The Royal Navy March Heart of Oak
Heart of Oak!
Heart of Oak and the Navy
Who has a heart of oak? The Navy of course! The Royal Navies of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all share a common official march: Heart of Oak. According to the song, it's not just the ships that have hearts of oak, it's the men too.
The stirring naval anthem dates from the mid-eighteenth century and commemorates a wonderful year of victories for the Royal Navy: the Annus Mirabilis of 1759. The march is still regularly played on ceremonial occasions. The lyrics aren't too well known, and there are in fact two versions, the original words having a cheerful bravado and patriotism about them.
Whether you like the Age of Sail, love a sailor (and apparently all the nice girls do!) or simply enjoy a good tune, you should enjoy the story of Heart of Oak.
The original lyrics for Heart of Oak were written in 1759 by the famous actor David Garrick (see below). His first verse and chorus are below.
Come, cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?
Heart of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men,
We always are ready; steady, boys, steady!
We'll fight and we'll conquer, again and again.
In 1809 a clergyman, Reverend Rylance, wrote a new version. His first verse and chorus were:
When Alfred, our King, drove the Dane from this land,
He planted an oak with his own royal hand;
And he pray'd for Heaven's blessing to hallow the tree,
As a scepter for England, the queen of the sea.
Hearts of oak are our ships,
Hearts of oak are our men,
We always are ready, steady, boys, steady,
To charge and to conquer again and again.
Dr William Boyce, The Composer
William Boyce was a Londoner, born around September 1711. In his day he was a highly regarded chorister, organist and composer and although most of his work is now left unperformed, he is recognised as one of the most important English composers of the eighteenth century.
As a child he was a chorister at St Paul's Cathedral; he is remembered at the choir school with a house being named after him. In his forties he was appointed as Master of the King's Music, a position he held from 1755 until his death in 1779. Boyce was also an organist at the Chapel Royal, but was forced to give this position up due to worsening deafness.
Boyce composed Heart of Oak around 1758/59. The piece was not his only anthem; after his death two volumes of anthems were published. He also wrote incidental music for productions of Shakespeare plays (perhaps this is how Heart of Oak came to Garrick's attention), chamber music, symphonies and church music.
Royal Navy Traditions Quizview quiz statistics
Heart of Oak Song with Lyrics
The Man Behind the Lyrics - David Garrick
David Garrick was the star of English Theatre in the eighteenth century, an innovative actor, prolific playwright, theatre manager and producer. He also found time to pen the lyrics for Heart of Oak.
Born on 19 February 1717, Garrick grew up in Lichfield. He displayed an early love for theatre, appearing in many school productions; the school in question was run by Samuel Johnson. He and Dr Johnson became lifelong friends.
It's unclear why Garrick took time away from his plays to write the words for Heart of Oak. Britain was engaged in the Seven Years' War at the time and the "wonderful year" referenced in the song is the year in which it was written: 1759. The Royal Navy had had a run of four victories against the French, followed early in 1760 by another defeat of the French Navy. It's possible that Garrick was asked to commemorate the Navy's achievements, the Annus Mirabilis of 1759, in verse.
Real Oak: HMS Victory
The Royal Navy used oak as the primary material for its warships. Britain's most famous Royal Navy ship was made of oak and had her keel laid down in 1759, the year of Heart of Oak. HMS Victory was named for the great victories of 1759 and she became the flagship of Admiral Lord Nelson.
It took around 6,000 trees to provide the timber for HMS Victory. 90% of the trees used in Victory were oak; the remainder was elm, pine, fir and a small quantity of lignum vitae. Oak-built ships were usually left to season for a few months after the frame was finished. Victory was completed just as the Seven Year War finished, so there was no pressing need for a launch. Consequently, she was left to season for around three years. This long seasoning of her oak is said by some to have contributed to her longevity.
HMS Victory is now in a permanent dry dock at Portsmouth where she is open to the public. However, she remains the oldest naval ship in commission. Until October 2012 she was the flagship of the Second Sea Lord, but she has now been handed over the First Sea Lord as his flagship.
Field Gun Competition With Heart of Oak March
The Royal Tournament Origins
The men of the Royal Navy have proved their hearts of oak many times over. One particular incident particularly caught the public imagination and was, until recently, commemorated with a popular annual event.
In 1899, during the Second Boer War, the British garrison at Ladysmith was under siege. The Royal Navy came to the aid of the Army, landing two 12 pound naval guns from HMS Terrible and HMS Powerful. The guns were brought up to Ladysmith on hastily rigged carriages, first by rail and then pulled by oxen. The last part of the journey was over particularly difficult terrain and the guns had to be pulled and carried by men from the Naval Brigade. Some accounts tell of the men carrying one of the guns for two miles.
When the men arrived back in Britain, they paraded their guns in London. In 1907 a field gun competition, to remember the gun crews' heroic efforts, was held at the Royal Tournament. The event was held annually, apart from during the two world wars, until 1999. During the "Last Run" the crews wore black armbands.