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Heart of Oak

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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 (It was also the official march of the Royal Australian Navy, but has now been replaced by the new march, "Royal Australian Navy.")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 of “Heart of Oak” was composed by William Boyce, and the words were written by the 18th-century English actor David Garrick. "Heart of Oak" was originally written as part of an opera. It was first played publicly on New Year's Eve of 1760, sung by Samuel Thomas Champnes, one of Handel's soloists, as part of 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 1 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 defeat Britain during 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 generally made during 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" echoes the refrain ("Britons never will be slaves!") of Rule, Britannia!, written and composed two decades earlier.


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.

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 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 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 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.


Blackbeard's Ghost

This song made an appearance in the Disney movie Blackbeard's Ghost. The version from the ghost of Blackbeard in the film was a little different:

Come cheer up m' lads, 'tis to glory we steer.
With heads carried high, we will banish all fear.
To honour, we call.
You are free men, not slaves.
For who is as free as the sons of the waves?

Heart of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men.
We'll always be ready. Steady boys steady.
We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again.

This is not historically accurate, as in reality, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach/Thatch died decades before “Heart of Oak” was written or composed.


Heart of Oak Wikipedia

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