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The Band of The Irish Guards

The Irish Regiment of Foot Guards was raised by Army Order 77, 1900 'to commemorate the bravery shown by the Irish regiments in the recent operations in South Africa'. Mr Charles Hassell, then Bandmaster of the 4th Battalion, The King's Royal Rifle Corps, was appointed to form a band for the new regiment.

Following the example of the established Guards bands, it was not long before the Band of the Irish Guards was undertaking overseas trips, visiting Canada in 1906 and again in 1913 to perform at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto. It also took part in the opening ceremony of the 1st Dominion Fair, on the west coast in British Columbia.

During the Great War, the Band was attached to the Guards Division and made tours of France in 1916, 1917 and 1918. Whilst stationed in Arras in 1918, it had the honour of being invited by the Italian Government to pay a visit to Rome where it was received by Her Majesty, Queen Elenor. It also performed in Italy with the massed bands of the Brigade of Guards.

Amongst other distinctions, the Irish Guards Band is the only band in the British army to have taken part in three Victory Parades at the end of the War, in Paris, London and Belfast.

Mr Hassell was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 1 March 1919 and retired in the rank of Captain in 1929. He was succeeded by Lieutenant (later Major) James Hurd and then in 1938 by Lieutenant George Willcocks.

'Polly' Willcocks, as he was known throughout the musical world, was a talented musician and a stylish conductor. He was also a military musician who between the years 1915 and 1921 had seen service in France, Germany, Iraq, Persia, India and Italy. In October 1943 the full band of over 60 musicians toured various theatres of war to entertain the troops, returning in the spring of 1944. During the tour, which extended to Italy and South Africa, the Band travelled 13,000 miles and gave more than 300 concerts, playing to over 150,000 troops. There followed a tour of Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Major Willcocks left the Irish Guards in April 1949, initially to take up a civilian post in Southern Rhodesia, though he was later to return to Britain to become director of music to the Ford Motor Works Company. He was relieved by Lieutenant Cecil Jaeger who, at the age of 35, was the youngest director of music that the Guards had ever had.

'Jiggs' Jaeger was one of the great characters in army music, known for being both a witty raconteur and a skilled musician. As a young bandmaster with the 4th Hussars in Vienna at the end of the war, his talent had been acknowledged in an invitation to conduct the Vienna Symphony Orchestra for a series of five concerts.

In 1954 the Band visited Canada once more to play at the National Exhibition, and the tour was extended to include several cities in New England. Amongst the most prestigious concerts was one in the Boston Symphony Hall, where the Band was given a standing ovation on its debut. Between August and December 1957 the Band, accompanied by the pipes and drums of the 1st Battalion, travelled some 35,000 miles by air, visiting Canada, the United States, Honolulu and Australia.

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Irish Guards c.1921

One of the Band's greatest successes internationally was a ten-day visit to Turin to play for the Italia 1961 celebrations. At the International Military Band Week, it faced competition from some of the finest bands of the world, including the Garde Republicaine from France, the Carabinieri of Italy, the Belgium Guides, the Swedish Life Guards and the American No 4 Army Field Band. The Irish Guards was one of the smallest of these bands, at just one third of the size of the world-renowned Garde Republicaine, but it was the Irish who stole the show.

Together with the pipes and drums of The Royal Scots, they flew to Beunos Aires in November 1963 for a month's tour of South America, visiting Argentina, Uraguay and Chile. No fewer than 130,000 people, including the President of the Republic of Chile, attended the two concerts given in the World Cup Stadium, Santiago.

Back home the Band responded to the changing cultural climate of the '60s with the classic Marching With The Beatles album, for which Lennon and McCartney's songs were arranged by Arthur Wilkinson. It also appeared in two of the most successful British films of the decade: The Ipcress File, in which 'Jiggs' can be seen announcing the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Oh What A Lovely War, in which he appeared complete with false moustache.

In 1963 Jaeger was appointed Senior Director of Music, the Household Division, and was later responsible for the music arrangements at the State Funeral of Winston Churchill.

After a tour of Canada in 1968, he relinquished the reins and took a sabbatical period prior to taking up the appointment as director of music, Kneller Hall. In June 1969, in a typically high profile engagement, he conducted the trumpeters from a lofty perch on one of the towers at Caernavon Castle at the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales. In September the following year, he conducted the Bands of the Grenadier and Welsh Guards, together with the antiphonal trumpeters in the music of the Investiture in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle as part of the Windsor Festival. It was his last performance: the next day he died at his home in Whitton. His ashes were placed behind a memorial plaque in the chapel at Kneller Hall.

To choose a replacement for 'Jiggs', who had been with the Irish Guards for 21 years, was an unenviable task but the selection of Gerry Horabin was excellent. Captain Horabin was without doubt one of the finest natural musicians to have graduated at Kneller Hall since the War and was also an extremely charismatic character. Within a short time he had put his own stamp on the Band.

Captain Horabin was promoted to Major on 17 March 1972 (St Patrick's Day) and appointed senior director of music, The Household Division on 12 November 1974. He retired prematurely in 1977 due to ill-health.

The new director of music, Captain Michael Lane was a gifted musician playing violin, French horn, piano and organ. He was also a great teller of jokes and there was an endless stream of Irish stories at his concerts. A devout Christian, he was reputed to know every hymn and tune in the Ancient and Modern Hymnal. He was appointed senior director of music, the Household Division in 1987 and promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel.

It was not to be a long incumbency; whilst visiting Kneller Hall on 19 September 1989, he suffered a heart attack, went into a coma and died at the Cambridge Military Hospital on 7 November.

With the untimely death of Colonel Mick Lane, Captain Michael Henderson was transferred from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps to become the Band's seventh director of music.

adapted from
The History of British Military Bands,
Volume Two: Guards & Infantry

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Bandmasters & Directors of Music of The Irish Guards
Band Histories