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"The British Grenadiers", performed by the United States Army Band Strings ensemble in 2007.

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"The British Grenadiers" is a traditional marching song of British and Canadian military units whose badge of identification carries the 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 in 1762, when the Royal Artillery Band (founded in 1557) became officially recognized,[1] and for all other 'grenade' regiments in 1763, when the remaining unofficial bands gained official status.

History[edit | edit source]

A song entitled "The New Bath" found in John Playford's dance books from the 17th century is thought to be the origin.[2] However, it is also suggested that it was derived from the Dutch march "Mars van de jonge Prins van Friesland" ("March of the young Prince of Friesland", referring to Prince Johan Willem Friso); the first notes of this tune are similar. The march was introduced to Britain during the reign of the Dutch Stadholder-King William III. Today it is played at special events in the Netherlands, as a musical tribute to the Ministry of Defence and as a substitute for the Wilhelmus in absence of the monarch.

The first known association of the tune with the regiment is in 1706 as 'The Granadeer's March', and the first version printed with lyrics from around 1750.[3] It was a popular tune throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and remains so until this day. During Operation Market Garden, a few men of the British 1st Airborne Division are said to have played this song using a flute and a few helmets and sticks as drums.[4]

It is played annually at the Trooping the Colour in London.[5] Additionally, the first eight measures are played during the ceremony when the Escort for the Colour marches into position on Horse Guards Parade.

Some former British units have also had it as their march: Royal Dublin Fusiliers (before disbandment in 1922).

Lyrics[edit | edit source]

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 dropped soon after,) 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 great 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]
Sing 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 | edit source]

There are a number of words in the song which are not in current usage:[2]

  • 'Fusees' – The Grenadier officers carried fusees – fusils, a shortened musket.
  • Glacis – A term in the science of fortification, referring to the smooth sloping embankment that usually preceded the pit in front of the walls of a fort. Designed to deflect cannonballs, but also to give defenders a clear view of fire on the attackers, making it a dangerously exposed place to stand throwing grenades.
  • 'Bumper' – A bumper was any container that could be used to clink with another reveler's bumper in a toast to someone's health. It could be filled with beer or some other alcoholic drink. It usually referred to a handled vessel such as a (pewter or ceramic) beer-mug or (leathern) jack, but it could refer to a (horn or pewter) beaker or even to a (treen, pewter or silver) punchbowl that could be picked up and passed around for everyone to quaff.
  • 'Louped clothes' – (pronounced "loup-ed" in order for it to scan) It means 'looped', and refers to the exaggerated 'lace' binding of button-holes, or 'loops' that extended across the breast, which distinguished early grenadiers uniforms. This imitated the costume of eastern European troops and was intended, along with tall caps and moustaches, to give an impression of barbaric fierceness.
  • 'toe row row' – This mimics the beat of drums.

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

  • The character Mr. Bucket in the Dickens novel Bleak House plays this song on the 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 few bars of the march into the series theme song.[6]
  • 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 in 1821.
  • Some people like a motorbike, Some say a tram for me or for bonnie Annie Laurie they'd lay them doon and dee, deliberately set to the same melody ("Annie Laurie" being First World War slang for a 3-ton army lorry). Another F&S version begins "Some speak of a Lagonda, some like a smart MG."
  • The University of Liverpool Medical Student's Society's anthem, 'Jack Leggate's Song', is set to this tune.[7]
  • 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 in September 1955. British Grenadiers was used alongside 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.
  • The song is also the regimental song to the Fort Henry Guard, a generic military regiment representing a British regiment of 1867 in British North America. The guard are part of the living museum at Fort Henry, Ontario.
  • 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.
  • In 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.[8]
  • 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 Fall song "Gross Chapel-British Grenadiers" incorporates a section of the song.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

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

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Ken Anderson Msc (2007). "The Early Days of Digital Computing in the British Army". p.31.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "British Grenadiers". The First Foot Guards reenactment group. http://footguards.tripod.com/06ARTICLES/ART27_BritGren.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-07. 
  3. W. E. Studwell, The National and Religious Song Reader: Patriotic, Traditional, and Sacred Songs from Around the World (Haworth Press, 1996), p. 55.
  4. Ryan, Cornelius (1974). A Bridge Too Far. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 670. ISBN 0-671-21792-5. 
  5. "Trooping of Colour marks Queen's Official Birthday". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 June 2012
  6. "The British Grenadiers(Theme to Blackadder Goes Forth). Allmusic.
  7. "Liverpool Medical Student's Society – Jack Leggate's song". http://www.lmssonline.co.uk/. Retrieved 2012-04-28. 
  8. SHEFFIELD (ENGLISH) at Hymnary.org, retrieved 2012.07.28

External links[edit | edit source]

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