Saturday, November 7, 2015

There's a Royal Banner -- Daniel Webster Whittle and Lloyd Otis Sanderson

It’s seems clear from his words over 20 years later that he was still affected by the experience. He had noticeable body scars and still wore a name that told others of that life-changing experience. Had he perhaps carried the flag of war for his unit in battle (perhaps not unlike the one shown here being carried by knights in about 1301)? Daniel Webster Whittle might quickly tell you or me that another event that coincided with his war likewise had a long-lasting impact. But, he could not have known that his reflection on war in “There’s a Royal Banner” (also known as the “Banner of the Cross”) would be picked up by another, one Lloyd Otis Sanderson, whose birth and songwriting milestones three generations after his own would have curious coincidences with his life. It would be interesting to see these two meet sometime, and marvel over how the musical Spirit might have been at work.  

Daniel Whittle had a name and the war experience to match as he developed a hymn (one that a fellow hymnist would later enlarge) in 1887 that he must have wanted to relate to another, larger battle. He’d been in the U.S. Civil War, and having lost his right arm and still carrying the name ‘Major’— his wartime rank—he still thought plenty about how his life took a turn as a young man in his early 20s. He may have lost an arm, but he gained something else – a Christian faith – while imprisoned in a camp. His postwar experience eventually linked him to Dwight Moody and evangelism that became the purpose of his being. So, as a 47-year old one-armed preacher, it wasn’t hard for Major Whittle to tell others that life was a battle, and that it mattered what side you chose. Of course, choose God! Whittle’s memory, as a hospital-bound prisoner some 25 years earlier, probably still reverberated. Just check out the words ‘soldiers’, ‘crimson banner’, and of course ‘marching’ in his poetry, all conjuring mental images of what Daniel had known personally, intimately, even brutally. His words say ‘transform all that’: If you’re to be a prisoner-of-war, be one in Christ’s battle. You think that might have resonated with Lloyd Sanderson, too? He was a 47-year old, like Whittle, when he composed a fifth verse for the Major’s original hymn in 1948. It’s also interesting that Whittle’s life was ending in 1901 while Lloyd’s was beginning – Sanderson was born in May 1901 just two months after Whittle’s death in March of the same year. Is it just a curious coincidence that these 47-year olds carried Christ’s battle flag, through their verses in “There’s a Royal Banner”? As Whittle departed the earth, was Lloyd being prepared for a 5th verse? Perhaps it’s just a piece of trivia, but the Spirit has done some startling things, agreed?  

Lloyd Sanderson’s verse includes a word ‘commander’ that would have been familiar to his musical ancestor, the Major. Did he wear a uniform, like Whittle, at one time? It really doesn’t matter if he did, or if you or I do. Daniel Whittle put away his uniform, but carried a flag still. Our commander may be in charge and be called the ‘Almighty’, but he still needs troops. Whittle and Sanderson did their part. They knew whose side wins. Do you? It’s not a hard question.       

The following website has a soundtrack of all four original verses, but not the 5th verse composed by the secondary author:  

Also, see the primary composer’s brief bio here:
See more information on the primary composer of the song discussed above in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982. A biography on the song’s secondary (verse 5) composer is in the book edited by Gene Finley (1980), Our Garden of Song (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Co.).

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