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Heart of Oak


Heart of Oak

Heart of Oak, by Cecilian Male Quartet, Canada 1915

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"Heart of Oak" is the official march of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom. It is also the official march of several Commonwealth navies including the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy. Royal Canadian Sea Cadets sing "Heart of Oak" during days of their parades. (It was also the official march of the Royal Australian Navy, but has now been replaced by the new march, "Royal Australian Navy").

The music was composed by Dr. William Boyce, and the words were written by the 18th-century English actor David Garrick. "Heart of Oak" was originally written as an opera. It first saw the light of day on New Year's Eve of 1760, sung by Samuel Thomas Champnes, one of Handel's soloists, in Garrick's pantomime "Harlequin's Invasion", at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

The "wonderful year" referenced in the first verse was 1759, an "Annus mirabilis" during which British forces were victorious in several significant battles: the Battle of Minden on 1st of August 1759, the Battle of Lagos on 19 August 1759, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (outside Quebec City) on 13 September 1759, and the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November 1759. (This battle foiled a French invasion project planned by the Duc de Choiseul to knock Britain out of the Seven Years' War, hence the reference in the song to 'flat-bottom' invasion barges). These victories were followed a few months later by the Battle of Wandiwash in India on 22 January 1760. Britain's continued success in the war boosted the song's popularity.

The oak in the song's title refers to the wood from which British warships were traditionally made in the age of sail. The "Heart of oak" is the strongest central wood of the tree. The phrase "hearts of oak" appears in English translations of the Aeneid.

The reference to "freemen not slaves" echos the refrain "Britons never will be slaves!" of Rule, Britannia!, written two decades earlier.


  • Lyrics 1
  • New lyrics 2
  • See also 3
  • References and notes 4
  • External links 5


Come, cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer,
To add something new 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.

We ne'er see our foes but we wish them to stay,
They never see us but they wish us away;
If they run, why we follow, and run them ashore,
For if they won't fight us, what can we do more?


They say they'll invade us these terrible foe,
They frighten our women, our children, our beaus,
But if should their flat-bottoms, in darkness set oar,
Still Britons they'll find to receive them on shore.


We still make them feel and we still make them flee,
And drub them ashore as we drub them at sea,
Then cheer up me lads with one heart let us sing,
Our soldiers and sailors, our statesmen and king.

(Chorus X2)

Alternative first verse:
Come, cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer,
With heads carried high, we will banish all fear;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

Alternative last verse:
Britannia triumphant her ships rule the seas,
Her watch word is 'Justice' her password is 'Free',
So come cheer up my lads, with one heart let us sing,
Our soldiers, our sailors, our statesmen, our king[queen].

New lyrics

A new version was presented on 16 April 1809 and published in the Spirit of the public Journals, vol. XIII, p. 75 by Reverend Rylance.

When Alfred, our King, drove the Dane from this land,
He planted an oak[1] with his own royal hand;
And he pray'd for Heaven's blessing to hallow the tree,
As a sceptre for England, the queen of the sea.


Heart of oak[2] are our ships,
Hearts of oak are our men,
We always are ready, steady boys, steady,
To charge and to conquer again and again.

The sapling shot up and stuck firm to the ground;
It defied every tempest that bellow'd around;
And still was it seen with fresh vigour to shoot,
When the blood of our martyrs had moisten'd its root.


But the worms of corruption had eaten their way
Through its bark; till a Wardle[3] has swept them away,
He has sworn, no such reptiles our tree shall infest,
And our patriots soon shall extirpate the nest.


Yon tyrant, whose rule abject Europe bemoans —
Yon brood of usurpers who sit on her thrones —
Shall look on our country, and tremble with awe,
Where a son of the Monarch has bow'd to the law,


Now long live the Briton, who dar'd to revive
The spirit which Britons scarce felt was alive;
His name shall be carv'd, while of freedom we sing,
On the oak that was planted by Alfred our King.


See also

References and notes

  1. ^ The reference is to an oak which stood close to the Water Walk, the Magdalen College, Oxford, and by tradition was planted by King Alfred. However the oak collapsed in 1778 and a chair for the college President was made from it.
  2. ^ Reference to the rift sawing of hardwoods used in boat and ship construction. This produces timber less susceptible to warping and shrinkage and lumber of great stability. Contemporary opinions were that the British sailors were more steady in combat than the French who were prone to over-excitement and therefore more difficult to command in combat.
  3. ^ The name Wardle is said to be derived from "Ward Hill", implying "fortified place"; a reference to the ship of the line described as "wooden walls".

External links

  • "Heart of Oak" (MP3) at Sounds of the Stadacona Band
  • "Heart of Oak" (MP3) at Canadian Historical Sound Recordings
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