The British Grenadiers

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"The British Grenadiers" is a traditional marching song of British, Australian 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 Australian Artillery, The Royal Gibraltar Regiment, The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, The Royal Regiment of Canada, The Princess Louise Fusiliers, and The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. The standard orchestration for the military band was approved in 1762, when the Royal Artillery Band (initiated in 1557) became recognised officially,[1] and for all other 'grenade' regiments in 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."[2]

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 (1687–1711). Henry Grattan Flood suggested as another candidate the 1672 Dutch march "Wilhelmus van Nassouwe", which in turn was a reworking of a French version from 1568.[3]

"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.[4] The first printed version of 'The Granadeer's March' appeared in 1706, the first with lyrics sometime between 1735–1750.[5] It was a popular tune in both Britain and North America throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and remains so.[6] It is most commonly heard today in the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony when the Colour Escort marches into position on Horse Guards Parade.[7]


The following text may date back to the War of Spanish Succession (1702–1713), since it refers to the grenadiers throwing grenades and the men wearing "caps and pouches" (i.e. the tall grenadier caps,[8] worn by these elite troops, and the heavy satchel[9] in which grenades were carried) and "loupèd clothes"- coats with broad bands of 'lace' across the chest that distinguished early grenadiers.[10]

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.

Historical terms[edit]

Grenadiers are shown at right. Their officer wields a fusee.

There are a number of words in the song not commonly used or whose meaning is obscure;[11]

  • Fusee; shortened muskets carried by Grenadier officers, sometimes called fusils and thus 'Fusilier;'. Accurately depicted in David Morier's painting of the Highland charge at Culloden, where the Government troops are grenadiers and their officer wields a fusil.
  • 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[edit]

Like Rule, Britannia!, the song is frequently used in film and television to introduce a British setting or character, or indicate stereotypical Britishness.

Christchurch mosque shootings[edit]

Alongside "Remove Kebab" and Arthur Brown's "Fire", this song was played on Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant's loudspeakers as he parked his car near Al Noor Mosque and walks outside before starting the massacre which killed 51 and injured 40.[16][17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sometimes sung as "about the Frenchmen's ears".


  1. ^ Ken Anderson Msc (2007). "The Early Days of Digital Computing in the British Army". p.31.
  2. ^ Walker, Ernest (1907). A History of Music in England. Forgotten Books. ISBN 1334045305.
  3. ^ Hart, Ernest (October 1918). "British Regimental Marches". The Musical Quarterly. 4 (4): 584. JSTOR 737882.
  4. ^ Goode, Domi. "Namur 1695". Fortified Places. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "The British Grenadiers". Tune Arch. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  7. ^ "Trooping of Colour marks Queen's Official Birthday". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 June 2012
  8. ^ Carman, W.Y. (1977). A Dictionary of Military Uniform. p. 68. ISBN 0-684-15130-8.
  9. ^ Carman, W.Y. (1977). A Dictionary of Military Uniform. p. 104. ISBN 0-684-15130-8.
  10. ^ Carman, W.Y. (1977). A Dictionary of Military Uniform. p. 86. ISBN 0-684-15130-8.
  11. ^ "British Grenadiers". The First Foot Guards reenactment group. Retrieved 7 January 2007.
  12. ^ "The British Grenadiers(Theme to Blackadder Goes Forth). Allmusic.
  13. ^ "Liverpool Medical Student's Society – Jack Leggate's song". Archived from the original on 25 March 2004. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  14. ^ "School Song and War Cry - Wagga Wagga High School". Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  15. ^ SHEFFIELD (ENGLISH) at, retrieved 2012.07.28
  16. ^ "'Let's get this party started': Warning over mosque gunman's video".
  17. ^ "New Zealand Mosque Attacker's Plan Began and Ended Online".

External links[edit]