Derek E ‘Taff’ Ryan 1951-2023
Served 1967-1991

Derek Edward Ryan was born on Thursday 4th October 1951 in Pontardawe Glamorgan. He was the second oldest child of six to parents Betty (Davies) & Edward, who originated in Waterford Ireland. He was a pupil at Tairgwaith Primary School and his early musical knowledge was generated as a tenor horn player with the Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen Brass Band under the guidance of conductor Ivor Davies. The mining village was in an area defined by the coal industry with three pits in the vicinity. The diminutive young Derek was on the brink of signing up for a career in the Royal Navy, until he revealed to the recruiting staff that he played a musical instrument... he was then pointed in the obvious direction.

Fifteen and half years old Derek travelled to Deal where he enlisted into the Royal Marines Band Service on 25th April 1967 as a french horn player and member of 2/67 Troop of over thirty new recruits, including Roger Jones and fellow Welsh boys Graham Ward and Derek Morgans. From that day on he would be known as ‘Ryan’ to his instructors or ‘Taff’ to his troopers.
In September 1969, Taff was sent to the Royal Marines Band Commander in Chief Western Fleet, based at HMS Pembroke to gain experience of working in an adult band, however it wasn’t until December that he successfully passed his M3’s and consequently completed training. Shortly after joining his new band, he met the love of his life Jennifer Melville (Jen) from Burntisland in Scotland, she had just joined Pembroke as a trainee Wren, while he was living in the infamous loft. It wasn’t long after when Jen received a drafting order to Portsmouth... however, love wasn’t lost and Taff travelled frequently to Hampshire for weekend visits. Taff was awarded a draft himself, back to Deal in March 1970 and to the Royal Marines School of Music Staff Band… as a consequence, Jen successfully applied for a post to RM Deal. The young, devoted couple married on Saturday 30th May 1970 at Dover Registry Office and were allocated their first home together, a married quarter in Freemen’s Way. The Ryans were pleased to announce the arrival of their first child Angela in April 1971. While with the Staff Band, he performed at many prestigious engagements, including the 1971 Royal Tournament at Earls Court, where nineteen years old Taff and another musician had a run in with the local authorities following a trip to a nearby restaurant!
Taff was frequently on the receiving end of the powers that be… The Drum Major’s Buchanan, Dawson and three others during one particular morning of massed bands rehearsals formed an orderly queue in order to lambast him for wearing an earring on parade! He had to pay a visit to sick bay to get the said item of non-issued uniform removed, as it had become stuck! In Taff’s own words… “Let’s get this straight, it’s not a mace or a staff, it’s a stick, you promote a Bugler to a Drum Major and for the next ten years, all you get is stick!”

In November 1971, Taff received a draft that was to significantly impact the rest of his life, when he was uprooted from Staff Band to the Royal Marines Band Flag Officer Scotland & Northern Ireland (FOSNI), based at HMS Cochrane. Little did he know at the time that he was destined to be a stalwart of the band for many years to come. His stay in the band would include many trips abroad, amongst others... a once in a lifetime trip onboard the QE2 in May 1973, that took in the ports of Tangiers, Palma, Gibraltar and Lisbon. It was a cruise chartered by the ‘Young Presidents Organisation'.
The family was extended further with the birth of a second daughter Nicola in 1975. Lt Terry Freestone took over as Director of Music at FOSNI in 1976 and he and Taff had a great mutual respect for one other. Musician Ryan was in FOSNI band that long, that he was rewarded with the General Service Medal and bar in 1978 for service within the province of Northern Ireland. He was then rewarded with a place on the Junior Command Course (B) in 1979 and following his success, he was subsequently promoted to BCpl in October. As a newly promoted NCO, Taff was dispatched south to Fleet Band where he renewed acquaintances with the now Captain Freestone, who had taken control of the Chatham Dogends… He was however afforded a return back north of the border and his spiritual home with FOSNI just nine months later, under Lt Ron Kempton.

In addition to their Northern Ireland visits, FOSNI Band travelled many times to Iceland for the United States Marine Corps Birthday celebrations, Taff did eleven in total… On his third trip, the band were there for ten days building up to the main event, which was the Birthday Ball, where everything was free. After completing their musical performance, the remainder of the evening was taken up mixing with their fellow marines. After a couple of hours of mixing and goodness knows how many Harvey Wallbangers, Taff thought it was a good idea to ask the General’s wife if she would like a dance, the General and his party had been flown in as the VIPs from Washington. After a good few dances, they were getting on famously, but he thought he’d better get her back to the General and get on with the mixing bit again. The party concluded about three in the morning before everyone was transported back to the USMC Accommodation where they had their own bar! Having had one or two more drinks, Taff missed the band’s transport, so with no other option as it was minus four, he managed to cadge a lift in the General’s car telling his 2i/c it was the custom for one of the band to act as the General’s Aide… so, there he was sat in between the General and his wife. When they got back to the Marine Corps Bar, the General went in first and inspected the guard of honour then in comes BCpl Ryan with the General’s wife… and yes, he inspected the guard! much to the horror of Director of Music Lt Pete Rutterford who couldn't quite believe what he was seeing! To top it all, Taff was invited to sit with the General’s party! It was a class end to a superb trip!

Taff was drafted temporarily to the Royal Marines Band Flag Officer Third Flotilla (FOF3) in April 1984, thus becoming the only french horn player in its nine-year history to serve with the Band. The only trip he benefited from was the Baltic deployment onboard the assault ship HMS Fearless, with visits to Copenhagen, Kristiansand in Norway and strangely enough Rosyth. Following just a couple of months with the sea-going band, Taff returned home to FOSNI, where he was to see out his career for the next seven years, including trips to Hong Kong and the Falklands. On completion of a memorable twenty-four years' service with the Royal Marines Band Service, BCpl Derek Ryan was released to pension on 3rd October 1991, the day prior to his fortieth birthday.

Upon leaving the band service… the dog loving Taff, who’d owned a Rottweiler for thirteen years, took up his dream second career as a Dog Handler with the Ministry of Defence. He was stationed at both the Redford and Dreghorn Army Barracks in Edinburgh and gave nearly twenty years' service in the role until his retiral in 2011. At long last, the Ryan’s could finally enjoy their retirement at home in Cunningham Road, Rosyth, where they moved to in 1997.
Those that knew him and served alongside Taff describe him as a serious legend with a unique sense of humour and someone who would always have your back in a in a tricky situation. He loved to stay in touch with his oppos and long before the advent of Facebook… he enjoyed the Band Service Forum… His highly imaginative comedy was evident when he initiated a conversation about his plans to restructure Cumbria, his escapades with the French Foreign Legion and his distinguished service as a Slow March Instructor!! Taff transformed his shed into a man cave/bar... he christened it ‘The Lamp Swingers Arms’… and invited his old pals Bob Thomson and Fred Watters to the opening ceremony. Taff’s love of dogs remained as strong as ever, and he and Jen were more recently loving owners of a Pug (Shug) and a Jack Russell (Ella).

BCpl Ryan travelled to London to be in the contingent of former musicians and buglers that gathered for the first time under the standard of the Royal Marines Association Band Service, when they marched past the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday in 2019.

The Royal Marines Band Service family was shocked and saddened to learn that Taff had passed away on 29th June 2023 aged 71. He, as many others do, suffered with minor medical ailments. He suffered from a mini stroke in March and contracted Covid the same week, he’d also broken his shoulder when he fell sometime before. He wasn’t ill at the time but had developed an infection and as a consequence was admitted to hospital. He died as a result of septic shock, a condition that happens when one’s blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level following an infection. A service to celebrate Derek’s life took place at Dunfermline Crematorium on Friday 14th July. Family, friends and many colleagues travelled from afar to pay their respects to a legend of the band service with humorous dits recounted from Rab Thomson, David Smale and Paul Castledine. Two Royal Marines Buglers from Royal Marines Band Collingwood honoured Taff with the Last Post & Reveille, his wake was held at The Pitbauchlie Hotel in Dunfermline. Donations were received on behalf of Sepsis UK and funeral service monies collected were given to a local dog rescue charity.

RIP Taff

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