Being a Boy in the Band

PROBABLY THE MOST FUN I HAD IN MY LIFE

I was interested to read an account of what it was like to be in the Band of the Junior Leaders’ Regiment, Royal Artillery. It was written by Keith Reeve, who was a boy-soldier from 1957 to 1958.

I played in the same band when I was training in Brats from 1973 to 1974. Of all my memories of that time, it is the one I remember with most fondness.

The memories of those days have stayed with me over the decades with an immediacy I wish I could say about other experiences from that time.

SIMON BEALE

Nowadays, I run a collection of historical musical instruments. One of our most iconic instruments is a baroque trumpet by the maker Simon Beale. It is quite possibly the oldest surviving English baroque trumpet, having been made in 1667. Sad to say, it is not in original condition, having been modified some time in the 19th century.

Trumpet by Simon Beale, London, 1667. Collection number x78

Whenever we get visiting groups, it is always a treat to be able to tell the story of Simon Beale. In his lifetime, Beale served with the Earl of Oxford’s ‘Blues’ cavalry regiment. In this capacity he was appointed as State Trumpeter to Oliver Cromwell. He was wounded at the seige of Ipswich, for which he was awarded the Oliver Cromwell medal.

Simon Beale, about 1643. State Trumpeter to Oliver Cromwell

One of his duties was to transmit messages on the battlefield. It is this part of the story that brings all those memories of my teenage years flooding back.

SOUNDING LESSONS

As New-Intake-Gunners (NIGs) in January 1973, we were timetabled to take ‘Sounding’ lessons for half-an-hour every morning. We would march, in our squad, to the Band Rooms, where the Trumpet Majors would give us our instructions. There were four of them during my time there. TM Timmins, TM Isedale, TM Cooper and one other whose name I have forgotten.

We were divided between drummers and trumpeters. As I had previously learned French Horn at school, I had some natural talent on the trumpet. So, when our basic recruit training was completed, I, along with some other likely candidates, was inducted into the band. I was very happy indeed.

The band of the Junior Leaders’ Regiment, RA had originally been formed in Woolwich in 1939 as the Boys’ Royal Artillery Band. It was transferred over and re-named when the Junior Leaders’ Regiment was formed in 1957.

For us, in 1973, band training took place in our spare time. In actual fact, us younger Junior Leaders were expected to participate in extra training activities in any event, so it wasn’t spare time at all. I didn’t care, I loved it.

We had to learn a number of trumpet marches. I can’t remember all of their names, but these spring to mind: Marine, The Gunner, Nuneaton and half-a-dozen others. I have an obsessive memory, so I managed to pick them up quite quickly.

In addition to the marches, we were expected to memorise a number of trumpet calls. Last Post, Reveille, Royal Artillery Call, Five Minutes, Parade Call and some others. I forget.

The drummers had a spectacular drumming display called Drummer’s Call. You can see the band and the Drummer’s Call on this link:

One of the very pleasing things about being in the band was the uniform. It was based on a version of the Royal Horse Artillery uniform of the late 19th century. Being young teenagers, we looked really cute.

Me (right), aged 16, and another lad, Woolwich, 1973.

Apart from playing for parades in the Regiment, we also travelled around playing at shows and military events. There seemed to be a lot of that sort of thing in those days. Far more than I think we have today. Almost every weekend over the summer we would be out, around the country. Occasionally we might play at a military tattoo somewhere.

One abiding memory was having to learn a new march. It was a German fanfare march by the composer Henrion. It was called ‘Fehrbelliner Reitermarsch’. You can hear a version on this link:

The reason we learned this was that we were due to play at a big event at the Royal School of Artillery at Larkhill. We would be playing with the massed bands on the green outside the Officer’s Mess.

We practised our drill and counter-marching and playing until we were as perfect as we could be. When it came to the event I was the proudest I had ever been in my life. The audience of officers and their guests loved the show. We didn’t know it at the time, but we had been acknowledged as the star-turn.

Later, that year, the Royal Artillery Band came to the Junior Leaders’ Regiment to do a concert. They got a couple of us up on stage to play Fehrbelliner Reitermarsch for the Regiment. For some reason, I was shaking in nervousness and stage-fright.

Later, I was selected with six or seven other lads to join the Fanfare Team. I recall Ian Askham was one member but can’t remember the names of any of the others.

As a team, we picked up even more playing opportunities. I think we played a fanfare when one of the adult regiments was awarded the freedom of Leeds. I can’t remember which. Another abiding memory was when we were booked to provide fanfares for the prize winners at a gigantic judo event. There were dozens and dozens of them. TM Isedale was supervising us. As the event progressed he became more and more inventive until we collapsed in on ourselves.

“Bloody Crows!” was his verdict.

As a member of the Fanfare Team, I was one of those selected as a candidate for best trumpeter. Sadly, I was having a long series of ‘off-days’ and wasn’t able to compete with the rest of the team.

When it came time for me to muster, that is to say, my passing-out parade, I and a couple of other lads were considered too essential to the band. So, instead of learning rifle drill and parading in my number 2 dress, I stood on the square and watched while all the other mustering gunners marched off and threw their hats in the air. That may well be one of the saddest things I remember.

When I was posted to my adult regiment I continued to play the trumpet. I got a blues uniform and played mess calls for Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess events. I played General Salute wherever we had visiting inspections. I played Last-Post and Reveille at a depressingly large number of funerals at the British Military Cemetry in Hanover.

Being a member of the band of the Junior Leaders’ Regiment, RA was probably one of the most positive experiences of my life. At a time when everything seemed simpler and more fun. I learned teamwork in ways like no other. I learned how to get on with people. Also, while we were being driven around the countryside in the bus I learned some of the funniest and filthiest songs ever invented.

The memories have stayed with me all my life.

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