Frederick G Harwood DSM 1915-2002
Served 1929-1954

Frederick George Harwood was born on Wednesday 20th October 1915 in Plymouth. He was raised in St Mary Street, Stonehouse along with his older sister Winifred. Their father Frederick was employed as a Labourer in Ammunition Storage and mother Jane was originally from Mumbles near Swansea. Young Frederick enrolled in the Plymouth Company, Royal Marines Cadet Corps while he was at school. As part of the Cadets, he learned how to play the bugle and from there on, his only aim in life was to become a Bugler in the Royal Marines.

He travelled to the Royal Naval School of Music at Eastney on 6th November 1929, where he joined as a Band Boy, playing Flute and Horn, but little did he know what was looming in his career ahead. His first ship as a Musician was HMS Berwick in October 1933, sailing with her on a tour of the Far East and enjoying a visit to the ‘Great Wall of China’ and Nagasaki. During the 1930's he had various postings aboard St Vincent and Devonshire. It was in this period that the Spanish Civil War was in full flow. The Deutschland, a light battlecruiser was deployed along the Spanish coast. On 29th May 1937, the ship was at anchor off Ibiza, when she was bombed... the ship made for nearby Gibraltar. As it was, Jan found himself there and he formed part of the two massed bands, their drums were draped in black and they played at the funerals for the German seamen.

Just before the outbreak of World War II, Frederick joined HMS Norfolk, in what was the beginning of an action-packed period. Quickly deployed in pursuit of the Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and Admiral Scheer, Norfolk was damaged by the detonation of 'near-miss torpedoes' from the U-47 and made for repairs at Belfast. Rejoining the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, he now had the opportunity to play music again. Every time a patrol concluded, they returned back to Scapa Flow, where a massive fleet was massed. They went ashore occasionally to the canteen for massed band practise, under Tommy Lang, who was the WO Bandmaster for the fleet. In the end they had two great musicians arrive, the pianist Pussinoff and the violinist Yehudi Menhuin. The band had one rehearsal with Pussinoff before performing a concert in which he played Rachmalinoff's piano concerto… the band took great pride in saying that they played in that concert.

‘Jan’ was promoted to Band Corporal on 1st April 1940, before being posted to Deal where a new band was formed. He was put to work on a tour of music engagements, fine-tuning his skills on the flute and french horn. He returned to sea duties with the aircraft carrier HMS Argus in July 1942. This period saw the ship assist in the Malta Convoys and in November 1942, she was assigned to the Eastern Naval Task Force that invaded Algiers. The ship was hit by a bomb that killed four men… witnessed by ‘Jan’. He was further posted to HMS Bristol from May to December 1943. Whilst there, his wife was also posted to the NAAFI and with Russia coming into the Second World War, the Band often played the 'Red Flag', which they loved marching to.' He was then posted to HMS Swiftsure in June 1944, where he would see action in the Pacific theatre for the conclusion of the Second World War. Swiftsure participated in the Okinawa Campaign of March-May 1945 and in June took part in the carrier raid on Truk. The next phase was off the coast of Japan, who had very little petrol, no food, no ships coming out, so our only opposition was Kamikazes. They set for our carriers twice, coming from the stern and dropping a bomb. This happened twice, but the third time one came from the port side which hit the bridge and superstructure. Next, she went into Hong Kong and at this time HMS Swiftsure was the flagship of the British Pacific Cruiser Squadron. Thus, she was selected by Admiral Cecil Harcourt to hoist his flag for the Japanese surrender. Despite the surrender, there was still work to be done. They moved south to Nagasaki early on 18th October, two months after the atomic bomb, thanks to the co-operation of the US Marines, everybody got the opportunity to visit what was left of the city, the sight of such complete devastation came as an unpleasant shock to many of us. The newspapers had in no way exaggerated the damage. Most of the men returned on board from their visit in an extremely depressed state of mind.

Jan was promoted to Bandmaster 2nd Class on 18th September 1945. He returned to the UK and appointed as Bandmaster to the Royal Marines Band Infantry Training Centre at Lympstone. He was rewarded with his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal on 20th October 1948. Bandmaster Harwood joined HMS London on 12th October 1948. In the spring of 1949, the frigate HMS Amethyst became trapped by advancing Communist Chinese forces up the Yangtse River. HMS London sailed up the river as a show of strength in an attempt to help free the frigate. The enemy forces were not intimidated and took the cruiser under fire. London returned fire with her 8-inch and 4-inch guns, firing several hundred rounds, but she was hit several times. Her two forward 8-inch turrets and "X" turret aft were damaged and rendered inoperable, and her bridge sustained several hits. The London retreated down river and returned to Hong Kong for repairs which lasted until the end of July. HMS London remained in Chinese waters until August 1949, when she was relieved by HMS Kenya and she returned to the UK in the autumn of 1949. King George VI graciously approved the award of the Distinguished Service Medal to Bandmaster F. G. Harwood, RM, for outstanding courage and devotion to duty while serving in HMS London, during the attempt to assist HMS Amethyst while under very heavy gunfire on 20th-21st April 1949, in what became known as the Yangtze Incident.

‘Harwood was in charge of the Royal Marine Band stretcher-parties and worked all the night of 20-21 April supervising in the removal of Consort's casualties to London and giving encouragement and comfort to them. On 21st April, during the action, he worked continuously among the wounded in various places indifferent to danger, giving first aid and comfort and displaying marked initiative and level headedness. This he continued to do all through the night for 21-22 April. He then went with the wounded to the US Hospital Ship Repose and remained with them until they were settled in, not returning until that evening. He then had no sleep for 60 hours. His effect on morale was quite outstanding.’

The award was given on 1st November 1949 and in addition, he was the recipient of the Naval General Service Medal, which carried the inscription ‘Yangtze 1949’. He travelled to Buckingham Place to receive his DSM on the 17th November, presented to him by King George VI in the Ballroom. Fred returned home to the West Country and took up the reins with the Royal Marine Band at HMS Raleigh -1951- He lived at 3 Cliff Cottages, Wilcove in Torpoint near the base. He saw out his career and was discharged to pension on 19th October 1954, following a rather adventurous twenty-five-year career, during which he amassed twelve medals. In 1995, Fred was granted the honour of conducting the Royal Marines Band at Devonport Dockyard on his 80th birthday, upon the arrival of HMS Battleaxe.

Frederick Harwood, a devoted husband and father sadly passed away on 29th April 2002. He was cremated and his ashes interred at Horson Cemetery in his hometown of Torpoint.

RIP Fred ’Jan’

(I felt that it was only right to provide a brief insight into the life and career of Bandmaster Frederick Harwood. His more detailed story told by the man himself can be found by clicking on the link below.)

Bandmaster Harwood’s Medals were expected to be sold at auction for in excess of £12,000

Paul Foley

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