War and Peace, those two great certainties which
each bring stories of great human fortitude, great courage, great humour
and great resolve amongst other human characteristics. What follows
is an incredible mixture of all these, making a story to touch the heart
and to give profound relief at the end that it could all have concluded
so happily for the people concerned.
to see full size picture
In 1938, two young men joined the Royal Naval School of Music at Deal
in Kent. They joined within a short time of each other and quickly thereafter
moved to Malvern to commence their training as Royal Marine Musicians.
Almost simultaneously HMS Exeter, after her well documented
exploits in the Battle of the River Plate, was being
repaired and refitted for further action at sea.
Now fully trained as musicians these two young men, RMB X1136 Musician
A. E. King and RMBX1179 Musician T. E. Jones were nominated in a band,
under Bandmaster Vidler to join HMS Exeter for normal wartime sea service.
All too soon the ship had progressed to the far East and became engaged
in the Battle of the Java Sea against superior Japanese
forces, the ship being obliged to retire to Surabya to bury their dead
and effect some repairs. At sea once again they were heavily engaged
by the Japanese and the ship was sunk on March 1st 1942. Amazingly,
on this occasion, the band lost no men at their action station. All
too often, when ships were sunk by enemy action all the men in the band’s
particular action station, the Transmitting Station, suffered a particularly
gruesome fate as the ships plunged to their ends in the depths of the
sea. However, a new hell awaited them when they were made prisoners
of war of the Japanese and incarcerated in the MAKASSAR prisoner of
war camp in the Celebes.
The privations they were to suffer were in every way similar to those
men who were forced to build the Burma Railway, the poorest rations
imaginable, little or no medical attention or supplies, and under constant
threat from brutal and bullying camp guards. It was not surprising therefore
that numbers died from starvation, from one medical condition or another,
particularly beri beri, which was endemic. The Bandmaster himself, died
of this awful condition having first done much to ease the suffering
of his colleagues. One of our two friends, ”Bertie” King
also suffered from it but managed to survive. There are few people of
today that have not seen ghastly pictures of survivors of Japanese prisoner
of war camps and given thanks that they themselves had never to undergo
At the war’s end both Jones and King, having survived those years,
were repatriated to the United Kingdom. King stayed in England and eventually
lost touch with his great friend, who, in the 1960's emigrated with
his family to Australia. Now the story starts to take a strange turn.
Thinking that he may well be the last surviving member of the Exeter’s
band he wrote a very detailed account of his travails to the Regimental
Magazine of the Royal Marines School of Music, the Blue Band. The result
of this was that the Principal Director of Music, Lt.Col Chris Davis,
DMD BA(Hons) MMus LRAM made arrangements for him to be presented with
a recently written history of the Band Service. However, this is where
fate really kicks in.
It comes to light that King was not in fact the sole surviving member.
His great wartime friend, Ted Jones is alive and well, and living in
South Australia, where also live several ex members of the Royal Marines
Band Service. Arrangements were immediately put in hand for telephonic
communication to take place between them. On the evening of November
4th the two old boys, one 85, the other 86, were united in a very long
telephone call, which will no doubt be repeated many times between now
and Christmas, and who knows, Father Christmas, who may get to hear
of their heart-warming story may be even more generously disposed towards
Written pre Xmas 2007