I JOIN THE ROYAL MARINES
So it was at the tender age of fifteen years and three months, I joined the Royal Marines as a Boy Bugler on the 26th August 1946. Having left school and worked for over a year I was quite an independent sort of person, but I had never left home before. Still, I was lucky, the Royal Marine Barracks was in Plymouth, my home was in Plymouth so that wouldn't be so bad....so I thought!
Well, on the 26th August 1946 I presented myself at the Royal Marine Barracks Stonehouse and with five other lads I enlisted in the Corps for a period of twelve years, but my service time would not count until I reached the age of eighteen years. That meant, in service terms, that all time spent in the Corps until attaining the age of eighteen, was 'girls time' and didn't count towards regular service. Lets see who else joined at the same time as me and formed 'our class'.
There was 'Pusser' Alan Moyse, whose family had served in the Royal Marines since the year 1774 and who were around when Captain Cook took part in the siege of Gibraltar. Then there was 'Eddy' Hensman , whose uncle was a Quartermaster Sergeant Major in the barracks. Next there was 'Ron Budgen, an ex entrant of a Naval Training Establishment somewhere from 'up the line'. What I remember about him more than anything else was that he had a mastoid operation that left quite large cavity behind one of his ears that always looked 'yucky'. Then there was 'Bagsy' Baker who came from Exeter, who I didn't know much about. Last, but not least there was a young man from Scotland who stayed with us for about two days and was then discharged and returned to Scotland. I really don't know what happened to most of my 'old class' but I do know that Alan Moyse left the Corps before completing time for pension.
What a change in life.....where shall I start? Right! We were directed to a barrack room which was to be our 'home' for the future. We were each allocated a bed and the space around it, which was to be our own area. We didn't know exactly how long we would be there, but we were told that we would be a class until we 'passed out'. That was explained to us and it meant when we were good enough on Bugle and Drum we would be examined and if satisfactory we would then become 'Passed Out' Buglers. Which meant our basic training had been completed and we would then be known as Duty Buglers and that afforded certain privileges, and we would be available to be 'drafted'. [posted as a bugler to an Establishment or to a Ship]
I remember the first few days of my service were quite hectic. We were marched to the sick quarters [service hospital] where we received various inoculations and vaccinations. Then to the stores where we were issued with our kit. We each had two kitbags and as we progressed along a very long counter various items were flung at us which were immediately stowed in one or other of our kitbags. Next, we were marched [we marched everywhere from then on] to the 'marker's shop' where we were each given a wooden 'type' which was a piece of wood on which one side had been hand carved with our individual name, and on the other side was carved our official service number. The type was then pressed onto a pad containing marking ink and every item of the kit we had been issued with was marked. The items of kit that could not be marked with the type had our service number stamped on with a metal stamp.
Being a 'hoarder' I still have the ' Type', I was issued with in those far off days together with the knife, fork and spoon. After all the kit had been marked we returned to our barrack room. After depositing our kitbags on our beds we were marched to the Armoury where for some reason they kept, amongst other things, Bugles and Drums.
There we were each issued with a Bugle, Bugle Cord, a Military Side Drum, a pair of Drumsticks a white buckskin leg guard and a drum sling. The sling was slung around the neck and used to carry the drum. The buckskin leg guard was supposed to protect the leg of our trousers whilst carrying the drum but, as in those days the leg guard was cleaned with white blanco, we very soon discovered that the blanco did more damage to our trousers than the drum ever would have.
In those days the shell of the drum was made of brass and like everything else, had to be cleaned. The heads were of vellum and the whole works was held together with a long rope that was threaded through the top and bottom wooden hoops. The bugle was of copper and every visible part had to be cleaned. We were all issued with bugles which had seen better days and there was an abundance of dents that certainly didn't help when it came to cleaning. We were taught how to attach the cord to the bugle with a special knot and also how to shorten the cord with a plait so that when worn the bugle rested on the right side of the body within easy reach of the right hand. Our rank on joining was 'Boy Bugler' but our badge of rank which was worn on the right sleeve, just above the elbow was a 'Drum'. Even today the badge of rank for a Bugler Royal Marines is still a 'Drum'. The reason for this has been explained by the fact that prior to the introduction of the Bugle, our predecessors were Drummers and were known as 'Drummers'. Prior to the introduction of the Bugle, drummers also played fifes. Some naval officers still refer to Buglers as 'Drummer, but of course, it takes all sorts.
Let me explain: The Royal Marines comprises of three very different types of entrant. These are simply explained. A Royal Marine, whether he serves in a Commando Unit or on one of H.M.Ships, is the fighting man. Next there is the Musician, who, although forms part of the Royal Marines, generally, is a member of the Royal Marines Band Service. He plays a musical instrument and when serving on one of H.M.Ships also has a roll in First Aid and Damage Control, which deals with the watertight integrity of the ship. Then comes the Royal Marines Bugler. Who primarily takes his place within the Band as a Bugler or Drummer [but not both at the same time] or he can serve either in a Barracks, with a Commando unit, or on a ship without the presence of a band where he will just carry out bugling duties and other duties as required by his superiors. As you can see there are, or should I say, were, three different types of enlistment. I say were, as only quite recently I was informed that the Buglers branch is now a part of the Royal Marines Band Service. Well there you are, a short, potted history of the make-up of the Royal Marines.
As my service number was the lowest of our class, I had the honorable position of 'senior boy'. We, the class of five, had our own instructor. A Corporal Bugler by the name of Bailey. Cpl. Bailey was known as most servicemen are known by a nickname. Being called Bailey he was known as 'Butch'. Of course, we, the lowest of the low could only stand to attention when addressing him and call him Corporal. Perhaps it would be useful if I explained the structure of the 'Band and Drums Company of which we formed a part. Lowest of the low were the most recently enlisted Boy Buglers, who of course formed the junior class. Next came the other classes under training. Then there were the Boy Buglers who had passed for Duty, then the adult [men buglers] who were looked upon as 'old soldiers', then came the Non Commissioned Officers. [NCOs] Starting with lowest in rank and ascending we had the Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant and the [lesser god] a senior Sergeant who held the appointment of Bugle Major. There was then the Drum Major the next [god] in line who was the person responsible for the discipline of all the non commissioned personnel within the Band and Drums. He was also the person in charge of the Band and Drums whilst on Parade. [You must have seen one, the chap who marches in front of the Band waving a big stick and who gives all the verbal orders]. In bygone days Drum Majors were not selected from the Buglers Branch but from one of the various branches of the Corps. In these modern times all Drum Majors are selected from the Buglers Branch, which in turn adds to the promotion structure within the Branch.
Each class had its own instructor and in those far off days it was pure chance whether you had a good instructor or a not so good instructor. It would appear that not all instructors knew very much about music, or in some cases nothing at all and the Bugle and Drum were taught 'parrot fashion'. In other words the instructor would play a Bugle call or beat a Drum part and the trainee would have to copy. Of course, each instructor had his own idea of how certain Bugle Calls should be played and there was a lot of poetic license in those days. The trouble came of course when two or more classes joined together and tried to play in unison. But being quite versatile, common ground was soon found and some sort of order was maintained. The main object of the training was to learn all the Bugle Calls which were used both ashore in barracks or on ships and naval establishments. These numbered some seventy one and some of these could be augmented by playing 'G's' before or after the actual call thus changing its meaning. On the drumming side it was one continual learning process. For the initial training one had to learn the 'Open to Close Roll' which started off by single taps on each stick, gradually getting faster and faster until a 'close roll' was attained. There were also standard beating and of course, the Regimental Quick and Slow marches.
Remember, that all bugling and drumming, whether performed as an individual or with the band was done from memory, unlike the musicians who have their music in front of them on a 'march card'. Discipline was very, and I do mean very strict in those days and Boy Buglers were not allowed to even speak to an adult Royal Marine. To leave the block [the building in which your room was situated] one had to get permission from an NCO.
The Band and Drums block in Stonehouse Barracks consisted of four floors, including the basement. The basement housed the Barbers Shop amongst other things. Next came the NAAFI shop. This was strictly 'Out of Bounds' to Boy Buglers unless permission had been granted by an NCO. Then it was a case of making your purchase and immediately taking it up to your barrack room.
On the next floor the living-in members of the band had a barrack room and the wash hand basins and toilets [both of them] were situated, and most important, that was where our dining room was situated. The Drum Major's quarters, where he lived with his wife and teenage daughter, were also situated on that floor. The top floor held two barrack rooms which housed the Buglers, One for the adult Buglers and one for the Boy Buglers. There was also the Company Office where the Drum Major carried out his Sergeant Majors duties. Then of course was the Recreation Room which housed a full size snooker table. Which I believe at the time when I served as a Boy Bugler was the only one in the barracks except for one in the Officer's Mess. A full size snooker table in the Band and Drums Company sounds very good but I have NEVER seen it being used by a Bugler. It seemed to have been there for the sole use of the Drum Major and the rest of the Bugle NCOs.
Training was carried out either in a barrack room or at an outside area close to the sea known as 'Devil's Point'. This is the official name of the location and is situated at the closest point of land opposite Drake's Island . When we were required to practice at 'The Point' we were required to march about a mile to get there. I mention this as our route took us up a very steep hill before descending to our practice area. It was usual for all classes to form one unit and march under the orders of the Duty NCO. A nasty trick played on us was for the Duty NCO, when we started to climb this hill was to give the order," Break into double time, double march". This of course meant we were 'running'. As we reached the top of the hill he would give the order," About Turn". So we would then be running down the hill in the direction we had just come from. This was repeated whilst all the Instructors 'walked' up the hill. So, by the time we eventually reached our practice area we were all well and truly 'Knackered'. This was some source of fun to the Instructors but not so funny for us poor trainees who were carrying drums. On returning to Barracks one day after this lousy trick had been played on us we held a little meeting, unknown to the Instructors, and decided that this was not part of our training. Being the senior boy of the senior class under training, I was voted the person to complain. To do this officially I was required to write a 'chit' [a piece of paper] stating, PLYX5097 Boy Bugler Rickards, respectfully requests to see the Adjutant, through the Drum Major to 'State a complaint'. Of course, in those far off days this form of action was unheard of, still, I duly wrote the chit and before going to bed pinned it on hook outside the Company Office. The next morning the company echoed with one of the NCOs shouting "RICKARDS!!!" Which of course meant...someone wanted me. I was duly marched into the office where the Drum Major [Lesser God] was sat behind his desk. "What's all this about RICKARDS", The Drum Major wanted to know, waving my chit in the air, "Please Drum Major I want to see the Adjutant to state a complaint". So I had taken the first step. I then had to explain that I did not think it was part of my training to be doubled up and down the hill while the instructors walked up.[I had to say 'I' as I had written the chit and I could only speak for myself as I had been told if I mentioned anyone else, would be classed as a mutiny] I think I was the first Boy Bugler to EVER complain about anything by writing a chit. and it seemed to upset a few people. Anyway, the Drum Major said he would investigate the matter. With that said, The NCO who had marched me into the office Yelled, Rickards, about turn, quick march, and I was out of the office and that was the last I heard about that. Strange to say, we were NEVER doubled up and down the hill again.
After some time our Instructor, 'Butch' Bailey left us as he played the 'bagpipes' and his services were required on HMS Vanguard for the Royal Tour of South Africa. Our new Instructor was a Cpl Cole, his nickname was 'Whacker', why I never found out but he was a different sort of person to our former instructor and our training progressed. Although I didn't intend to spend too much time writing about my training, strange things that come to mind have to be told. Let it just be said that I 'Passed Out' as a Duty bugler and was allowed to perform bugling duties within the Barracks. In those days the barrack routine was run by Bugle Calls. Starting with Reveille at six o'clock in the morning and finishing at ten o'clock at night with Last Post. Before actually being allowed to take over as 'Bugler of the Guard' we were required to do a supernumerary duty which meant accompanying the true Bugler of the Guard to learn the routine and to sound off all the bugle calls together. This was a 24 hour tour of duty. Being members of the guard we had to be included in the Guard Commander's 'Guard Report'. This report contained, amongst other things the names of all personnel on duty.
The first supernumerary which I did was with Bugler called, Rickard. Yes! As strange as it might seem, but it is the truth. One snag with being on duty with Ernie Rickard was the fact that he stuttered. So when we marched our fifteen paces from under the main gate arch onto the parade ground I had to give all the orders. Halt, Bugles Ready and Sound Off. This worked very well but when it came time to give our names to the Guard Commander for his report that was when the trouble started. I had given my name as Rickards and then it was Ernie's turn so he said, quite naturally, Rickard. Of course, the Guard Commander thought he was messing around and repeated his question. By this time poor old Ernie was flustered and all he could get out was, Anda,Anda,Anda,Anda I am called Rickard. It took some time, but the Guard Commander eventually sorted it out. Poor old Tex Rickard [yes! Tex is the nickname for anyone called Rickard or Rickards] But Ernie's nickname from then on became 'Anda' Rickard.
When we were proficient enough we were allowed to march with the band and that was something of a wondrous thing. Having to learn the drum parts of the all the marches that were required, and learning to keep straight lines. That was only part of it but enough to say that it was very exciting marching around as part of the Royal Marines Band and being sure that everyone was looking just at you, and you alone. It took some getting used to but in time it was possible to march with your head facing the front, playing the correct drum part and also being able to glance from side to side, without moving your head, to see what was going on around you. One of the regular routes we took in those days was around the Stonehouse area. The band would form up in the drill shed and we would them march out of the barracks by one gate known as the Sea Gate, into the public roads around the barracks and then enter the barracks through the Main Entrance before being dismissed. The very first 'outside public performance' I took part in with the band in Plymouth was marching from Plymouth railway station to Plymouth Argyle football ground, with the Plymouth Argyle football team following in an open top bus. The occasion was when the team was promoted to the 2nd division. It would take some researching to pinpoint when that was, but it was sometime in 1952. I also remember playing in the band at the Argyle football ground in 1952 and that was the first and last time I watched Plymouth Argyle play. I know that this is advancing in time a little, but as I originally thought that this engagement took place just after I completed my training, but having found out I was wrong, this is the best, and easiest way to correct the dates.
One thing I will never forget is a visit to the dentist whilst I was under training. The dental surgery was situated on the upper floor of the 'sick quarters', at the end of Durnford Street, a few hundred yards away from the barracks. There was a very large window in the surgery that overlooked the River Hamoze where the Naval Dockyard could quite easily be seen together with several warships that were for ever coming and going. On the day in question I was in for a 'filling' and the dentist, one Royal Naval Dental Commander, by the name of 'Butcher', Yes! Honest , decided that I didn't need any form of anaesthetic and proceeded to drill away at my tooth, whilst at the same time, looking out the window and telling me all about the ships movements on the river. I can't remember visiting the dentist again while I was under training.
Before pressing on, just a couple of more things I remember which happened during my initial training. As I have said, life certainly changed on joining the Royal Marines. There were rules and regulations for just about anything and everything. First and foremost you were still a citizen of the UK but, you were also governed by Kings Regulations and the Army Act. This laid down the code by which you lead your daily life and it also stated the punishment that you could expect if you strayed from the straight and narrow, [if you got caught]. When serving under the 'White Ensign' whether it be aboard a ship or at a naval establishment you would be subject to the 'Naval Discipline Act'. Wherever you served there would be a notice containing 'Barrack or Ships Standing Orders. These were in addition to the overall rules and regulations. Well, as I have said earlier, before I enlisted I managed to do quite well swimming, and a month or so after I entered the service I received an invitation to a dance that was being held where there would be prize giving and I had a few prizes to collect . This was being held on a Monday evening and as I had read the Standing Orders, concerning the Band and Drums Company, which stated, "Boy Buglers under training may absent themselves, from after training until 2000hrs [eight o'clock] on weekdays and until 2130hrs [nine thirty] on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays if not required for duty, so, I thought I would attend the Dance.
Every day except Sundays we were required to lay out various items of kit on our beds which would be inspected to ensure that all kit was kept in a clean and useable condition. In addition to this, every evening after working hours we had to present ourselves to the Duty NCO with the items required for the following day. This usually consisted of a Bugle [spotlessly cleaned], together with Drum Sling and web waist belt. When this was passed as clean, the rest of the evening could be spent as 'free time'. On the evening of the dance I cleaned all my gear and had it inspected early. It was all passed so I then had a good wash [we were marched to the 'bathhouse' every Saturday for a bath and to do our washing.] There were no showers in those days. I then changed into my uniform for going ashore. When I reported to the Duty NCO and asked permission to carry on ashore he simply told me I was not allowed ashore on a Monday evening. When I stood my ground [which was quite unusual in those days] and told him it stated on Standing Orders that I was allowed ashore, he just said," Show me". So together we went out onto the landing where the orders were displayed and I pointed out the relevant order. He admitted that he had never realized that the order existed and told me to stay where I was. He then dashed down two flights of stairs and shortly returned with the Drum Major. He must have explained what had happened as the Drum Major read the order and told me to go into the Company Office. All business was conducted in the office. Sat behind his desk the Drum Major asked me why I wanted to go ashore and when I told him about the dance and the prize giving and showed him my invitation, he told be to carry on ashore and that he had extended my leave that evening until 2300hrs [eleven o'clock] That was the one and only time a Boy Bugler managed to slip ashore except on a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday, whilst I was in barracks.
That is not strictly true, as there was a way to get ashore on a Monday evening and that was to go to the 'Chaplain's Hour'. Even that was not true, as 'Chaplain's Hour' meant marching over to the main gate to meet the Chaplain, who would then take us a couple hundred yards up the road, outside the barracks to the local Youth Club. He would then remind us that we all had to be back in the Band and Drums Block by 21.30 [nine thirty.] Of course, once he was out of sight, Boy Buglers would be dashing off in all directions, doing what Boy Buglers do. This was a good way to get out of barracks, and either our NCOs did not know what was happening, or they turned a 'blind eye', but it worked all the time I was under training.
Part of our training was physical exercise and we spent regular periods in the 'Gym'. It was compulsory for everyone at one time to put on boxing gloves and 'have a go'. The PTI would pair us up and we were required to knock 'seven bells' out of each other until he blew his whistle. I have never professed to be a fighter, but I know it is better to hit, than to be hit, so when it was my turn I just went 'mad' until the whistle was blown. I was then 'volunteered' to form part of the Buglers boxing team, in preparation for a visit to Kelly's Collage, which is a private collage at Tavistock, some 15 or so miles from Plymouth. We were told it was all to be on a friendly basis, and that there would be 'big eats' after the fights. So we trained, [not really knowing what we were doing], and our PTI took us training a couple of times a week during our regular visits to the Gym. On the day fixed for our encounter we were driven in a coach to the collage and proceeded to get changed. To be honest, I don't remember much about the fight I had, as it seemed to me that just after the bell went to start my first round, I was hit a couple of times, and the next thing I remember was coming to, and being helped to the dressing room. We did have 'big eats' and although it was something special in those days, that was the last time I ever took part in any boxing team. We found out from our opponents at the collage that our PTI used to travel to Tavistock and train their boxers everyday. I guess we never stood a chance.
Another time I proved to be a bit of a rebel was when I put in another 'chit to state a complaint'. On the day concerned we had to lay out all the outer clothing we had been issued with, except what we were wearing. This was to ensure that everything was in good condition. Well along with the remainder of my class everything was laid out and we proceeded to the Gym. On our return I discovered every button from every item I had laid out had been cut off and now formed a neat pile on my bed. When I asked our instructor why this had been done I was told that he had found a loose button and as a punishment I could sew the lot on again. I then wrote out my 'chit' and took it to the Company Office, knocked on the door and was told to enter. I marched in and gave the chit to the Drum Major. He wasn't very happy and asked me what it was all about. When I explained what had happened and said that I didn't consider anyone had the right to cut my buttons off as it was not laid down as any form of punishment and I wanted to see the Adjutant. I was then told that my instructor was a good instructor and he was only looking after my interests and that he had a wife etc., etc. Once again I was marched from the office having been told to carry on to practice and that the matter would be investigated. So I did go to practice and when I returned, 'The Magic Fairy' had been busy at work and all my buttons had been sewed on, and that was the last I heard of it. It appeared that no one ever saw the Adjutant to state a complaint.
During the latter part of my training someone gave me a bike. I think it must have been one of the older Buglers who was going on draft. Anyway this bike had a puncture and I was allowed to go to the Drill Shed where it was kept, to mend it. This happened on a Sunday after church. The only snag now was that I didn't have a pump in barracks, but I knew my brother had one at home. So having had my gear inspected for the following day I was allowed ashore. That would give me time to go home, collect the pump and get back to barracks in time for tea. I must explain, in those days we did not have a central dining room in barracks as each company had its own dining room in its respective block. One of the older Buglers was appointed 'Dining Hall Attendant' and would collect all the meals from the galley [kitchen] in a special wheeled container and would serve all meals in our own dining room. As a special treat in those days we used to have real fruit cake and real butter on a Sunday. I know it means very little or nothing nowadays but in the 1940's, just after the World War Two It really did mean something. So I did return to barracks in time for tea and then I changed into working dress and reported to the Duty NCO for permission to go to the Drill Shed. [He was the same NCO who was on duty the evening I went ashore for my prize giving]. He reminded me that he had found a dirty mark on my Bugle when it was inspected and therefore wanted to see it again. This I duly did and this time there was no dirty mark. I then asked once again if I might go to the Drill Shed and told him why I wanted to go. He then reminded me that I was senior boy of my room and as it was a disgrace, I had better get it cleaned. I could see what was happening so, together with the boys who had not gone ashore we gave the room a good clean. I reported once again and this time I was told to bring all the gear I had to lay out the following morning for his inspection. I knew this was never done so I returned to my room. It had not just been the case of reporting to him and receiving immediate attention as he was playing snooker and he would only see me to speak to when he was ready. The time had got later and later and it was now nearing 2130hrs [nine thirty] when all Boy Buglers, not returning from shore had to be in bed. So I went to the wash place, had my wash, went and found the largest piece of paper I could find; and wrote a 'chit' with the usual request on it and pinned it outside the office on the hook provided. It wasn't long before 'RICKARDS' was shouted for, so I went to the landing to find the Duty NCO with my chit in his hand wanting to know what this was all about. I respectfully told him that he had deliberately stopped me from going to the Drill Shed in my free time to do a simple job and that I considered I was being victimized. He tried to flannel me over saying that as a Boy Bugler he had to look after my interests and that I knew I was not allowed to talk to Marines etc., and he only had my interest at heart. I asked him if it was in my interest that I had been told to clean up my room and that he had wanted to inspect the gear that I was due to lay out the following morning. Things that no one had done in the past. I wondered if the Drum Major or the Adjutant would think it was in my interest. With that he told me to go to the Drill Shed and do what I had to do. I told him it was too late now as it was just about nine thirty. He then told me he was giving me a Direct Order to go to the drill shed. Even I knew enough to know that you did not ever refuse a 'Direct Order', so I took myself off to the drill shed and inflated the tyre and returned to the block, brushed passed the Duty NCO on the landing and he asked, "Where are you going". I told I was going to take the chit down before I went to bed and he replied "I have already done that". I don't suppose I was the 'flavor of the month' to him, but I wasn't going to be sat on.