The Army and Abide With Me..!

A few years ago, I had the privilege of being the MC for the annual Navy Week in Mumbai, and later it was on the lawns of Navy House, I was introduced to the Vice Admiral. “Thank you for your wonderful emceeing you did, and also for the piece you wrote on the navy,” he said and even as I smiled my head turned as I heard the strains of ‘Abide With Me,’ as the sun set that evening.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide;
When other helpers, fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, Lord abide with me.

And then the trumpeters on top of the Gateway joined in and I sang softly with them my favourite verse:
I need Thy presence, every passing hour;
What but thy grace can foil the tempters power,
Who like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine Lord, Abide with me.

This hymn has been played by buglers, trumpeters, drummers sometimes by a lone flautist for soldiers at the end of a long day at battle, to tell them to retreat from fighting and rest for the night. And what better thought, then asking the Lord to stay by their side through the darkness of the night. What a beautiful way, to be restored, repaired and rejuvenated with the Lord abiding with you through the night.
And yet, suddenly, the hymn, which was also the favourite hymn of the Father of our Nation, has been removed this Republic Day at the Beating the Retreat!
A hymn that has strengthened the hearts of millions through the ages, is suddenly thought of as unnecessary for our brave soldiers:
When the famous nurse Edith Cavell, went down before a German firing squad, she whispered the words of, “Abide With Me,” and smiled as bullets hit her, knowing her Lord was abiding with her as she died. When the ship, R.M.S. Stella was sinking with one hundred and five victims during the Second World War, a woman, one of the noble identified, stood on the bridge and sang the hymn until the others were singing along with her. They went down with no fear in their hearts as they clasped the hand of God, abiding with them!
The hymn has given strength to millions, and I hope that even as the army feel they do not need this hymn anymore, that the Lord will be with them, as he has been with every war and battle they have fought and won!
This Sunday on Republic Day in every place of worship, sing the hymn, and with me let us raise the last verse in crescendo:
I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is deaths sting? Where grave thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

And in my mind’s eye I turn and smile at the Vice-Admiral, who nods and smiles back..!




14 thoughts on “The Army and Abide With Me..!”

  1. Bob unfortunately this year onwards “Abide by Me”, I Not being played o the 28th Jan at the Annual Beating the Retreat! It’s a pity that politics has now interfered with the Armed Forces ethos too.

  2. Whenever I had the chance to conduct this hymn at the Beating Retreat in Delhi and at other occasions, I had goosebumps all over. Today for me it’s only memories. Never want to watch the Beating Retreat on TV which is relayed live on 29 Jan ever again

  3. It is our loss and the loss of future generations that they will not hear this beautiful hymn at the Beating Retreat. It’s sad that MoD has interfered in something of beauty. No end to politics it seems till it changes the very fabric of our country.

  4. Well if you realize we still do play this immortal number at funerals etc. Never mind the bigots our faith in this culture will always live.

  5. It’s sad that politics has entered the beating of the retreat, Bob. It was such a beautiful and solemn ending. Now it’s only memories. Hope that wisdom dawns on the concerned and the hymn “Abide with me” is restored at the beating of the retreat.

  6. Luke 24:29-31 NASB
    But they urged Him, saying, “Stay (abide) with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them. [30] When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. [31] Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.

  7. So very sad! I however wish, pray and hope that “Abide with me” will be restored soon. It has always been a soldier’s dialogue with God since the time Immemorial when the fighting used to stop at the end of the day. Do we not still play the retreat in our units ! Will we also discontinue this tradition? I hope not.

  8. You must remember that it was Gandhiji’s favourite hymn. Having shot him and proclaimed his assassin their hero – they can hardly be expected to stand there and salute the hymn! 
    The author of the article gives us the true context of the words; words that make it probably the most appropriate and fitting prayer for a soldier at the end of a hard day on the battlefield – at the beating of the retreat; or by his grave side! 
    Sentiments quite beyond the ken of the honourable gentlemen (and women, lest I be accused of misogyny) who run our show!  

  9. Another sad example of imposed cultural poverty. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater. An irreplaceable omission now from “International Culture”

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