Winston Churchill’s Favorite Hymns

on January 25, 2015

Winston Churchill died 50 years ago. His funeral was one of the great pageants of the 20th century. Marching bands, military processions, worship in glorious St. Paul’s Cathedral, the reverent attendance of prime ministers, royalty and presidents. Among them was Dwight Eisenhower, who served alongside Churchill as both general and chief executive and whose eulogy of his “old friend” (and frequent sparring partner) was broadcast to America. And there was Charles de Gaulle, who was a stately ornament also at funerals for JFK and Ike, and had been both ally and nemesis to Churchill.

The Church of England funeral service was magnificently choreographed. Some claim Churchill was religiously indifferent. He’s said to have called himself a flying buttress, supporting the church from the outside. The truth of his faith is likely more complex than commonly realized. Certainly he relished the drama of liturgical worship and great hymns, both of which applied to his funeral, for which he had left some instruction, promising, “There will be lively hymns.” They were “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Fight the Good Fight with All Thy Might,” “Who Would True Valour See,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sometimes said to be Churchill’s special favorite.

Churchill had also chosen “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 90, for the joint worship with FDR at their 1941 Atlantic Charter summit on HMS Prince of Wales off the coast of New Foundland. On New Year’s Day 1942 Churchill, with tears streaming down his cheeks, had stood beside FDR in George Washington’s pew at Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The priest had explained it was the first time the southern congregation had sung this hymn associated with Lincoln and northern victory, but the current world crisis necessitated national unity. Churchill would later say its inclusion in his funeral was a tribute to his American mother.

“Who Would True Valour See,” also called “To Be a Pilgrim,” was the only hymn written by John Bunyon, the Puritan author of the classic allegory of Christian salvation, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” “Fight the Good Fight with All Thy Might” was written by an English clergyman in 1863 and presumably was a hymn that Churchill would have recalled from his youth. All the hymns at his funeral were written by Englishmen, except of course “Battle Hymn” by American Julia Ward Howe.

All four hymns speak of courage, perseverance, faith, conflict and reliance on God’s strength. Read the lyrics below as sung by the standing mourners at St. Paul’s Cathedral on a chilly January day in 1965, and ponder if they don’t echo and explain the life and fortitude of Winston Churchill. Here’s video of the funeral, which includes “The Battle Hymn.”

“Who Would True Valour See”

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’™s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’l with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’l fear not what men say,
He’l labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer him; be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
While God is marching on.

“Fight the Good Fight with All Thy Might”

Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy Strength, and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the Path, and Christ the Prize.

Cast care aside, lean on thy guide,
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its Life, and Christ its Love.

Faint not nor fear, his arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear.
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

“O God Our Help in Ages Past”

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home:

Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

  1. Comment by Namyriah on January 25, 2015 at 7:49 am

    A little historical footnote: Churchill’s mother was an American, so it was appropriate to have one hymn written by an American at his funeral.

    It would probably give Churchill great pleasure to know how un-PC his funeral hymns were. The mainline denominations have dumped the “fight” hymns from their hymnals, along with the “sexist language.”

  2. Comment by prompteetsincere on January 30, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    “Monday, 27 March,1944
    The radio therefore goes on early in the morning and is listened to all hours of the day, until.. often eleven o’clock in the evening…it gets so boring…I must mention one shining exception – a speech by our beloved Winston Churchill is quite perfect.”

    Anne Frank, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’.

  3. Comment by André Gillieron on February 24, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    I should like to come in possession of the complete music of the funeral journey of Winston Churchill?

    Do jou have anny suggestion to help me?

  4. Comment by Spencer Warren on February 21, 2019 at 12:44 am

    Many years ago I purchased in Britain the complete BBC radio broadcast of the funeral on two LPs. Issued on BBC records I believe. Maybe you can find it on ebay

  5. Comment by Thomas Lloyd-Butler on August 27, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Hi I’m pre planning a traditional funeral for another great man…do you have any idea where I can come into possession of the exact program/order of ceremony for Churchill’s funeral service, and how and when the hymns were used? Thank you

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