shifted into another In this way the old and ancient, bawdy, guttural work songs, were generally re-branded for use in the Sporting arena, Whilst for young sailors, their education is extremely important, so they take a liking to those or another group of bawdy songs, which teaches himself the perils of VD etc.
A sailor if asked, to state what songs he uses and at what times, would seldom be aware that he is making such choices. But because of familiarity will automatically know what is right and what isn't.
A sailor when asked to repeat a song he sang in his cups the night before, will seldom be able to repeat it, in the cold light of the day. But that doesn't mean he is not aware of it.
The majority of remembered songs, were common in the genre of entertainment, they are the songs sang, during a Saturday evening, whilst enjoying a tinny or two with his oppo's, they are the songs sang on his runs ashore abroad,
In the messdeck a Saturday evening, might feature such traditional activities as games - horse racing, tombola etc. But invariably the session will lead into song. These song sessions are often referred to as a Sod's Opera. It is a general term, which we will soon explore, but even here, there arre different songs, reserved for a formal Sod's Opera and others used informally in the mess or in the club, bar or canteens ashore.
SOD's OPERA SONGS
- The Sods Opera -is essentially a ships concert which can have either a
formal structure, taking place on a stage with costumes and sometimes
a band or perhaps piano accompaniment. Or it can refer to a more
relaxed or ad-hoc or situation or sing-a-round that has either been arranged
or which spontaneously occurs in canteen, bar room or ships messdeck. In the later group,
the old traditional and favorite entertainment songs are featured. - In some ships or messdecks,
some particular songs are the sole property of particular singers, Who will always lead that song.
- The Formal Sods Opera - has its foundation in the 'Ships Operatic & Drama Society'. In Victorian times,
each ship would possess a drama group, the costumes usually controlled by the PT officer or Ships Padre (if carried.) -
It would be customer for at least once in a voyage, to hold a ships concert. Such concerts have by popular
always (well at least since the close of the Napoleonic Wars (circa 1815/16), taking inspiration from the days of the
music hall. IN which there would be acts featuring comics, animals and of course singers. There would also be short
cameo acts or dramatic sketches, which on board would often in humour feature the officers or senior rates, without intended
malice. Such short sketches, and monologues, were also parodies of those also seen on the music hall boards.
In the modern Post WW2 era, such content would still have been familiar to earlier
generations. The acts are limited,
only by the imaginations, of the sailor himself. Including musical extravaganzas animal acts, escapology and juggling.
- The Informal Sod's Opera - Is a throw back to the Victorian
Parlor, where people would create their own
This would happen, if the men, were on a run ashore at a dockyard or Fleet canteen, in a Foreign Port, in a particular bar,
(see Dits and The Gut) certain clubs or beer houses. Or on long deployments, in the mess on a Saturday Evening etc.
Here their would be no costumes or dressing up, just a dozen rounds or so of very good songs, many with good choruses and
if somebody had the skill, a monologue and a few jokes.
- Up Harbour - One special entertainment, that would be looked
forward too with great expectation. This entertainment,
would be more of a fare well to the ship and of course many oppo's, for on the morrow the ship would arrive in the home port. After a long deployment.
Of course many of the men would be away on home leave or on draft to another ship. - On such occasion, a group of special songs
might be performed, but most of the old favorites from the commission would lead the evening.
OTHER SONGS Etc.
- Everyday Use - Songs or Short poetical comment, tend to express the 'moment' or
situation or perhaps the mood of the singer, and often incorporate spoken one-liners or short dits.
- At Work - Seldom today, are songs used in the RN to regulate the tempo or pace of work. But in the past,
they were used as a diversion, during Paint Ship, Pumping and particular in the early morning whilst Holystoning.
Today, certain, songs, are still reserved, to be used in the work place, but they are usually casual, or commentary
items, sung quietly to one self to either help pass the time, or assist in a particular activity. Here we can
notice the short one-liners, a dit, which helps track pipe runs or to help in navigating the ship. or to lament
his lot as he coal ship or look forward to a run ashore or count of the seconds whilst the Gunner
times his salutes.
- Dhoby Songs - Now mostly lost is the dhobying session, where Jack would have his bucket and scrub
his necessaries with a bar of pusser's hard(soap). passing the time, as he sat over his bucket, with a pipe in
his mouth, casting yarns here and there and telling 'black cat stories' or singing special songs. Most of which
have now been lost.
- Comment Rhyme - One thing Jack enjoyed was a good joke, particularly if it was at his oppos
expense - Here rhyme and sometimes song was used to 'gloat' or remark on an oppo's misfortune, perhaps
the loss of a long anticipated run ashore. Here we can also note the rhymes he used to remember
the particular bugle calls which regulated his day.
To illustrate this properly it is our general intention to provide within the finished work and on the site generally, information on the usage of each song or ditty, noting how and when it would generally be performed. In order that this might be done with any authority, it is evident that my own memories and observations within the service, collated over 28 years, are insufficient. I therefore desperately need your assistance, to provide depth and colour to that information. So please enjoy a couple of hours, wandering around these pages. But afterwards as your mind inevitably travels back to those halcyon days - when you sat on the fo'c'sle in the evening watch, with flying fish landing amongst the links of the anchor chain etc. Or remember, that sudden flash you get as the tropic sun sets in its majestic array, please remember that we need to know the songs you sang.
On the other hand, it was not all pleasure, and your memories may recall those prickly sweaty times, when the punka-louvre failed to send out cooling air, when you lay at night, in a bath of sweat, or crawled in the bilges, cursing the chef for putting sweet corn on the menu, as you freed a blockage in the sludge tank.
What ever the situation, misfortunate or trials. Please don't just say; "What a plank, he ought to have got that right", but please be constructive in your criticism. Yes! I do need to get it right, but I never served for zillions of years, aboard every ship in the fleet or on every ocean of the world. So please #i need your help.
So please feel free to tell us where or when we go wrong. Please Let me know if links do not work, and you cannot find the promised item. So that I might correct the errors and the omissions, etc.
To keep this site affordable. It is personally funded without any adverts.
- The site has a restricted bandwidth and can only contain a limited number of songs
- Although we have information on a number of songs we can only illustrate a few at a time. - I tend to roll then over from time to time.
- Please - If you cannot find what you need - Ask.
However do not presume we know the songs you used. - We don't, neither do we know where or when they were sung. So please tell us about them. so that your grandchildren, can one day, know what was used and in doing so find, that you yourself helped tell the story.
Also don't forget those short one liners , that tumbled off the tongue during moments of stress; or when we cursed in the scran queue when there was only a gooey looking pasta left, or made comment on the common sight of a fried cockroach's amongst the chips on your tinplate. The comment made when the cutlery, disappeared into the gash chute, or those calls at the Crown & Anchor board or the Tombola session, or even the names we gave to eggs on toast and the other Scran.
The idea is to compile, not only the lyrics, those elusive tunes, but also when and how each was used in performance, so that we might attempt to date and catalogue there usage. So please! if you recall any song, dit. etc. being used, please email me with its details, hopefully telling me where and when you sang it, even if you see the same or similar here, that information is of great value.
Also most importantly if you recall any song being used in the execution of your duties. PLEase PLEAse PLEASE tell me about it - songs like 'She has a Face Like a Mess Deck Scrubber', (of which I only have fragments) or perhaps it was something very saucy, performed at the work face.
If anybody recalls
- Coaling Ship please tell me about it!
- If like myself, you ever sang a Shanty for a special task, what was it
- Have you ever holystoned (On your knees) the quarterdeck, we are seeking evidence of the last occasion when this was done???
- Do you recall any CHANTS or short rhymes - for the Crossing The Line.
- Sung alternative, or naughty Words at Church Parade or under your breath as you Marched past.
- Tell us what songs were sung at a Banyan and what games or sports were used, or recall the Tropic Evenings with Flying Fish coming over the bow, what was sung then.
- Do you have a description of how - or a scan of a photo of when the Hornpipe was danced.
- Can you recall any other type of dance performed in club or pub, to a song.
- Can you remember any Uckers Shouts - See Games Section
- Names we called the Scran - or rhymes we used as Mess men like (Tinkle Tinkle little Spoon, etc.)
- Tombola Calls - (see the Games Section).
Please any input no matter how seemingly trivial is bound to be the missing piece of this jigsaw.
P.S. - Does Anybody know the full text of the Gunners call "Fire One .etc. etc..."
I welcome contact with all of you and would enjoy hearing your opinion on the site. Remember communication is a two way thing - I am also here to help you remember those lost lyrics - We do extra-ordinarily well at it.
Finally - Remember even well known songs existed in many different variations.
As some ships have their very own version of 'Uckers', so they also had their own songs and versions of songs.
So you old China fleet and Home Fleets hands. If your song is not on the site or if it is given differently to how you remember, please let us know. Please help with this information, which probably only now rests with you, and may well pass over the bar without being recorded for future generations.
You can pass any information on to me here at this site to - mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or see the CONTACTS page for more details -
Just to have the information on why a song was sung would be sufficient, but to have a few words or even a poor rendition of the tune would be the equivalent for me of once again, participating in an up-harbour night at sea after a long deployment.
Thanking you in anticipation, Yours Aye,
Barry E. Scott