The British Grenadiers is a marching song for the grenadier units of the British military, the tune of which dates from the 17th century. It is the Regimental Quick March of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Grenadier Guards, the Honourable Artillery Company and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. 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.
A song entitled “The New Bath” found in Playford’s dance books from the 17th century is thought to be the origin. However, it is also suggested that it was derived from the Dutch march “De Jonge Prins van Friesland” (“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 as the Royal Inspection March in the Dutch army, and as a march to the crown prince.
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. 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.
In the UK, it is played at Trooping the Colour. Additionally, the first eight measures are played during the ceremony when the Escort for the Colour 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 dropped soon after,) and the men wearing “caps and pouches” (i.e. the typical grenadier caps, worn by these elite troops, and probably the small cartridge boxes worn in front, known as a ‘belly box’) and “loupèd clothes”, then preserved only for the 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,
Sing 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.
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 to 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.”
1. W. E. Studwell, The National and Religious Song Reader: Patriotic, Traditional, and Sacred Songs from Around the World (Haworth Press, 1996), p. 55.