Navy Hymn (MELITA) “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”

“Eternal Father, Strong to Save” is a hymn traditionally associated with seafarers, particularly in the maritime armed services. Inspired by the dangers of the sea described in Psalm 107, it was written in 1860 by hymnist/choirmaster William Whiting (1825-1878) and published in the first edition of the influential English hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern, in 1861.

Popularized by the Royal Navy and the United States Navy in the late 19th century, variations of the hymn were soon adopted by branches of the armed services in the United Kingdom and the United States, including the Royal Marines, Royal Air Force, British Army, United States Coast Guard, and United States Marine Corps, as well as many navies of the British Commonwealth. Accordingly, it is known by many names, variously referred to as the Hymn of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, the Royal Navy Hymn, the United States Navy Hymn (or just The Navy Hymn), and sometimes by the last line of its first verse, “For Those in Peril on the Sea.” The hymn has a long tradition in civilian maritime contexts as well, being regularly invoked by ship’s chaplains and sung during services on ocean crossings.

John Bacchus Dykes, an Anglican clergyman, composed the tune MELITA to accompany the Hymns Ancient and Modern version of the text. Dykes was a well-known composer of nearly 300 hymn tunes, many of which are still in use today. “Melita” is an archaic term for Malta, an ancient seafaring nation which is named as the site of a shipwreck involving the Apostle Paul (Acts of the Apostles 28:1), and at the time of Dykes’ composition was a colony of the British Empire.

Score, parts (Bb tpt. 1, Bb tpt. 2, F horn, tbn, tuba) — $12.99