A Prayer Before Firing

Battleship HMS Prince of Wales



HMS Prince of Wales 

Atlantic Charter Conference, 10-12 August 1941

HMS Prince of Wales off Argentia, Newfoundland, after bringing Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Photographed from USS Augusta (CA-31).

Donation of Vice Admiral Harry Sanders, USN(Retired), 1969.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.


HMS Prince of Wales on sea trials shortly before her engagement with the Bismarck.

(Official US Navy photo)

Before going into action against the Bismarck, the officers and crew of HMS Prince of Wales were as emotionally wound up tight as cat gut on a tennis racket. Most of the crew were young, “Hostilities Only” ratings as opposed to regular, long service Royal Navy sailors. This would be their first time in action.

Realizing this several minutes before the Prince of Wales engaged the Bismarck in the Battle of the Denmark Strait, Captain John Leach, RN, sent for the ship’s chaplain. Upon his breathless arrival on the open bridge, the Captain told the Padre that they were going into action and he wanted him to read a specific prayer over the public address system or tannoy. And the prayer the Captain wanted  was “Sir Jacob Astley’s Prayer Before (the battle of) Edgehill.

The chaplain dashed to his cabin where he had the exact words of this prayer which would have been familiar to most of the crew. Upon returning to the bridge, the Padre took up the microphone and prayed:

“O Lord, Thou knowest how busy we must be today, if we forget Thee, do not Thou forget us; for Christ’s sake. Amen.”

Seconds later the main batteries fired. Amen.



One of the most iconic photographs of World War Two shows American and British officers and men at a church service on the quarterdeck of HMS Prince of Wales.


Atlantic Charter Conference, 10-12 August 1941

Church service on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, during the conference. Seated in the center are President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Standing behind them are Admiral Ernest J. King, USN (between Roosevelt and Churchill); General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army; General Sir John Dill, British Army; Admiral Harold R. Stark, USN; and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, RN.
USS Arkansas (BB-33) is in the center distance.

Donation of Vice Admiral Harry Sanders, USN(Retired), 1969.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Sources: US National Archives, US Navy History and Heritage Command and an outstanding biography of John Leach, Captain of the Prince of Wales: “In the Highest Traditions of the Royal Navy–the Life of Captain John Leach, MVO, DSO by Matthew B. Wills. If you have an interest in the brief life of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales then you will enjoy this book. Captain Leach commanded the POW for the entire time the ship was in commission. He perished when HMS Prince of Wales was sunk off Singapore on 10 December 1941 by Japanese aircraft.

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/