My Life in the Royal Marines Band Service - Circa 1947-1968

by Michael G. Hutton

Trevor, Rhoda's brother and I became good friends - he had spent some time in the Royal Marines so it must have been national service and he was always interested in what was happening in the corps.

It must have been about July/August time when I found out that I was to join up with a new band to serve on HMS Gambia which would form up in September to embark the following month.

The Gambia was a Light Fleet Cruiser so would only have a 18 piece band which meant a Bandmaster in charge, 1 Sergeant, 1 Corporal (me) and 15 musicians. We got together early September had three weeks training and joined the ship in Chatham on the 4th October just before my 24th birthday….What a lovely going away present! It was very different to my last ship! We did have our own mess deck unlike the Glasgow, but there was a detachment of about 90 Royal Marines on board as well. The Bandmaster Doug Haigh and the Sgt Dan O'Connell were in the Sgts Mess (sometimes known as 'The Horse Box') so it was my job to run the below decks mess with the rest of the band. I also managed to organise a small cabin for myself in the ships cinema where I kept the band's music and it was also used as the instrument store. The cinema was where we could practice and it became a regular place for the ships company to come to concerts and for general entertainment. It was also very handy having my band cabin close by. The ships first port of call was a week's trip to Bergen in Norway via Rosyth where more of the ships company joined us. We were to join up with some European service bands in combined concerts etc; so that was a nice start to our time on the Gambia. While we were in Norway I managed to get a trip to Edvard Grieg's home not far from Bergen. I had always been a fan of his music so it was nice to visit and sit at his piano where most of it had been written.

Back to Chatham for a few days, just enough time to see wives and girl friends before sailing off to the Middle-East. Our base for the next year or so was to be Trincomalee in Ceylon and we had been told this would be the last ship to serve that station as it would be handed over to Ceylon when we left whenever that would be!

The 1950s were bringing the colonial days of the British Empire to a close and the job of HMS Gambia its Captain and crew was to show the flag by visiting as many different countries as possible. There were a couple of Frigates and a Destroyer plus a re-fueling ship accompanying us and as you will see by the planned cruise we would be visiting many varied destinations. The Royal Marines and Band were an integral part of this and as you will see by the next couple of pages we certainly earned our pennies!

There is a picture with a plan of our cruise and for some reason Malta seems to have been left off? It was our second port of call after Gibraltar where we met up with lots of other bandsmen near my old haunts of four years before, so it was a sort of reunion. We took on board an Admiral which meant that the Gambia had now become a Flag Ship similar to HMS Glasgow when Admiral Mountbatten had been Commander in Chief of the Med Fleet, this guy became Commander in Chief East Indies. Then it was off to Suez through the canal, down the Red Sea where we stopped occasionally for leisure activities such as swimming, fishing, rowing tournaments and best of all water polo matches between different messes on board. This was very popular even though we had the laborious task of having to put out shark netting! Then on to Aden where we would spend Christmas before sailing via Bahrain up the Persian Gulf to Kuwait. While in Bahrain the Royal Marines were sent up country to sort out some problems and for a couple of weeks I had the job of Fleet Postman! This meant I would be stationed ashore with my own jeep and driver. Each morning we would have to go to the airport, collect incoming mail, sort it and then deliver to each ship and shore establishment. Then back to the Gambia by 9am to continue normal duties! Oh what a hot day…………

From Bahrain we had to visit Iraq and Iran (this was when the Shah of Persia was still on the throne and I think both countries were principalities) so we had to perform at official functions in both Basrah and Abadan. We were very glad to get out of the Persian Gulf as it must have been one of the hottest places on earth.

Previous | Home | Next
Richard Valentine -1996 - 2010 © - All rights reserved