Twenty Six drafts in Twenty Eight months
Compiled by Frank Coleman with lots of reminders from Mag Hadley
Frank Coleman (roll over mouse)
One of the first drafts to leave Burford in 1946 was the new Flag Band for the Far East, (B.P.F.) with W.O. (later commissioned) "Windy" Gale I/c. Besides Mr. Gale, the band comprised B.M. 2nd Class Payne, Bd/Cpl. "Dolly" Gray, 14 ex Howstrake Lads, (6 of 82 Squad) and 8 "old soldiers".
After two draft leaves we left Pompey on H.M.S. Indomitable on July 17th to Colombo, rail to Trincomalee, and passage on H.M.S. Hogue to Hong Kong, arriving September 1st. We were glad to leave H.M.S. Gould the transit camp at Colombo, with its primitive facilities (the only way to use the "Thunder Boxes", was to stand on the seat to avoid the scorpions lurking below waiting to sting a certain part of the anatomy). With no mosquito nets the only way to protect one from acid spiders was to sweat, wrapped up in a blanket at night.
Fortunately R.M. Camp 39 at Trinco' had that day moved to the wrennery (H.M.S. Highflyer?) No Wrens! En route to HK the ship ran into a typhoon, and then towed a broken down freighter (Hwa Lee) into port. (Not being on the ship's books we lost out on salvage)
For the next seven weeks we were based at H.M.S. Tamar, and toured the R.M. Commando Barracks at Stanley, Murray Barracks and Fanling - (Site of part of the filming of "Inn of the Sixth Happiness"). We made such a good impression on the Brigade that they acquired their own band after moving to Malta!
The First Lieutenant of H.M.S. Rame Head had traveled out with us and as his ship was paying off, the band played at a cocktail party on board. We were plied with plenty of drink with a great amount being smuggled ashore to be consumed in a spare room at the China Fleet Club. Unfortunately two of the senior members became rowdy and threw bottles at the windows. Pete Sumner and I got behind the bar and made efforts to calm the situation, but were seized by the R.N. Patrol. Fortunately another member of the Band explained the situation to "Windy" Gale who intervened with the W.O. I/c Patrol and any charges were dropped on payment of damages to the C.F.C. by the whole Band.
Before joining H.M.S. Belfast on October 16th our pianist Pete (Ginger) Barnes was invalided home and his place in the Dance Band was taken by the Padre on the Belfast, an E.R.A. on the London with "Pony" Moore at other times. At this time we acquired Johnny Bull. Tom Law and George Acourt from the Bermuda (swaps and Mag Hadley later) from the Gambia.
In November the Ship did a short cruise to Singapore and Penang returning to Hong Kong for a refit at Taikoo Dock.
This was followed with visits to Jesselton and Sandakan in Borneo, where we played at a Memorial Service in the Cemetery for the Allied Victims who died on a death march a short time before the end of the War.
We passed Corregidor to enter Manila Bay where the masts and superstructure of about eighty wrecks lay in the Bay.
The Northern Cruise in February took us to the U.S. Base at Tsingtao in the Yellow Sea; it had Mao Tse Tung as a neighbour. Then to Shanghai, where the U.S. Navy Band of the heavy cruiser Columbus augmented our already well stocked Dance Band Library with up to date publications from the U.S. We followed this with a trip up river to Nanking, the then Capital of China. Kuré in Japan was the final Port to visit where we took the opportunity to see Hiroshima. The cruise ended with 3 weeks in quarantine in Junk Bay in the New Territories, one of the ship's company had contacted smallpox.
We spent a brief spell in the Fleet Accommodation Building in the Dockyard, and during this period the Dance Band played at The Hong Kong and Gloucester Hotels. Originally the H.K. Hotel dance was for the proceeds to go to flood relief at home, but a spin off was engagements at the Gloucester. The Band had reached a reasonable standard and as well featured novelty numbers such as" Big Noise from Winnetka", and ," She had to lose it at the Gloucester (Astor)" Big Band Standard Numbers featured in addition. George Acourt had brought his expertise to the Band!
April 21st was the beginning of a short cruise to Swatow and Foochow on H.M.S. Alert returning to H.K. before leaving for a trip to Bangkok and Kuching in Sarawak.
Previously H.M.S. Aire had grounded on Bombay Reef in the South China Sea and the Alert closed as near to the Aire as possible, in order to salvage documents etc. Too late, as locals had stripped the ship, their Junks with less draught, escaping over the Reef.
We rejoined the Belfast on July 21st and on 13th August played her out of Harbour for her voyage home. This necessitated a pier head jump in reverse at Lymon Pass suffering the indignity of being pelted with toilet rolls from Fleet Air Arm Planes.
During the breaks from the Flag Ship we were billeted in the Accommodation Building in the Dockyard and each Tuesday the Dance Band played for a Hop at the China Fleet Club.
During the latter part of our stay ashore we employed a young mess boy Ah Ling, who had managed to have a couple of fingers chopped off by the Japanese during the occupation for stealing.
Our next Cruise on the Alert was abandoned at Tsingtao after having to transfer Miss Milligan, (The Admiral's Daughter's companion) and a member of the Ship's Company both suffering with Meningitis to a U.S. Hospital Ship. Back to the F.A.B.
Another break we had was on Stonecutters Island, (under canvas) previously garrisoned but being ineffectual in 1941/2.
We joined H.M.S. London on the 13th November and on the 20th the Ship with the Gambia and the Squadron gave a firework display honouring the Royal wedding. Both the Gambia and London had waterline lighting etc.
During the quiet period to February, some of the Band joined the H.K. Light Orchestra, and on the New Year commencing with the firing of the Noon Day Gun and the Dance Band playing Auld Lang Syne an eventful dance was held at Jardine Mathesons at Happy Valley.
Since early in the commission the Dance Band had a
good stand discipline -no smoking, no drinking etc. This was relaxed
at this time. A certain member accidentally dropped his lighted match
into the cotton wool (pseudo snow) below the stage. This was aggravated
by whisky being thrown on the resulting fire. At the time, our uniform
was rough serge and when I jumped onto the cotton wool to try to stamp
out the fire, the nap ignited. Fortunately I was doused with foam
and presented as the Abominable Snowman. The music was soaked so it
was left to the Piano, Bass and Drums to continue, the remainder adjourning
to the bar. The management of Jardines magnanimously donated a much
larger fee to the Band in recompense! George Acourt who had created
a good Dance Band had dropped out, his place being taken by Curly
Mullholland. So other than the pianist every member of the Band was
still a Teenager ex I.O.M.
February 20th 1948 saw the ship in company with H.M.S. Alert visiting Saigon (French Indo China), Labuan (Brunei) Jesselton (Borneo), and Manila. Indo China was in the middle of a civil war, with a poor result for the French. Saigon was under Curfew. Besides our "Goodwill" visit the French Navy had the ex R.N. Carrier Colossus, a Cruiser "Duguay Trouin" and the Destroyer La Grandiére in the Port. At the top of the main mast the Duguay Trounin had a clock, facing aft. I understand that the cruiser was named after a Fench Admiral based at St. Malo.
We returned to H.K. in May and on July 21st started the Northern Cruise to Shanghai, Nanking (were we the last R.M. Band to visit there?), Keelung (Formosa), Yokasuka and Ominato, Japan.
The Band's Whaler Crew had spent most of their spare time either training or working on their own boat. They were rewarded by being first in the ship's events and second in the Fleet. (The tide shifted the markers). The Sussex Band Whaler was a quarter of a mile behind them.
Then it was direct to H.K. en route to Burma! As the country had been granted independence the Karen Tribe in the North upset the New Government (what's new?). The London was the only ship available, and it was the intention to use her to evacuate British Nationals. Before the ship made H.K. there was a break down, and every thing being shut down with the ship left without power. Fortunately it was restored and the indignity of being towed in by the Sussex (maximum speed 14 knots.) was averted.
During our short stay in H.K. Musician Woolvin married an Irish girl at the R.C. Cathedral, and it was left to his colleagues to celebrate in the traditional manner at the China Fleet Club. We adjourned to another bar (out of bounds) behind the club with drinking pals from a Merchant Ship. Hardly had we sat down before Military Police appeared and recklessly threatened us. It took all our efforts to persuade our M.N. friends from throwing the MP's jeep into the harbour. The MP's decided to make discretion the better part of valor and left.
The trip to Penang after leaving H.K. was uneventful. A short stay and as we were no longer needed, and the Ship sailed for Singapore via Malacca, here the Band Beat Retreat, armed Troops being very much in evidence. (The communists were active).
We left H.M.S. London on October 2nd to H.M.S. Terror
and on October 6th joined the Trooper H.M.T. Dilwara arriving at Southampton
for Burford. November 4th.
1986 my job took me to Maidstone for a fortnight and I was able to
share a bottle of malt with Roy Bowring at his home in Rochester having
met up with him at times whilst still serving.