Men of Harlech

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"Men of Harlech" or "The March of the Men of Harlech" (in Welsh: Rhyfelgyrch Gwŷr Harlech) is a song and military march which is traditionally said[1] to describe events during the seven-year siege of Harlech Castle between 1461 and 1468.[2][3] Commanded by Constable Dafydd ap Ieuan, the garrison withstood the longest known siege in the history of the British Isles.[4] "Through Seven Years" is an alternative name for the song.[5] The song has been incorrectly associated with the earlier, shorter siege of Harlech Castle around 1408, which pitted the forces of Owain Glyndŵr against the future Henry V of England.

"Men of Harlech" occupies an important place in Welsh national culture. The song gained international recognition when it was featured in the 1964 film Zulu.


Thomas Oliphant's words as they appear in "Welsh Melodies With Welsh and English Poetry" (volume 2), published in 1862

The music was first published without words in 1794 as Gorhoffedd Gwŷr Harlech—March of the Men of Harlech in the second edition of The Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards[1] but it is said to be a much earlier folk air.[6] The earliest version of the tune to appear with lyrics, found thus far, comes from a broadside printed c. 1830.[7] Since then, many different versions of the English lyrics have appeared. It first appeared with Welsh lyrics in Gems of Welsh Melody, edited by the Welsh poet, John Owen (Owain Alaw), published in London, England and Wrexham, Wales in 1860.[citation needed] An edition containing Welsh and English lyrics was published in Ruthin, Wales, in 1862.[8] The song was published in Volume II of the 1862 collection Welsh Melodies with the Welsh lyrics by the Welsh poet John Jones (Talhaiarn), and the English lyrics by Thomas Oliphant, President of the Madrigal Society. Another source attributes the Welsh words to the poet John Ceiriog Hughes, first published in 1890, and says that English words were first published in 1893, but this is clearly predated by the earlier publications.[1]

Use and versions of the song[edit]

Men of Harlech is widely used as a regimental march, especially by British Army and Commonwealth regiments historically associated with Wales. Notably, it is the slow march of the Welsh Guards, and the quick march of the Royal Welsh.

It was first used on film during the titles of How Green Was My Valley (1941) and has featured in a number of other films. It is best known for its prominent role in the 1964 film Zulu, although the version of lyrics sung in it were written specially for the film. It is sung twice, only once completely, in the film (the British open fire on the charging Zulus before the start of the final couplet), in counterpoint to the Zulu war chants and the sounds of their shields.

Film editor John Jympson cut the scene to the song so that on either side of cuts where the British soldiers cannot be heard, the song is in the correct relative position. The song is also heard in the film Zulu Dawn, which is about the battle that precedes Rorke's Drift, the battle at Isandlwana.)

Rick Rescorla, Chief of Security for Morgan Stanley's World Trade Center office, sang a Cornish adaptation of "Men of Harlech" with a bullhorn, along with other anthems, to keep employee spirits high while they evacuated during the September 11 attacks. After helping save over 2,700 employees he returned to the towers to evacuate others until the towers collapsed on him.[9][10]

"Men of Harlech" was used as part of the startup music for ITV station Teledu Cymru in the early 1960s and, until April 2006,[11] in Fritz Spiegl's BBC Radio 4 UK Theme.

Adapted versions are sung by fans of several Welsh football clubs and as school or college songs around the world. The song was played by the marching band of Punahou School, Barack Obama's alma mater, at his second inauguration in 2013.

There is a humorous parody known variously as "National Anthem of the Ancient Britons" and "Woad", written some time before 1914 by William Hope-Jones.[12]


There are numerous versions of "Men of Harlech", and there is no single accepted English version. The version below was published in 1873.

John Oxenford version (published 1873)[edit]

Verse 1

Men of Harlech, march to glory,
Victory is hov'ring o'er ye,
Bright-eyed freedom stands before ye,
Hear ye not her call?
At your sloth she seems to wonder;
Rend the sluggish bonds asunder,
Let the war-cry's deaf'ning thunder
Every foe appall.
Echoes loudly waking,
Hill and valley shaking;
'Till the sound spreads wide around,
The Saxon's courage breaking;
Your foes on every side assailing,
Forward press with heart unfailing,
'Till invaders learn with quailing,
Cambria ne'er can yield!

Verse 2

Thou, who noble Cambria wrongest,
Know that freedom's cause is strongest,
Freedom's courage lasts the longest,
Ending but with death!
Freedom countless hosts can scatter,
Freedom stoutest mail can shatter,
Freedom thickest walls can batter,
Fate is in her breath.
See, they now are flying!
Dead are heap'd with dying!
Over might hath triumph'd right,
Our land to foes denying;
Upon their soil we never sought them,
Love of conquest hither brought them,
But this lesson we have taught them,
"Cambria ne'er can yield!"

An earlier version (published in the year before the Prince of Wales's wedding) is thus:-

Thomas Oliphant version (published 1862)[edit]

Verse 1

Hark! I hear the foe advancing,
Barbed steeds are proudly prancing,
Helmets in the sunbeams glancing
Glitter through the trees.
Men of Harlech, lie ye dreaming?
See ye not their falchions gleaming,
While their pennons gaily streaming
Flutter in the breeze?
From the rocks rebounding,
Let the war cry sounding
Summon all at Cambria's call,
The haughty foe surrounding,
Men of Harlech, on to glory!
See, your banner famed in story
Waves these burning words before ye
"Britain scorns to yield!"

Verse 2

'Mid the fray, see dead and dying,
Friend and foe together lying;
All around, the arrows flying,
Scatter sudden death!
Frighten'd steeds are wildly neighing,
Brazen trumpets hoarsely braying,
Wounded men for mercy praying
With their parting breath!
See! they're in disorder!
Comrades, keep close order!
Ever they shall rue the day
They ventured o'er the border!
Now the Saxon flies before us!
Vict'ry's banner floateth o'er us!
Raise the loud exulting chorus
"Britain wins the field,"

See also[edit]

Rick Rescorla#September 11, 2001


  1. ^ a b c Fuld, James J., The Book of World-famous Music: classical, popular, and folk, Dover, 5th ed. 2000, p. 394
  2. ^ The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford University Press (1997) page 454
  3. ^ Matthew Bennett Dictionary of Ancient & Medieval Warfare (2001)
  4. ^ Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, page 212.
  5. ^ Winnie Czulinski, Drone On!: the high history of Celtic Music. Sound And Vision, 2004, page 107.
  6. ^ Anne Shaw Faulkner, What We Hear in Music: A Course of Study in Music Appreciation and History, RCA Victor, 12th edition 1943, p 41
  7. ^ "Ballads Catalogue: Harding B 15(182a)". Retrieved 2012-09-01. 
  8. ^ Owen, John. Gems of Welsh Melody. A Selection of Popular Welsh Songs, with English and Welsh Words; Specimens of Pennillion Singing, after the Manner of North Wales; and Welsh National Airs, Ancient and Modern ... For the Pianoforte or Harp, with Symphonies and Accompaniments by J. Owen, Etc. Ruthin: I. Clarke, 1862.
  9. ^ "Rick Rescorla - Security Manager and Hero". h2g2. Retrieved 2012-09-01. 
  10. ^ Stewart, James B. The Heart of a Soldier, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2002.
  11. ^ "Radio 4 - the UK theme". Retrieved 2012-09-01. 
  12. ^ Saga Magazine: The Woad Song. Date? Accessed 2015-03-08


External links[edit]