Splice the Main Brace!

My online friend and co-blogger, Pied Type, ran an interesting post a few days ago regarding the author Tom Clancy’s inspiration for music and singing in the movie, Red October. It got me to thinking about the role of music in my own military training. As I told her in a comment:

The use of music to build military cohesion and camaraderie has a long and well-deserved tradition in all cultures that I know of. When I entered USNA in the hot summer of 1955 one of the items on our agenda was a series of assemblies in which all thousand of us learned and sang songs from our “Book of Navy Songs”. I just looked in the book shelf and I still have it. In addition to the obvious, like Navy Blue and Gold, the Marine’s Hymn, and Anchors Aweigh, the selections included:

Abdul Abulbul Amir
The Navy Drinking Song (says something about the culture, eh?)
Blow the Man Down
The Navy Hymn
The Goat is Old and Gnarly
Army Blue (helps to know the enemy)

During the time I was there one of the favorite records my roommates and I had was one from the Red Army Chorus. They were famous even then, when the Cold War was hot.

The Navy Drinking Song may have been inspired by something that happened in 1914 when our WW I Secretary of the Navy, the racist and blue-nosed Josephus Daniels unilaterally banned drinking alcohol on all Navy ships, and it has been so ever since. I’m not sure that it was a good thing or a bad one because the argument can be made that it may have made conduct ashore less controlled.



The action, a General Order, inspired a song titled, “Farewell to Grog” (Note:  for you land-lubbers, the phrase, “splice the main brace” means to have an alcoholic drink):

Come mess-mates, pass the bottle ‘round
Our time is short, remember,
For our grog must stop, and our spirits drop,
On the first day of September.

For tonight we’ll merry, merry be,
For tonight we’ll merry, merry be,
For tonight we’ll merry, merry be,
Tomorrow we’ll be sober.

Farewell old rye, ’tis a sad, sad, world
But alas, it must be spoken.
The ruby cup must be given up,
and the demijohn be broken.

Jack’s happy days will soon be gone,
To return again, oh never!
For they’ve raised his pay five cents a day,
But stopped his grog forever.

Yet memory oft’ will backward turn,
And dwell with fondness partial,
On the days when gin was not a sin,
Nor cocktails brought courts-martial.

All hands to splice the main brace, call,
But splice it now in sorrow,
For the spirit-room key will be laid away
Forever, on tomorrow.


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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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5 Responses to Splice the Main Brace!

  1. PiedType says:

    I’d never thought about when and how “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” stopped being the norm. Interesting history. Thanks for defining “splice the mainbrace.” I knew I’d heard it before but hadn’t a clue what it meant.


  2. henrygmorgan says:

    Jim: Thanks for identifying the culprit. Little did Sec. Daniels realize the incredible surge of creative energy he was unleashing leading to the creation of raisin jack, torpedo juice, bathtub gin, and numerous other experiments in the alcoholic realm as the troops fought to assert and maintain their sacred right to booze. And thanks for revealing the meaning of “Splice the mainbrace,” which I had heard but whose meaning was completely unknown. I forwarded your piece to my friend Capt. Harder, who also didn’t know the meaning, but then he is a flyboy. Interesting and enlightening article, Jim. Bud


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