• Si Biggs

A Life on the Ocean Wave

On 11th February 1927, Admiralty Fleet Order 626/27 officially recognised 'A Life On The Ocean Wave' as the Regimental March of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, although its use had been adopted since 1882.


The music for the march is derived from two songs, both of which were composed during the first half of the 19th Century. Both songs remained popular and in print until the First World War. Most of the march is taken from Henry Russell’s “A Life on the Ocean Wave”, published in the 1840s, and the short central section is based on eight bars of “The Sea” by Sigismund Neukomm, first published in 1832.



Henry Russell an English pianist, baritone singer and composer, born into a distinguished Jewish family was born at Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey on 24th December 1812, and died in London in 1900. As a one-time pupil of Rossini at Bologna and Naples, he went to Canada in about 1833, then to the USA where he was the organist at the Presbyterian Church in Rochester NY. He returned to England in 1841.


1793 rendering of the flagpole and recent plantings at the Battery

In 1897 he wrote to Mr George Miller, the bandmaster of the Royal Marines Light Infantry, Portsmouth Division, telling him that “A Life on the Ocean Wave” had been inspired some 60 years earlier when walking on The Battery in New Pork Harbour with Epps Sargant, the poet. The scenes of ships moored in the harbour had inspired Sargent to write a poem, Russell then to “set them to music”, and the song ultimately became one of the most popular in England and America.


Before 1883, each Division of the Royal Marines had its own march, and even these changed frequently as new Commandants often introduced new marches. The DGRM called upon the Bandmasters of each Division to arrange a march, preferably based on a naval song. The Bandmasters of the Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth Divisions were coincidentally all German, and together with the Bandmaster of the Royal Marines Artillery they each submitted a march.


The arrangement of the song “A Life on the Ocean Wave” was made by Mr Kappey, the Bandmaster of the Chatham Division Band RMLI, using Neukomm’s old song, “The Sea” as the trio section. This arrangement was authorised as the Regimental March of the Corps by the War Office in 1882 and by the Admiralty in 1920.


A Life on the Ocean Wave


A life on the ocean wave!

A home on the rolling deep!

Where the scatter'd waters rave, and the winds their revels keep;

Like an eagle cag'd I pine,

On this dull, unchanging shore;

Oh give me the flashing brine,

The spray and the tempest's roar.


(Chorus)

A life on the ocean wave,

A home on the rolling deep,

Where the scattered waters rave, and the winds their revels keep,

The winds, the winds, the winds their revels keep,

(the winds, the winds, the winds their revels keep).


Once more on the deck I stand,

Of my own swift gliding craft,

Set sail! and farewell to the land,

The gale follows fair abaft!

We shoot thro' the sparkling foam,

Like an ocean bird set free;

Like the ocean bird, our home

We'll find far out on the sea.


(Chorus)

A life on the ocean wave,

A home on the rolling deep,

Where the scattered waters rave, and the winds their revels keep,

The winds, the winds, the winds their revels keep,

(the winds, the winds, the winds their revels keep).


The land is no longer in view,

The clouds have begun to frown;

But with a stout vessel and crew,

We'll say, let the storm come down.

And the song of our hearts shall be,

While the wind and the water rave.

A life on the heaving sea,

A home on the bounding wave.


(Chorus)

A life on the ocean wave,

A home on the rolling deep,

Where the scattered waters rave, and the winds their revels keep,

The winds, the winds, the winds their revels keep,

(the winds, the winds, the winds their revels keep).


Available to download from the Royal Marines Band Shop here: A Life on the Ocean Wave


Text extracts from the RBL “A Life on the Ocean Wave” ..... its origins!


Related 'Dits':


“Sarie Marais” – The March Past of the Royal Marines Commandos


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