The Light Division
The Light Infantry
The Light Infantry
The Light Infantry
Neither the 53rd nor the 85th has any early records of bands, even the Inspection Reports of the late 18th century failing to make any reference to music. It is probable that at least the 53rd had some kind of band by the Napoleonic era, though the 85th - who could boast of having been the very first light infantry regiment raised in Britain - may well have relied exclusively on fifes, and later on bugles, for some time. During the long war with France the 53rd raised a second battalion, which had the honour during its brief existence of forming part of the guard on St Helena when the former Emperor was exiled after Waterloo; regrettably it is not known whether it had any music with which to entertain the great man.
Presumably the 53rd's Band accompanied the Regiment on its overseas postings; certainly it was present during the Indian Mutiny, for the diary has survived of Lance Sergeant M Devery of the Band (later to become Bandmaster of the 3rd Dragoon Guards). There is little indication of music during the Mutiny, and L/Sgt Devery's description of an encounter with the rebels at Toolsepore in December 1858 suggests that the bandsmen were directly involved in the action, only finding time to play when the shooting had stopped:
There were still occasions, however, for peaceful pursuits; on 19 January 1859 'Lord Carr came in and the band played at Mess', whilst on 8 February: 'The officers performed "All the World's a Stage" and "Miss in her Teens". Mr Rolls sang "Billie Barlow" and "Rueben Wright".' It is likely that members of the Band accompanied these renditions and it seems that they proved satisfactory, judging from the entry a week later: 'Col Payne and Mr Rolls went away. The latter gave me a bottle of Burgundy.'
The Army's fondness for alcohol whilst in India is a recurrent theme of writings in the 19th century, and in this context it is worth noting L/Sgt Devery's entry for 17 February 1859: 'When the drummers beated Tattoo the regiment was nearly all drunk . . . a Frenchman came in with brandy.'
More respectful behaviour was observed in 1877 when the Duke of Connaught presented new colours to the Regiment at Parsonstown; it is reported that the Band sang the appropriate hymn 'Brightly Gleams our Banner' on parade.
The first bandmasters known to have served with the two regiments are both Kneller Hall graduates: J Murphy with the 53rd and D Connor with the 85th. A photograph taken of the latter in Meerut in 1872 shows him with a Band of 24, together with four boys. Between them, Mr Connor and his successor, J Forest, led what became the 2nd Battalion, The King's Shropshire Light Infantry for 33 years, presiding over a period of great stability. The next incumbent was less fortunate; E P Edwards took over in September 1899, just months before the Boer War forced an emergency posting to South Africa and the transferral of musicians to the ranks.
Though the 1st Battalion escaped this conflict, it too had difficult overseas postings, particularly in Hong Kong in 1893-94 where there was an outbreak of bubonic plague. Much more welcome was a home stationing in the early years of the new century, where in 1909 the Battalion spent a month on public duties in London. On their being greeted at the railway station by the Band of the Grenadier Guards, it was agreed that the two bands would play alternately on the march to the barracks; when the Shropshires struck up at their characteristic 135 paces to the minute, however, it is reported that the Guards were deeply shocked and never got the chance to play, having instead to concentrate on running to keep up.
The Great War brought the usual disruption to both battalions, and even the Armistice provided no immediate security for the 1st; A J Wilson, who had been Bandmaster since 1912, left in 1919 and A W Woodham took over just in time to accompany the Battalion on an overseas posting that was to last for nearly two decades.
Most of this time was spent in India in a variety of stations, including Poona, which was described in the regimental journal as being 'from a band point of view probably the best in India'; there were plenty of opportunities for playing with no need for travelling. Amongst its engagements were an appearance at the Calcutta Military Tattoo in 1927 and performances in 1934 in Delhi for the Viceroy. In addition to the military band, a string orchestra and an eight-man dance band were also much in demand.
The 2nd Band meanwhile was enjoying the benefits of being at home during the glory years of military music. Despite the Battalion spending the middle years of the '20s in Cologne (where Bandmaster Burnell was the last to conduct the National Anthem before the withdrawal of British forces in 1926), the Band played the regular round of paid civilian engagements as well as appearing at both the 1924 and 1925 Empire Exhibitions at Wembley. In 1935 it made its first broadcast, whilst three years later it was at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition and playing at the Services Display at Ibrox stadium.
Mr Burnell retired in 1931 after 41 years service, but the Battalion was fortunate enough to secure the appointment of F W Dennet, a colourful and experienced individual who was to take the Band through the war years. Mr Dennet was a veteran of the Great War - when he had been in the 4th Dragoon Guards - and of the Irish Civil War; during the latter he had on one occasion been set upon by rebels, suffering serious head injuries and having the money he had won on Loch Lomond in the Irish Derby stolen from him. His credentials also included having been chosen as the Trumpeter to the Prince of Wales on the latter's visit to India in 1921, and having been a member of the All India (Army) Championship cricket team.
In 1939 the 2nd Battalion was sent to the West Indies, where the Band was stationed on Bermuda. Throughout the regimental journal of the period there is a certain amused curiosity at the American culture that dominated the colony; what, for example, did a local newspaper mean exactly when it described a concert as having presented 'a peach of a programme - snappy, sparkling, lilting and beautifully rendered'?
With the outbreak of war and the fall of the Netherlands in 1940, the 2nd Battalion was kept in the West Indies, protecting the Dutch oil refineries. When the United States entered the war, these guard duties were taken over by US troops and the Battalion, together with the band, made a public relations tour of America, including a memorable appearance in New York.
Mr Dennet's influence was still discernible after the cessation of hostilities. He had led the wartime Band, and even when the two battalions merged in 1948 and he retired, it was his arrangement of the regimental march that was played on the amalgamation parade.
The '50s were spent not only on the normal postings in the UK and Germany, but also further afield. In 1949 the Battalion was sent to Hong Kong, where the Band found regular bookings and broadcasts, and later had an involvement in the Korean War; though the Band was not on active service it did tour both Korea and Japan. In 1955 it moved to Kenya where Band operations were temporarily hampered when a transport lorry crashed off the road into a stream; instruments were damaged and music destroyed, but some replacements were obtained from the 23rd King's African Rifles, and normal service was resumed. A massed band display in Nairobi's African Stadium saw the men link up with their benefactors and with the 3rd KAR (from Tanganyika) and the 7th KAR (from Uganda).
In 1957 Richard Ridings was appointed Bandmaster, later to become Lt-Col Ridings of the Coldstream Guards. His greatest innovation came in the early '60s when, inspired by an American band's performance, he developed a unique marching display: to the sounds of 'The Charleston' and 'Tiger Rag', the bandsmen executed a perfectly rehearsed dance routine that owed more to show business than to orthodox military traditions. The performance was a huge success with the majority of its audiences and was even broadcast on ITV, but despite Mr Ridings' argument that 'An Army must always move with the times', it was decreed that this was a step too far and the routine was abandoned before other bands could take up the challenge.
The last couple of years of the Shropshires were again spent in far-away lands. Posted to Singapore in 1966 (where Bdsm Farahar won a judo black belt), the Band and Bugles enjoyed a two-month tour of Australia before the Regiment was subsumed into the new Light Infantry.
2nd Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, c.1898
Stuart James had been appointed Bandmaster of the Shropshire Light Infantry in 1967, and it was under his baton that the Band beat retreat in Terendak in July 1968 to herald the new incarnation of the Regiment. As a student at Kneller Hall, Mr James had been School Band Sergeant Major and it was thus entirely appropriate that his first role when he left the 3rd Light Infantry in 1974 should be to return as School Bandmaster.
His replacement was Michael Evans, who was to take the Band through the next seven years, until he was succeeded by Bandmaster Michael Lever. Amongst the latter's tasks was the welcoming of ships back from the Falklands in 1982, including the frigate Brilliant. In 1984 Mr Lever took over the newly formed Corunna Band.
The History of British Military Bands,
Volume Three: Infantry & Irish