The British Grenadiers
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"The British Grenadiers" is a traditional marching song of British and Canadian military units whose badge of identification features a grenade, the tune of which dates from the 17th century. It is the Regimental Quick March of the Royal Artillery (since 1716), Corps of Royal Engineers (since 1787), the Honourable Artillery Company (since 1716), Grenadier Guards 'The First (later 'Grenadier') Regiment of Foot Guards' (since 1763), and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (since 1763). It is also an authorised march of The Royal Gibraltar Regiment, The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, The Canadian Grenadier Guards, The Royal Regiment of Canada, The Princess Louise Fusiliers, and The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. The standard orchestration for the military band was approved during 1762, when the Royal Artillery Band (initiated during 1557) became recognised officially, and for all other 'grenade' regiments during 1763, when the remaining unofficial bands gained official status.
The exact origins of the tune are disputed but generally date to the early 17th century. It appears in John Playford's 1728 collection of dance tunes as "The New Bath," while Victorian musicologist William Chappell also suggested links to a 1622 work called "Sir Edward Nowell's Delight." The debate is best summarised by the composer Ernest Walker in 1907 who described the melody as "three centuries evolution of an Elizabethan tune."
The melody was introduced into Britain as a military march during the 1689-1702 reign of William III and has similarities with one written for Prince John William of Friesland, 1689-1711. Henry Grattan Flood suggested the 1672 Dutch march 'Wilhelmus von Nassau' as another candidate which in turn was a reworking of a French version from 1568.
The British Grenadiers refers to Grenadiers in general, not the Grenadier Guards Regiment and all Fusilier units were entitled to use it. It allegedly commemorates an assault in August 1695 by 700 British grenadiers on the French-held fortress of Namur during the Nine Years War. The first printed version of 'The Granadeer's March' appeared in 1706, the first with lyrics sometime between 1735-1750. It was a popular tune in both Britain and North America throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and remains so. It is most commonly heard today in the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony when the Colour Escort marches into position on Horse Guards Parade.
The following text is the most well-known version of the song. The text arguably dates back to the War of Spanish Succession (1702–1713), since it refers to the grenadiers throwing grenades (a practice that proved to be too dangerous and was ended soon afterward,) and the men wearing "caps and pouches" (i.e. the tall grenadier caps, worn by these elite troops, and the heavy satchel in which grenades were carried) and "loupèd clothes"- coats with broad bands of 'lace' across the chest that distinguished early grenadiers.
- Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
- Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
- But of all the world's brave heroes, there's none that can compare.
- With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.
- Those heroes of antiquity ne'er saw a cannon ball,
- Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.
- But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
- With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.
- Whene'er we are commanded to storm the palisades,
- Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades.
- We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies' ears.[N 1]
- With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.
- And when the siege is over, we to the town repair.
- The townsmen cry, "Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier!
- Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears!
- Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.
- Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health of those
- Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the loupèd clothes.
- May they and their commanders live happy all their years.
- With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers."
There are a number of words in the song not commonly used or whose meaning is obscure;
- Fusees; shortened muskets carried by Grenadier officers, sometimes called fusils and thus 'Fusilier;'
- Glacis; a smooth sloping embankment usually in front of the walls of a fort; designed to deflect cannonballs, it also gave defenders a clear field of fire, making it a dangerous place to stand upright and throw grenades;
- Bumper; any drinking container used in a toast, normally filled with beer or other alcohol;
- Loupèd; 'looped' pronounced "loup-ed" to scan; it refers to the lace button-holes or 'loops' on grenadier uniforms;
- Tow, Row, Row, Row; mimics the rhythm and beat of the drums used to keep soldiers in step.
In popular culture
- Alistair Ramson in the Sherlock Holmes film The Scarlet Claw sings this song when he is disguised as the character Postman Potts & delivering mail to Emile Journet.
- The character Mr. Bucket in the Dickens novel Bleak House plays this song by fife in Chapter 49.
- The tune is heard by the protagonist rifleman Dodd of the British Army in C. S. Forester's Death to the French when he rejoins his unit.
- In the fourth series of Blackadder (Blackadder Goes Forth), theme composer Howard Goodall incorporated the first two bars of the march into the series theme song.
- During the episode 'Merry Christmas Mr. Bean', Mr. Bean hums the song whilst playing with Queen's Guard figurines. This itself could be a reference to Blackadder's usage of it; Rowan Atkinson played both Blackadder and Mr Bean.
- The tune occurs as the main theme of the finale of the fourth piano concerto of Ignaz Moscheles.
- The "Gentleman Soldier," another traditional British song, uses the same tune.
- In the movies Listen to Britain', Horatio Hornblower, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Empire of the Sun, Sharpe's Company, Barry Lyndon, Under Capricorn, The Italian Job, The Patriot, 55 Days at Peking, Pride & Prejudice, The Four Feathers, Diamonds Are Forever, Breaker Morant and Patton, "The British Grenadiers" is played. It can also be heard at the end of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
- The tune – with a different trio section – was used as the Regimental March of the Hanoverian Grenadier Guards in Hannover, Germany, until 1866. It had also been taken into the Royal Prussian Army March Collection's Second Volume (Quick marches) earlier, as Army March AM II, 52, during 1821.
- Some people like a motorbike,/Some say, 'A tram for me,'/Or for any bonnie lorry they'd lay them doon and dee is the beginning of "A Transport of Delight" set to the same melody by Flanders and Swann
- The University of Liverpool School of Medicine's Medical Students' Society anthem, 'Jack Leggate's Song', is set to this tune.
- A rather bawdy version exists about the grenadier suffering and spreading syphilis. This song is well-known and popular as a drinking song amongst historical re-enactors.
- The melody is used in a pro-labor song "The Eight Hour Day" which appears on the album "American Industrial Ballads" by Pete Seeger.
- The tune was used as the startup theme for Associated-Rediffusion, when they made the first British commercial television broadcast during September 1955. British Grenadiers was used with the movie Blithe Spirit by Richard Addinsell for at least another year.
- The melody is used as the basis for Hornet Squadron's song in Piece of Cake, with new lyrics.
- British Grenadiers is also the Regimental Quick March of the Fort Henry Guard. It is also frequently used by the Drill Squad of the Guard as a marching song.
- The tune is used in The Biochemists' Songbook's song "In Praise of Glycolysis" Text mp3.
- The tune is used in the PC game Sid Meier's Pirates to represent the English presence in the Caribbean.
- The tune is occasionally heard in the animated TV series Skunk Fu!.
- The beginning of the tune is heard at the start of each level in the iPhone/iPod Touch game "Crazy Tanks".
- A school in New South Wales, Australia, has an adapted version of this for its song.
- For 20th-century Northern (US) Baptist and Disciples of Christ hymnals, the tune, called SHEFFIELD, or SHEFFIELD (ENGLISH) to distinguish it from other tunes named SHEFFIELD, is commonly set to the text "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" by James Montgomery.
- It also appears on the BBC drama series Ashes to Ashes, in the two last episodes of the series
- The 2012 anime series Girls und Panzer features a version of the theme, as the leitmotif of St. Gloriana Girls' School. The song also appeared in the Girls und Panzer der Film.
- The Fall song "Gross Chapel-British Grenadiers" incorporates a section of the song.
- In the AMC Series TURN, Captain Simcoe of the British Army hums the tune during Episode 3, Season 1 (Of Cabbages and Kings) to antagonize his American captors when he believes a Tory militia is on the way.
- Sometimes sung as "about the Frenchmen's ears".
- Ken Anderson Msc (2007). "The Early Days of Digital Computing in the British Army". p.31.
- Walker, Ernest (1907). A History of Music in England. Forgotten Books. ISBN 1334045305.
- Hart, Ernest (October 1918). "British Regimental Marches". The Musical Quarterly. 4 (4): 584. JSTOR 737882.
- Goode, Domi. "Namur 1695". Fortified Places. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- Studwell, WE, Hoffman, Frank Cooper BE (1996). The National and Religious Song Reader: Patriotic, Traditional, and Sacred Songs from Around the World. Routledge. p. 55. ISBN 0789000997.
- "The British Grenadiers". Tune Arch. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
- "Trooping of Colour marks Queen's Official Birthday". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 June 2012
- "British Grenadiers". The First Foot Guards reenactment group. Retrieved 7 January 2007.
- "The British Grenadiers(Theme to Blackadder Goes Forth). Allmusic.
- "Liverpool Medical Student's Society – Jack Leggate's song". Archived from the original on 25 March 2004. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
- SHEFFIELD (ENGLISH) at Hymnary.org, retrieved 2012.07.28
- Lyrics and some explanation of unusual words
- The Virtual Grammophone, Canadian Historical Sound Recordings, Marches, British Grenadiers (regimental march of the Canadian Grenadier Guards) ram (RealPlayer)
- The official site of the Grenadier Guards Band.
- on YouTube