The Light Division
The Light Infantry
The Light Infantry
The Light Infantry
An inspection report of 1768 notes that the 13th Foot had drummers, but does not mention any musicians; nine years later, this omission had been rectified with a report that there were '12 Music', a very respectable band for a line regiment of the period. The first known bandmaster in the Regiment comes just a generation later, with a Regimental Order dated 21 January 1806:
With the conversion of the 13th to a light infantry role in 1822 it is probable that bugles were added to the Regiment's musical strength, but the Band - being well established by this stage - would no doubt have continued. There is, however, very little documentation from the first half of the century, save for a mention that the Regiment was involved in the siege of Jellalabad during the Afghan War of 1841-42; when the relief column under General Pollock finally arrived at the town, the Band of the 13th welcomed the long-awaited force with the ironic strains of 'Ye're O'er Long o' Coming'.
After the days of Sjt Hurst, the succession of bandmasters in the Regiment becomes unclear; when the thread is picked up again in 1860 it is with Sgt G McPherson, a former member of the 1st Battalion Band who had been sent to Kneller Hall to become properly accredited. Unfortunately his was but a brief tenure, for he died two years later. Even worse, his two successors - Sgt C Barry and Mr J Vevers, both ex-members of the Band - also died whilst serving, giving the 13th an unwanted reputation of being ill-starred. Mr Vevers' replacement, Thomas Mitchell, however, went some way towards breaking the myth, serving for twelve very successful years and retiring in good health.
Mr Mitchell did, though, have his own problems with the appointment. He was a highly regarded musician who had enlisted into the Royal Artillery and spent the first ten years of his Army career comfortably stationed at Woolwich; following his attendance at Kneller Hall he then found himself plunged into the peripatetic world of the infantry - over the next twelve years he had thirteen postings in Ireland, England, Gibraltar and India, plus a further five short spells in other stations in India. He also found his men regularly taken away from him for stretcher-bearing training. Such was the life of musicians in line bands, from which he had been so long sheltered.
Even so Mr Mitchell evidently fitted in well enough, for in 1899 the Regiment recommended that as reward for his outstanding services he should be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant; the request was turned down by the Commander-in-Chief, apparently in fear that this would set a precedent for other regiments. Interestingly a similar plea on behalf of Peter Parkes of the SCLI more than half a century later was similarly rejected.
The range of musical tasks expected of Mr Mitchell can be seen in reports from the regimental journal, The Light Bob, in 1894. The annual regimental celebration of the battle of Killiecrankie in 1687 was marked by a smoking evening, the string band provided the music for a variety programme in Sabathu, a series of dances was organized and an engagement at a massed bands concert and searchlight tattoo during the Lahore Durbar week was fulfilled. There was also a call to provide a pit orchestra for the officers' troupe known as The Light Bob Minstrels, which produced the unusual instrumentation of 1st and 2nd violins, string bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon and cornet - a line-up that required a special arrangement for each piece. An even more unusual arrangement was demanded when the Band was involved in the Agra concentration of 1907, a review of more than 30,000 troops by the Viceroy of India and the Ameer of Afghanistan; Mr Mitchell was prevailed upon to arrange the Afghan national anthem.
Meanwhile a 2nd Battalion had been raised in the mid 19th century, with its most notable early musician being not a bandsman but a bugler. Bugle Major Emberson enlisted into the 2nd Battalion in 1867 at the age of fifteen, and served in Gibraltar, Malta and South Africa, the latter period including action in the Zulu War at the battle of Vlundi in 1879. For ten years from 1880 he was Bugle Major, before retiring to become Bandmaster of the depot band at Taunton; but even that was not the end of his career, for when the Boer War broke out he re-enlisted to form a bugle band. At his funeral in 1924 he was accorded full military honours.
When the 2nd was stationed in England in the 1890s, the Band under Mr Ancliffe became a popular concert attraction amongst the civilian population, normally playing in conjunction with the bugles; amongst the most frequently played band and bugle marches of the time were 'Out on the Deep', 'The Prince Albert March' and 'Light Infantry' (the latter not to be confused with Denis Plater's piece of the same title). As with other bands of the 19th century, the 2nd Somersets was often dependant on enlisted men transferring to musical duties, and Standing Orders dated 1895 suggest that once registered as a bandsman it was not easy to leave:
Returning home from the Boer War, where reports tell of the Band playing in the town square of Heidelberg, the 2nd Battalion remained in England until 1908, when it swapped overseas postings with the 1st. The senior Band immediately took up the round of public concerts that had been established by Mr Ancliffe and his successor, Mr MacDonald.
Elsewhere the 2nd Band under Mr MacDonald was visiting some of the major stations of the Empire: in Malta it played for both Edward VII and his nephew, the Kaiser, before proceeding to Tientsin in China and Quetta in India. The Bandmaster was noted both as a fine musician, accompanying concert items on the violin, and as a writer and producer of plays, such as a farce entitled 'Mixed Drinks'. His wife too was a keen performer and appeared at concerts through to the post-war period: a performance at Ranikhet in 1921 featured two songs from Mrs MacDonald and violin accompaniment by her husband.
During the war years, and for some time afterwards, the 4th and 5th also had bands, with Mr W J Tobin DCM serving as Bandmaster of the 4th. Under his baton the two bands massed in August 1929 for a visit by the Duke of York.
When war broke out again in 1939, the 1st Battalion was in India whilst the 2nd was in Gibraltar; consequently both bands continued to function for at least the first years, though the 2nd musicians were called upon to serve on regimental duties as well as to maintain morale in a tense situation.
1948 saw both the disbandment of the 2nd Battalion and - arguably - the most decisive turning-point in the decline of the British Empire: the withdrawal from India. The men of the 1st Somersets were the last British forces to leave the country: in an historic ceremony an Indian Guard of Honour gave a Royal Salute and played 'God Save the King', to which the SLI replied with its own Royal Salute as the Band struck up the Indian national anthem, 'Vande Mattaram'; the Somersets then marched away in slow time to the strains of 'Auld Lang Syne'.
1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry
arrive in Liverpool from India, 1948
Following service in Austria and Germany the Band found itself in Singapore. The standard and ambition of the men was seen in 1954 when bandsmen helped augment an orchestra conducted by Bandmaster Moore in a performance that included Grieg's Piano Concerto. The next posting was back home and to the depot to prepare for amalgamation with The Cornwall Light Infantry.
An inspection report of the 46th Foot in June 1769 mentions a 'Band of Music', but there is little other information on its early years. When the 32nd Foot introduced a band is unknown, but certainly by the Peninsular War there was a Band functioning. Mostly the men were required to serve in a medical capacity, though there were also occasional opportunities for music.
During the Second Sikh War of 1848 the Band of the 32nd attempted to repeat the performance of the 13th by playing 'Ye're O'er Long o' Coming' as a welcome to the soldiers of the Bombay Presidency army, who arrived too late to fight in the conflict, but was stopped on grounds of diplomacy: more orthodox martial airs were played instead.
The musicians of the 46th also served in conflict in the mid 19th century, in their case in the Crimea. The Band headed what was left of the Regiment as it marched into camp following the battle of Inkerman in November 1854.
In 1877 the two regiments took up quarters in Bodmin, with the men billeted for the most part with the local townspeople. Because of this arrangement, bugle calls were sounded through the day at street corners, though it was not long before problems arose. One morning the bugler overslept and reveille was not sounded in most parts of the town, with the result that many of the soldiers were allowed a lie-in; the Adjutant, however, had heard the call and refused to listen to any excuses, until it was discovered that the bugler for the day was billeted opposite the Adjutant's quarters, had sounded the call through his bedroom window and then gone back to bed.
Band of the 46th Foot, Gibraltar, c.1880
The band at the Bodmin depot was itself considered a fine ensemble and its best musicians doubled up with the Royal Marines Band at Plymouth: both Philip Elford and then William Ough played solo cornet for the Marines, despite being Cornwalls. The first meeting of the two battalions following the amalgamation of 1881 came at Malta five years later, where the 1st was stationed and through which the 2nd was passing en route for home.
The 2nd Battalion served in the Boer War, with the majority of the bandsmen taking their place in the ranks for the battle of Paardeberg, but the most distinguished service came during the Great War. On 20 November 1914 Bdsm Thomas Edward Rendle was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery near Wolverghem in attending to the wounded and rescuing men from blown-out trenches under enemy fire; most notably he crawled across open ground carrying a badly wounded officer on his back, despite being in full view of the Germans. His courage was matched only by his modesty: when asked for an interview by a local newspaper, he shrugged off the incident, saying 'there is really nothing in it.' At the end of the war, Mr Rendle returned to the Band, ending his career as the Band Sergeant of the 1st Battalion.
The 1st Battalion was to spend the inter-war years abroad: posted to India in 1922, it remained there until 1941. The Band found plenty of work, most of it seemingly at race-courses: during the 1929 season, for example, the men played at the Tollgunge Races, Calcutta Races, Darjeeling Races, Barrackpore Races, Calcutta Rowing Club, Empire Theatre, Begg Dunlop Hall, Agnus Mills and the Victoria Gardens, Darjeeling. The following February there was a break, with the Band and Bugles taking part in the Calcutta Tattoo.
The Band Sergeant of the time was John Bailey, later to become Bandmaster of The Sussex Regiment and Director of Music with the Gurkhas. Mr Gebbels himself left after ten years with the Regiment to take up the post of Director of Music to the Governor of Bombay. He was succeeded by Gerald Irwin, who remained with the Band until 1938 when he was commissioned into the Regiment as Quartermaster.
The 2nd Battalion meanwhile had appointed its most famous bandmaster in 1926 in the shape of Alfred Young. An outstanding musician, showman and performer, he was immediately at work organising regimental concerts. A report in the regimental journal, The One and All, on a variety concert he produced ('no better has ever been given in the Battalion') attempted to summarize his talents:
Another member of the Young family to participate in the musical activities was the Bandmaster's daughter Olive, who was later to become the resident vocalist with the Henry Hall Orchestra. Alf Young himself was to end up as Director of Music of the royal Engineers.
At the outbreak of war in 1939 the 1st Battalion was in Lahore. In November 1941 it moved to Iraq and then to the Western Desert, where it was effectively destroyed in the fighting at Gazala the next year. The band, however, had been separated from the Battalion and, under Mr Walden-Mills, had become the HQ Army Band, in which capacity it made tours of Kurdistan, Persia, Egypt, Palestine, the Lebanon, Africa, Trans-Jordan and the Sinai Desert. In April 1943 it embarked for Tripoli where it played for George VI, Generals Alexander and Montgomery and the victorious Eighth Army. The following February it played for a review of the 10th Armoured Division by General Maitland-Wilson, after which it returned home to Bodmin to refit. Several of the bandsmen then transferred to the 2nd Battalion, but a strong enough 1st Band survived to be sent to the Channel Islands to receive the German surrender in May 1945; it remained there to play again for the King on his visit to the islands in June.
The band that had been raised at the depot under Bandmaster Hands also saw overseas service towards the end of the war, going to join the troops in North-West Europe in August 1944; VE Day found the Band in Luneburg, playing four shows a day - it was at Luneburg, of course, that the German Army finally surrendered.
By October 1947 the demobilization programme had severely reduced both bands, and they combined in an unofficial amalgamation that prefigured the disbandment of the 2nd Battalion in 1948. With that change Mr Walden-Mills retired and Mr Hands took over the regimental Band. In November that year it accompanied the KSLI on public duties and the following March sailed to Mogadishu to join the 1st Battalion.
In 1951 the Regiment moved to Germany. Highlights for the Band over the next few years including an 'Outstanding' grade in a Kneller Hall inspection in 1953 and, to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the Light Brigade by Sir John Moore, massing with the other bands of the Division to sound retreat at Aldershot, RMA Sandhurst, Folkestone, Hythe, Maidstone and finally on Sir John Moore's Plain at Shorncliffe. After playing during the interval of the 'Devon and Cornwall' v 'All Blacks' rugby match, the Daily Press wrote that if the rugby could have equalled the precision and punch with which the Band performed, it would indeed have been an excellent match.
Peter Parkes became the Bandmaster early in 1954 and shortly afterwards the Battalion was posted to the West Indies. Despite many being sick on board ship, the Band played on deck during the voyage. Whilst in the West Indies it played for such distinguished visitors to the islands as President Adenauer, John Foster Dulles and Princess Margaret as well as at a Government House Dinner attended by President Eisenhauer, Mr Foster Dulles, Harold MacMillan and Selwyn Lloyd.
A return to Germany saw the Band broadcast on 15 November 1957 to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Lucknow. Two years later the Regiment faced another amalgamation.
Band & Bugles, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
on board HMS Triumph, Jamaica, 1955
The two regiments officially amalgamated on 6 October 1959, with Mr Peter Parkes becoming the Bandmaster of the new unit. At a time when many bands were taking the easy option and focusing on light music, even venturing into pop, Mr Parkes had a reputation for upholding the classical repertoire of the military band.
The Band took part in the 10th Anniversary Celebrations of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe on 6 April 1961, near Paris; the ceremony took the form of a symbolic lowering and raising of the flags of the NATO nations, followed by a review of military detachments representing the fifteen countries of the Alliance.
The title of The Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry was changed in July 1968 to the 1st Battalion, The Light Infantry when the four regiments comprising the Light Infantry Brigade became one large regiment.
The Vesting Parade to celebrate the birth of the new Regiment was held by the 1st Battalion at Gravesend on 6 July 1968.
The Band continued mostly unaffected by the change. In its ranks was David Marshall, who had enlisted in 1960 and who left in the early '70s to attend the bandmasters course at Kneller Hall; in his final year there he won a total of eight prizes including the medal for best all-round student, a haul that indicated the great future that awaited him, first at the Worcester & Sherwood Foresters and then in the Coldstream Guards.
The last Bandmaster in the history of what had been The Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry was Mr K W Napier, appointed in 1974. Under his baton the Band played at such major events as the massed bands display for the Armex '75 show in Harrogate, the Hong Kong Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977 with the Brigade of Gurkhas and the Hong Kong Police Band, and a one-day Services Spectacular at Wilton House, Salisbury in 1978.
The History of British Military Bands,
Volume Three: Infantry & Irish