The Shiny Sheffield - A Home Fleet Commission
1951 to 1953 by Frank Coleman
Frank Coleman (roll over mouse)
We were playing for Colours on the morning of February 6th at Willemstad, Curacao when the news of the King's death was received. As the Ship was in the middle of an oil refinery, we did not fire a salute, but sailed for a month's period of mourning off an isolated anchorage in Jamaica. (I believe that this was Black River or was it Pigeon Island of St. Lucia?) We did one job ashore during this time - a Cocktail Party and dance given by the Wardroom for the locals at a sugar refinery. At the end of the engagement the band were to return to the ship in two parties, the second party being the Dance Band. The weather was atrocious and we were very grateful that the Midshipman in charge gave way to the Leading Seaman to get the Pinnace back to the ship. Later a harbour launch was used to return the remainder, as it was obvious, that the ship's boats would be swamped.
When the Dance Band finished they were taken back to the jetty, and then were obliged to await the guests and, having had a rather poor evening themselves, were not in a very good frame of mind.
We can only surmise that the high winds of that evening made people lurch on the jetty as when the Major (noted also for the size of his hat) staggered in view, someone shouted, "Hurry up, you big headed B******"
Bert S one of the backbone of the band found himself on report, accused of making this remark, (in the band's estimation, hardly defamatory) It appeared that the Major would be judge and jury, but Bert was remanded for Captain's Report by him.
This is where the band's prowess as a T.S. Crew assisted. Bert was the telephone number in the T.S. and had a reputation for efficiency. The Lieutenant Gunner in charge of the T.S. (Daddy Winn) told Bert that Lieutenant Commander Lauder who had legal experience was willing to defend him at the Captain's Table. The net result was that Bert was found not guilty.
I note that as the ship was in mourning that parties were not allowed on the ship, so I presume that it was quite in order to use the band ashore!
During this period, a detachment of Royal Marines under the Lieutenant were sent to the Falklands as at the time the President of Argentina was sabre rattling. They were eventually replaced from U.K. so the original detachment on the Falklands was from the Sheffield.
After returning to Bermuda, the band and some of the detachment had a few pleasant days ashore at Warwick Camp, where the band served in the rifle butts and relaxed on one of the best beaches in Bermuda.
An east coast of Canada cruise was next on the programme, and the ship arrived at Halifax during the first week of May. (I had the cable telling me that my daughter was born on May 12th) We sailed to Montreal on May 13th and then returned to Bermuda.
After a short re-victualling spell in Bermuda, we sailed for the west coast of the United States via the Panama Canal. The cruise was to start at Panama City, thence to Acapulco in Mexico, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria and Comox on Vancouver Island, back to Portland Oregon, Long Beach, San Diego and Bilbao on the Pacific end of the Panama Canal.
The Major of Marines then came into his own. Wanting to ensure that everything would be "spot on" for the beat retreat that would be the climax of the numerous cocktail parties being held on the ship at each port of call, he instructed the bandmaster to muster the band in the cinema (this was the old aircraft hangar).
A summary of the conversation between the Major and the Bandmaster.
Major - "Bandmaster, when we visit the west coast ports of the USA the band will be required to "beat retreat" at night, in the dark, and therefore they should know the music off by heart".
Bandmaster - "I have every confidence that the band know the music, and without parts"
Major - We will play the music in the cinema, with the deadlights (blackouts) down in order that they will be unable to see their parts.
Bandmaster - Surely it would be easier to take the music off the band!"
Incidentally the Major appeared to be baffled as to why the trombone slides did not move together.
the Major knew that there would be no problem regarding the band knowing
the music, he realized that it would be very unprofessional that they
would appear as to not be reading from march cards.
The Major being "in charge" liked to start the display by making a signal with a torch from the after gangway to the band who were fallen in on the jetty by the forward gangway.
The band being very cooperative and obviously always wanting to make a success of the event would acknowledge the Major's communication by signaling back, and as some of them knew Morse, the replies were unrepeatable.
We commenced the Ceremony by marching on playing the march "Standard of St. George". It was noticeable that during the short counter melody (from Home Sweet Home) a second counter melody "Ilkley Moor Bah Tat" played by an Alto Sax (could be heard, or at times the first eight bars of Tannenbaum.
After arriving at Acapulco, the band with a Naval Guard traveled overnight by road to Mexico City, being supplied with adequate sustenance for the trip by the British community. I had every sympathy for the occupant of a roadside refreshment stall who awoke to the sound of water raining on the outside of his hut, when the bus stopped for a "comfort stop".
We were accommodated in a Mexican Army Barracks. One or two of the party did have a reaction to the combined food plus altitude sickness and the trip from Acapulco. I hope that the Independence Archway did not suffer any permanent damage from these reactions.
From Mexico we carried on to San Francisco and the start of American hospitality. We had to pack our bags and be the guests of the U.S. Marine Band based at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay for a trip to Santa Rosa for the Orange County Fair. Santa Rosa is about 80 miles north of San Francisco, so we were accommodated at a U.S. Naval Air Station where we were well looked after.
Whilst waiting around, one of the U.S. 5th Army Band asked after me. I had met him 4 years previously when he was serving in the U.S. Naval Band on the U.S. cruiser "Helena" in Shanghai. Another coincidence starting on this occasion was that "J.M." met for the first time U.S. Marine Bandsmen who he later bumped into at two other times elsewhere. From San Francisco we continued the cruise up the west coast to Seattle, Vancouver, Esquimalt (Victoria), where we met up with Jim Bateman (ex RMB) who was serving with the R.C.N. Band based there, he organized a "smoker" for the two bands in their fleet canteen. Then on to Comox (Vancouver Island) and Vancouver. Returning we called at Portland Oregon, Long Beach and San Diego en route to Bilbao, on the Pacific side of the canal.
At every place we visited in the USA and Canada we were made very welcome. As soon as the gangways were down, the messages were being transmitted over the speakers offering hospitality. Usually the hosts were ex-pat's who would ask for guests from their hometowns. I spent a very pleasant weekend with an ex U.S. Airman who had been stationed in Northamptonshire and married a local girl from my hometown. The British Legion were very strong and I was referred from one ex "townie" in Oakland, California and to another who was the barber at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, Vancouver Island. Earlier at Halifax, enough fresh salmon was sent to our ship to provide a meal. This happened again at Vancouver, where incidentally the skipper was made honorary Chief of an Indian tribe.