Rifle Brigade - 3RGJ

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The Rifle Brigade

The 95th Foot was raised in 1800 at a time when the concept of light infantry was first being explored by the British Army, and so great was its contribution to the Peninsular War that on the Duke of Wellington's recommendation it was taken out of the numbering system altogether shortly after the defeat of Napoleon.

There were bugles present from the inception and Major George Simmons of the 95th mentions in one of his letters from the Peninsula the presence of a Band:

Our men are in very high spirits and we have a most excellent band of music and thirty bugle horns which, through every country village, striked up the old tune 'Over the hills and far away'.

A later entry in Major Simmons' diary describes the crossing of the Ebro in June 1813:

Our Band struck up 'The Downfall of Paris'; we were amused at their wit on this occasion, and we had it followed by a National tune or two to remind us of Old England and absent friends.

There is also mention of music playing during the fighting to take Nive.

The first recorded bandmaster with the Regiment was William Miller, born in the year of Waterloo and the son of a soldier in The Rifle Brigade. He joined the 1st Battalion in March 1828 and became the duty bugler in the Band, which then numbered fifteen musicians led by a Sergeant. It was from this time that his nickname, Billy the Bugler, dated - it was to remain with him throughout his service career.

Mr Miller joined the Battalion whilst it was stationed in North America and was promoted to Bandmaster in 1842 when in Malta. There followed a brief stay in Corfu - where he was presented with the Greek diploma of Licentiate of Music - but thereafter the Battalion became embroiled in two wars in South Africa in the space of just seven years, leaving the bandsmen with little opportunity to play music. Perhaps as a consequence of this experience, Mr Miller began to reconsider his position and in 1854, having returned to England, he purchased his discharge from the Army and was immediately hired by the officers as a civilian bandmaster.

This did not mean, however, that Mr Miller shirked his duty in any way. The same year he accompanied the Battalion to Bulgaria and then proceeded to the Crimea, where the 2nd Battalion Band also saw service. The bandsmen were used in the conflict as stretcher-bearers, being turned - according to a contemporary writer - into 'beasts of burden, human ambulances.' The task was made more difficult by the need to carry the wounded to the rear of the line, a distance of over a mile, and was fraught with danger: the 1st Battalion Band had been 45-strong when it arrived in the Crimea - within a year it had been reduced to just sixteen men. In response to this urgent situation Mr Miller was sent home to form a new band, whilst Bugle-Major Peachey took over responsibility for what remained of the Band and Bugles.

When the Battalion returned there were twelve bandsmen and a few buglers left, but they were met by Mr Miller and a new 40-strong Band; when the two forces merged, there was a Band to rival any other in the Army. A photograph taken in Ottawa in 1868 shows Mr Miller and a band of 50 musicians, including Bandboys Holland and Peachey (see below). Writing to Major Verner some years later, William Miller could boast that: 'My turn with the 1st Battalion was from '28 to '80, that was 52 years' service; never away from the green jackets, at home or abroad.'

The Rifle Brigade has always valued its musicians, both bandsmen and buglers, very highly and the regimental journal is one of the few that regularly published the names of the Bandmasters and Bugle-Majors. In 1891, for example, these posts were held by: 1st Bn - BM Peachey, Bgl-Maj McAllister; 2nd Bn - BM Connor, BSgt McGarry, Bgl-Maj Redman; 3rd Bn - BM Richardson, Bug-Maj Keene; 4th Bn - BM Quinn, Bgl-Maj Selston.

The Regiment also prided itself on its family traditions, and of these Bugle-Majors McAllister and Redman were sons of ex-riflemen whilst nine of the 4th Battalion bandsmen had fathers in the Regiment. Most impressive of all were the Peacheys. David Peachey, himself the son of a rifleman, had enlisted into the 1st in 1838 at the age of thirteen, and risen to be Bugle-Major, serving in South Africa and the Crimea alongside his great friend, William Miller. When Mr Miller finally retired, Mr Peachey's son, William, who had joined the Band in 1864, took over and served as Bandmaster for 22 years. Continuing the tradition, two of Bandmaster Peachey's sons also joined the Battalion; meanwhile three of Bandmaster Richardson's sons joined the 3rd Battalion, two of them becoming bandsmen.

Mr Connor of the 2nd Battalion may have lacked these familial ties, but he was undoubtedly a successful bandmaster, and under his command the string band, which had been formed whilst stationed at the Curragh in 1885, made great leaps forward and became capable of playing in public. A photograph dated 1894 shows a string section of sixteen violins, three violas, four cellos, three basses and two harps augmented by the usual woodwind and brass. (Mr Connor was to end his career at Sandhurst.)

The 1st Battalion was in India at the time, pursuing less elevated enterprises: a production of 'Fra Diavolo' featured Bugle-Major McAllister (playing his part 'with great humour', according to the regimental journal), whilst his thespian talent was again evident at Christmas 1890 in a performance as Widow Twankey in a version of 'Aladdin'.

Mr Peachey retired in 1902 and was succeeded as Bandmaster of the 1st by Charles Barry, who had initially been appointed to the 4th Battalion but served only six months there. One of the few accounts of his time comes from the unpublished diary of Serjeant Shawyer, Wanderings of a Windjammer, which records a newly enlisted bandboy's impressions and which depicts Mr Barry in an unflattering light:

Band Sergeant Dimond was a clarinetist, and what a performer! I still think he was the best I have heard in the Army, and I have heard a few. The sounds that came from my instrument were awful when compared with other and more skilled performers, but gradually this also improved.

Unfortunately I found that I had bound myself to a man, who, as Bandmaster, was to dominate my life for quite a long time to come. To my mind, he was nothing less than a criminal brute to Band Boys. He had one method of instruction only: bash it into them.
His name was Mr Chas H Barry.

With the coming of war, Mr Shawyer and most of the other bandsmen were mustered into the ranks as fighting soldiers or as stretcher-bearers. Amongst the fatalities was a trombonist, Percy Merritt, who had earlier won the Young Soldiers Cup for shooting, whilst Mr Shawyer himself was also a casualty, being wounded twice in December 1914 and October 1917.

When the Band regrouped at the end of hostilities, it was much weakened, though by 1919 it was deemed good enough to play at the Chelsea Flower Show. Band Sergeant Dennis was one of at least two men in the Band to have a Military Medal, awarded for his courage in the conflict.

In 1920 Sgt Shawyer had the pleasure of seeing his enemy, Bandmaster Barry, retire, but an extract from his diary - the Battalion was then in Mesopotamia - suggests that there were still those in the Regiment who had not quite grasped the subtleties of military music:

Change of routine when the Band headed the Battalion on a route march for two hours. I spent most of the journey, in between playing marches, trying to explain to CSM Tom Selway MC DCM, why it is that I, a six foot man, plays a small instrument like a clarinet, whilst Bandsman Brown, several inches shorter, plays a huge brass bass. I doubt if I succeeded in convincing the CSM who forwarded a policy of the biggest men playing the heaviest and largest instrument, in which case I should be the bass drummer.

In 1922 the 3rd and 4th Battalion were disbanded and many of the musicians absorbed into the remaining two bands.

Having spent fourteen years abroad, in India and the Sudan, the 1st Battalion returned home in 1934, whilst the 2nd moved to Malta, before transferring to India and Palestine as the decade came to an end. Through the war years it served in the Middle East and North Africa.

In 1945 Oliver Birkin was appointed bandmaster of the 2nd Battalion, though with the disbandment of 1948 he moved, together with the majority of his Band, to the 1st where he continued until 1952 and his commission into the REME.

Dance Band, 1st Bn, Rifle Brigade, c.1932


3rd Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets

The 1958 re-designation made very little difference to the operations of the Regiment, and David Snowden remained as Bandmaster, serving through to 1964, when he moved to Sandhurst, ultimately to follow Oliver Birkin into the REME.

His successor was Bernard Skelton, during whose time the Band spent some time in the Far East in Malaya and Singapore, including a trip to Japan in 1966 alongside a Royal Marines band. It was he too who took the Band through the next change in title - a change that began to erode the regimental traditions of the old 95th. Amongst the modifications was the standardization of plumes through the Regiment in 1968 - previously the bandsmen of the various battalions had worn different colour plumes in celebration of the regimental histories.

At one stage it seemed as though this erosion was to become permanent, with an order in 1971 that the Battalion was to be reduced to company strength prior to disbandment. The 3rd was then in Cyprus and Bandmaster Jack Mutlow retired on its return. Less than a year later, however, the 3rd Battalion was re-formed and Jack Leeming, a young but extremely talented musician, was given the task of creating the Band again. Some of the original bandsmen returned, others transferred from outside the Division and soon the Band was again appearing in public. A debut performance at the officers' mess with nine musicians in March 1972 developed into a stint on public duties at Buckingham Palace the following year, and a performance at Hampton Court Palace for a dinner in honour of the Chinese foreign minister, Chi Peng Fei.

Mr Leeming also accompanied the Band on a three-month Caribbean tour on board HMS Bulwark in 1976, before moving on the next year. Subsequent bandmasters were John Seddon and Ian Harding.

When the 1984 cuts necessitated the restructuring of the Green Jackets' Bands, Mr Harding was appointed to The Peninsula Band.


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