‘Hymn for the Royal Navy’ to be sung at duke’s funeral

Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent
·3-min read

A religious song sometimes known as the hymn for the Royal Navy has been chosen by the Duke of Edinburgh for his funeral.

Philip was closely associated with the Navy for more than 80 years, having enrolled at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth aged 17, served at sea during the Second World War and later held numerous honorary ranks.

The well-known Victorian hymn Eternal Father, Strong To Save will be sung by a choir of just four at St George’s Chapel due to Covid regulations.

It is strongly associated with the Navy in the UK but is also popular with the naval traditions of countries like the US and France.

Duke of Edinburgh death
Flowers outside St George’s Chapel where the service is being held (Steve Parsons/PA)

The first verse of the hymn paints a dramatic picture of divine help needed for those who find themselves in trouble on the waters.

“Eternal father, strong to save,
“Whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
“Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
“Its own appointed limits keep;
“O hear us when we cry to thee
“For those in peril on the sea.”

The stirring lyrics and music were written by two English ministers – William Whiting providing the words and John B Dykes composing the music.

Philip was the guiding force behind the arrangements for his funeral and picked a wide range of music from Johann Sebastian Bach to Ralph Vaughan Williams for the service on Saturday.

The Rhosymedre by Williams is a piece with strong royal connotations and was featured at the weddings of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and also played at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

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Two pieces of music the duke commissioned from celebrated composers will be featured during the 50-minute long service.

The Jubilate in C was written by Benjamin Britten at the duke’s request around 1961 and has gone on to become a staple in cathedrals and churches across the country.

Funeral guests will also hear the choir sing Psalm 104 which was set to music by guitarist and composer William Lovelady.

Originally composed as a cantata in three movements, it was first sung in honour of the duke’s 75th birthday in 1996.

Before the service, a selection of music chosen by the duke will be played – Sir William Harris’s Adagio Espressivo (Sonata in A minor), Percy Whitlock’s Salix (The Plymouth Suite) and Berceuse (Op 31 No. 19) by Louis Vierne.

Bach’s choral prelude Schmucke Dich, O Liebe Seele (Adorn Yourself, O Dear Soul) BWV 654 will also be performed along with Vaughan Williams’ Rhosymedre.

Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral: St George’s Chapel
(PA Graphics)

The small choir of four will be conducted by the St George’s Chapel director of music James Vivian and the organ will be played by Luke Bond.

After the duke’s coffin is lowered into the royal vault a Lament will be played by a Pipe Major from the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The duke was Royal Colonel of the Highlanders, 4th Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

The Last Post will be sounded by buglers of the Royal Marines and, after a period of silence, the Reveille will be played by the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry.

Philip served as Captain General of the Royal Marines for more than six decades and at the end of the service the buglers will sound ‘Action Stations’.

It is played on a warship to signal all hands should go to battle stations and is sometimes featured at funerals of naval men.

As the service draws to a close the Archbishop of Canterbury will pronounce the Blessing and the National Anthem will be sung by just the choir.