The Laws of the Navy

Now these are the laws of the Navy,
Unwritten and varied they be;
And he that is wise will observe them,
Going down in his ship to the sea;
As nought may outrun the destroyer,
Even so with the law and its grip,
For the strength of the ship is the Service,
And the strength of the Service, the ship.

Take heed what you say of your rulers,
Be your words spoken softly or plain,
Lest a bird of the air tell the matter,
And so ye shall hear it again.

If ye labour from morn until even.
And meet with reproof for your toil,
It is well, that the gun may be humbled,
The compressor must check the recoil.

On the strength of one link in the cable,
Dependeth the might of the chain;
Who knows when thou may be tested?
So live that thou bearest the strain.

When the ship that is tired returneth,
With the signs of the sea showing plain.
Men place her in dock for a season,
And her speed she reneweth again.
So shalt thou, lest, perchance thou grow weary,
In the uttermost parts of the sea,
Pray for leave for the good of the Service,
As much and as oft as may be.

Count not on certain promotion,
But rather to gain it aspire,
Though the sight line shall end on the target
There cometh perchance a misfire.

Can'st follow the track of the dolphin,
Or tell where the sea swallows roam?
Where leviathan taketh his pastime?
What ocean he calleth his home?
Even so with the words of thy rulers, And the orders those words shall convey,
Every law is as nought beside this one---

Saith the wise, " How can I know their purpose?"
Then acts without wherefore or why:
Stays the fool but one moment to question,
And the chance of his life passes by.

If ye win through an African Jungle,
Unmentioned at home in the press,
Heed it not: no man seeth the piston,
But it driveth the ship none the less.

Do they growl? It is well: be thou silent,
So that work goeth forward amain;
Lo, the gun throws her shot to a hair's breadth,
And shouteth, yet none shall complain.
Do they growl and the work be retarded?
It is ill, speak, whatever their rank;
The half loaded gun also shouteth,
But can she pierce armour with blank?

Doeth paintwork make war with the funnels?
Do the decks to the cannon complain?
Nay, they know that some soap or a scraper,
Unites them as brothers again;
So, ye being Heads of Departments,
Do your growl with a smile on your lip,
Lest ye strive and in anger be parted,
And lessen the might of the ship.

Dost deem that thy vessel needs gilding,
And the dockyard forbear to supply?
Place thy hand in thy pocket and gild her,
There be those who have risen thereby.

Dost think in a moment of danger,
Tis well with thy seniors to fight?
They prosper who burn in the morning,
The letters they wrote overnight;
For some there be, shelved and forgotten,
With nothing to thank for their fate
Save that ( on a half sheet of foolscap ),
Which a fool "had the honour to state."

If the fairway be crowded, with shipping
Beating homeward the harbour to win,
It is meet that, lest any should suffer,
The steamers pass cautiously in;

The steamers pass cautiously in;
So thou, when thou nearest promotion,
And the peak that is gilded is nigh,
Give heed to thy words and thine actions,
Lest others be wearied thereby.
It is ill for the winners to worry,
Take thy fate as it comes with a smile,
And when you are safe in the harbour,
They will envy, but may not revile.

Uncharted the rocks that surround thee,
Take heed the channels thou learn,
Lest thy name serve to buoy for another,
That shoal, the Court -Martial Return.
Though armour the belt that protects her,
The ship bears the scar on her side,
It is well if the court shall acquit thee,
It were best hadst thou never been tried.

Now these are the laws of the Navy,
Unwritten and varied they be,
And he that is wise will observe them,
Going down in his ship to the sea.
As the wave rises to the hawse pipe,
Washes aft, and is lost in the wake,
So shall ye drop astern, all unheeded,
Such time as the law ye forsake.


It is my understanding the "The Laws of the Navy" were written by a Royal Navy Captain R.A. Hopwood, at the turn of last century. He later went on to be promoted to Admiral. I had it in my old files, and one does not see it around too much these days, but I thought you may like it, and I think it deserves a wider audience today.


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