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The Band of The Welsh Guards

The Welsh Guards are the youngest of the foot guards, being raised in 1915. On 8 September of that year, Mr Andrew Harris, of the Royal Artillery (Gibraltar) was appointed to be the first bandmaster, and in November the band itself was formed. The regimental history tells us that the funds to buy the instruments were provided by the City of Cardiff.

With the prospect of having to live up to the high standards set by the existing guards bands, the Welsh Guards faced a tough challenge. Their first appearances on 1 March 1916, St David's Day, however, dispelled any doubts that may have been harboured; a guard mounting at Buckingham Palace followed by a performance at a Welsh Patriotic Meeting at the London Opera House with Lord Harlech and Major-General Sir Francis Lloyd in attendance, demonstrated clearly the musical quality of the new band.

Coming together in the midst of The Great War, it was not long before the bandsmen were sent overseas. On 28 October 1916 they proceeded to France for duty with the Guards Division, meeting the 1st Battalion, then returning from the front line, a few weeks later and playing the guardsmen back to their billets.

In May 1917 the Band, resplendent in full dress, formed part of the massed bands of the Brigade of Guards which gave concerts at the Trocadero and the Tuileries Gardens, Paris. Later the massed bands visited Italy performing in Rome and Milan; during the tour, each musician was presented with a silver cigarette case by Queen Elenor. In May 1918, at the request of the American Embassy, the Band played at the Memorial Service in Paris, and in July 1919 it took part in the great Victory March in Paris, where it had the honour of playing the Colours of the British Army through the Arc de Triomphe.

Bandmaster Harris was commissioned as Lieutenant on 1 March 1919, and went on to become senior Director of Music, Brigade of Guards, finally retiring in the rank of major at the end of 1937. At his final appearance at the Albert Hall for the Festival of Remembrance, he was able to tell the audience that he would be sitting with them the following year as an old comrade having completed fifty years service. His legacy is a fine series of recordings, eighteen of which, dating from 1929-34, have recently been reissued on compact disc.

Major Harris was succeeded by Lieutenant 'Tommy' Chandler who was to stay with the Welsh for eleven years, retiring in the rank of Major and as senior director of music of the Brigade. In the spring of 1945 the Band made a short tour of Europe playing at the Paris Opera House and the Cirque Royale in Brussels amongst other venues. The same year saw the last parade of the Guards Armoured Division, for which the Band of the Welsh joined the Band of the Scots Guards.

The next director of music was Leslie Statham, renowned as a composer both under his own name and also under the pen name of Arnold Steck. One of his more popular marches is 'Drum Majorette', the original signature tune to the BBC's Match of the Day. In September 1948, the Band visited Canada to play at the National Exhibition in Toronto. It was estimated that the Band's 127 concerts were attended by nearly one and a half million people and during the course of the engagement the Band played 1174 programme items. The Band made a further visit to the Canadian National Exhibition following the Coronation in 1953. These trips were something of a return engagement for Major Statham, who had been featured as a solo pianist when the Kneller Hall Band had visited Canada in 1931.

Major Statham retired from the service in 1962 to concentrate on a career as a composer and arranger.

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In 1965, the Band under Captain Arthur Kenney appeared at the British Week in Milan and two years later, together with the Pipes, Drums and Dancers of the Scots Guards, they visited America where they presented a Military Tattoo which included the Ceremony of the Keys, as performed nightly at the Tower of London.

In July 1969 the Band played a prominent part in the celebrations connected with the Investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales. This was one of Major Kenney's last important engagements, for he resigned his commission in October of that year in order to devote more time to his interests in the world of civilian music.

Major Desmond Walker took over, but less than five years later, he died suddenly at the age of 50, a few weeks before the Band was to embark on a three months tour of the Canada and America. Both he and the Band were at the pinnacle of success with recording contracts, frequent broadcasts and appearances at many major sporting events. He was due to appear at the Royal International Horse of the Year Show at Wembley when it was announced that he had died.

Captain Derek Taylor was quickly appointed director of music and he took the Band on the American tour. Accompanied by the pipes and drums of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders they played in 73 principal towns and cities. A review in the Washington Star-News commented:

The Welsh Guards have an unusually creamy, velvety sound when they play legato and a bright crisp sound when they are war-like . . .

And the pipes and drums were also greatly appreciated, the Montreal Star reporting that 'The pipes were magnificent, and the lone piper's 'Sleep Dearie Sleep' awed with its tenderness.'

The Band visited Houston, Texas in three successive years from 1984.

Captain Peter Hannam took over the leadership of the Band in January 1986, and maintained the international connexions. In 1988 five overseas trips were undertaken: to Seattle for the retirement dinner of the chairman of the Boeing Corporation, to Sydney, Australia for the Boeings' Bicentennial Air Show, to Japan for an International Tattoo, to Paris as the first British contingent to take part in the Armistice Day Parade, and finally to Georgia in the United States. They also appeared that year for the first time at the Royal Tournament.

In 1989 they visited Houston, Texas yet again. Included in the itinerary was a concert with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

In 1990 Peter Hannam became the first director of music in the Welsh Guards to be promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. He also holds the distinction of having been awarded the BEM as a corporal in the Band of The Gloucestershire Regiment whilst on active service in Cyprus 1964-65, adding the MBE to his honours in 1992. At the time of his retirement in 1993, he was the last remaining national serviceman still serving in army music.

Major Cliff Ross was with the Band for less than two years before being chosen to become the Principal Director of Music (Army) and moving to the newly constituted Headquarters Army Music, based at Kneller Hall. He was succeeded by Major Stuart Watts, previously director of music of the Grenadier Guards, and subsequently by Captain Philip Shannon from the Prince of Wales's Division (Clive).

Welsh Guards
The Welsh Guards
Coleraine, 1992

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

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The Bandmasters & Directors of Music of The Welsh Guards
Trooping the Colour 1998
Band Histories