is a photograph of RMBX1524 Musician George Lloyd who joined the Royal
Naval School of Music on April 23 1940. Note the date well, it is
what we call a memorable date in the history of the Royal Marines.
It is memorable for several reasons: it is of course, St Georges Day,
the day of the Patron Saint of England, but for the Royal Marines
it is the date of the action at Zeebrugge in 1918 which brought Victoria
Crosses for exceedingly brave conduct by two members of the Corps.
You will all know of that action but this article refers more specifically
to George Lloyd, a Cornishman, who, when he joined was already an
accomplished musician, a fine violinist and pianist, but above all
a composer of highly acclaimed works which included operas and symphonies.
He was born in 1916 at St Ives in Cornwall. Both his parents were
extremely musical and chamber music was a feature of family life at
St Eia, the house where he was born. He was lucky to have had some
of the finest teachers in England, including Albert Sammons, at that
time England’s greatest violin virtuoso. His teachers of composition,
harmony and counterpoint remain among the truly outstanding people
in their profession. Dr Lovelock, Kitson, Farjeon, all of whom guided
him at the Royal Academy of Music and at Trinity College.
His first opera ‘Iernin’ earned warm praise from the Times
principal music critic who said of it that, ‘George Lloyd showed
the rarest of all qualities in a British composer, an almost unerring
perception of what the stage requires’. John Ireland became
very enthusiastic about the work, going to several performances and
forming a productive working relationship with George.
At the outbreak of war George joined the Royal Naval School of Music
and was soon drafted to the band of HMS Trinidad. The terrible fate
which befell so many brave bandsmen in ships that were sunk almost
claimed him but he survived through bravery and a compelling sense
of determination. The band was typical of those days, small, only
fifteen men, and these pictures show them during a break in pre-embarkation
training. The truly awful thing about these pictures is that within
a couple of months those in the photo would, apart from three of them,
all be dead, killed in the most horrible way in the service of their
country. At the behest of the Bandmaster, George had written a march,
‘HMS Trinidad’ for the ship, which was being rushed through
the final stages of completion in Plymouth. She was destined for service
in Arctic waters to try to stem the devastation being caused to Atlantic
convoys by U-Boat packs.
In March 1942 the ship was engaged in action, with others, against
German aircraft and U-Boats. The Band, as always, were manning the
transmitting station, the gunnery computer without which, no ship
could fight this kind of warfare. Situated well below the waterline
the TS was inboard of the fuel tanks, as exposed a position as could
have been devised. By every account (you should read the book, The
Ship that sunk itself, HMS Trinidad) the gunnery was going extremely
well when there occurred one of those evil quirks of fate which all
but turned victory into defeat. One of a trio of torpedoes fired by
Trinidad suffered some kind of technical glitch, causing it to reverse
its direction and head straight back towards the Trinidad. It exploded
on the port side just by the Royal Marines Barracks. It almost immediately
flooded the compartment below with icy sea water and fuel oil, ruptured
a bulkhead sending literally tons of this mixture into the TS. Here
now is George Lloyd’s written statement as to what followed.
“I am writing this account as I was the last to leave the TS
and have always kept vivid memories of what took place. There were
twenty one men in the transmitting station. Seventeen died. I was
stationed close to the ladder, working the switchboard. The ladder
was the only way of getting in or out.
The explosion caused by the torpedo that struck the ship broke the
communications between the computer stations and the gun turrets.
Warrant Officer Gould (who was in charge) shouted to me to try to
telephone the bridge but the lines were dead. Gould then ordered a
sailor to go to the bridge and report our condition.
By this time oil had started to come through the hatch. I moved to
the other side of the ladder to get away from it. As the oil became
a strong cascade, Gould shouted ‘Shut the Hatch’. No one
moved. Everyone seemed to be completely paralysed and stayed glued
to his position. The picture of these silent men standing motionless,
the cold black oil engulfing their bodies, the tiny emergency light
giving its dim light - this is a picture that will always live with
me. Again Gould shouted ‘Shut the hatch’. The oil was
now up to our groins. Thomas Barber (Lou) our solo cornet went towards
the ladder. I was very angry. I said to myself “God, you can’t
do this to me, I have work to do”. Lou was knocked backwards
off the ladder by the force of the oil; he tried again; I went after
him and pushed; he took the worst of the oil and swallowed a lot.
(Later he had to have ribs cut out to get rid of the oil in his lungs).
I was some way up the first ladder when I lost consciousness and remember
nothing until I crawled out of the hatch two decks up. Somebody did
try after me but the huge hatch cover fell on him and broke his back
so I was the last out of the TS.
When I regained consciousness I was trying to haul myself out of the
second hatch. Lou had disappeared. I lay on the deck totally exhausted
and unable to move. Then I crawled across the mess deck and up a ladder
to an upper deck where I lay down again. While I was there I heard
a sailor from the deck below shouting ‘Anyone below’ ‘Anyone
I should have shouted that help was needed for the TS, but I had no
strength. Later, another sailor passed by and told me to go to the
Galley and there I found Lou Barber, Corporal Palmer and some others”.
There is a codetta to this description which is omitted here. During
temporary repairs in Murmansk the bodies of all those men killed in
the TS were recovered. The ship was involved in more action as it
tried to reach home waters but was eventually sunk, on the orders
of the Senior Naval Officer. At the mast head of HMS Trinidad was
flying the Signal, ‘Am sailing to the Westward’.
There is a great deal more to this strange story. Lloyd went on to
eventually become a great composer whose music was enjoyed by all
who heard it except for some influential critics who did all they
could to belittle him. Much of his symphonic work was recorded by
the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Edward Downes. He was performed
at the Proms, he was invited to write special music for the Festival
of Britain. But no matter how much people enjoyed his work, he was
engulfed by critics who eventually prevailed in ensuring that his
work did not become part of the British scene. To this day, it waits
to be resuscitated by popular approval and it will be, I feel sure.
shall be publishing more links to the music of George Lloyd
in due course but meanwhile, you can hear luscious snippets
of his remarkable music by visiting, www.amazon.com
and finding MP3 link followed by entering "George Lloyd"
into the search box. Watch this space for further information
The George Lloyd Society.