A Life on the Ocean Wave

"A Life on the Ocean Wave"

“A Life on the Ocean Wave”  ..... its origins!

Blowin ' In The Wind

Photo by Mike Smith - 2012

The ever-popular Bands of HM Royal Marines are well known for their regimental quick march of “A Life on the Ocean Wave”, but do you know the history of this jaunty piece of music?  There’s actually a couple of interesting links between the march and the Medway/Swale/Maidstone areas that our Branch members are active in.

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 – wait for it! – 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 1933, then to the USA where he was the organist at the Presbyterian Church in Rochester NY.  He returned to England in 1841.  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 Russell to “set them to music”, and the song ultimately became one of the most popular in England and America.  Henry Russell composed over 800 pieces and his book of reminiscences “Cheers Boys Cheer” proved to be an enduring and popular collection of his works.

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.

So, some interesting local connections!




Search our Knowledge base

for answers

Get in touch Launch live chat

8am to 8pm, all week

Call our helpline 0808 802 8080

8am to 8pm, all week

Find us locally Pop in for a chat

10am to 4pm, weekdays