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

by Michael G. Hutton

A quick visit to Dubai before a two week stay at Karachi in Pakistan where we were able to get ashore for a while after the usual duties including Dinners, Cocktail Parties, Band displays and Beat Retreats etc; I did get to play a couple of games of cricket along with Pete Westaway one of our Trombone players, as we were both in the ships team. Also some hockey matches, but they were mostly between different departments of the ships company and on those occasions I played in the Royal Marines team.

I did meet an extraordinary guy in Karachi! The Bandmaster Doug Haigh and I got invited to a get-together of Pakistani and European musical types and at the end of the function we were asked to this individuals home. He had the most amazing studio full of the latest Hi-Fi equipment (before the days of stereophonic sound!) and was a total nut on sound production. He had great classical recordings of Toscanini, Bruno Walter and other great conductors of the day, but also recordings of ants, bird sounds and other creatures you would never dream could make any sounds - as I said a complete nutter!

After Karachi we had naval exercises with the Pakistan and Indian Navies which was in preparation for bigger naval exercises to be held later in the year off Ceylon. Then it was on to Trincomalee where we would be for a few weeks having a bit of a break after being at sea for some time. Trinco is on the north east coast of Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) and at that time in the late 50s it seemed to be to us a lovely quiet peaceful place which later in the 60s & 70s would be involved in a bloody civil war.

During the time since we left the UK the ships company had been busy in their spare time putting together a Concert-Party. (The Naval term for a variety show!) This was a traditional occupation that most of the larger ships in the fleet would get involved in during long periods of times spent at sea. This started just before Christmas when we were in Aden and had to entertain ourselves. Of course the Band were the centrepiece of the production, but with great help from the officers and sailors we could put on a show lasting up to a couple of hours. In March of 58 the Band and Concert-Party went up country in Ceylon to Diyatalawa in the mountain region where all the tea planters lived and worked and we stayed for a week to put on a show and enjoy a bit of a rest. We all played lots of golf, tennis, cricket and hockey, ate lots of very hot curries and spent lots of time drinking the local beer!

Back to the ship and off on our travels, this time the Maldives and India. We were the first ship to visit Male the main island in the Maldives since the second world war, so the visit was particularly important. The Gambia was not able to tie up anywhere as the islands are in quite shallow waters so we were anchored quite a way out in the harbour. The most amazing visit from the Maldives head of state was next on the agenda - we were all lined up on the Quarterdeck with Guard & Band, Admiral, Captain etc; when in the distance we saw a large craft approaching. It was the Royal Barge being rowed by about 100 oarsmen with a cabin about 20 feet high in the centre of the craft where the Sultan and all his entourage were seated. They drew up alongside the ship and all the dignitaries were welcomed, wined and dined in true colonial fashion! Later that day we went ashore to do our bit for Queen & Country with our frantic 17 piece band - a concert at the Sultan's Palace followed by a Beat Retreat on the local football pitch after the tide went out. I was on Bass Drum that day as our regular Bass Drummer was sick - that's why we were only 17. The Maldives was a beautiful place with the most handsome people I have ever seen - a mixture of Indian & African.

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