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

by Michael G. Hutton

HMS Albion was the last of the light fleet Air-craft Carriers and this was to be it's conclusive commission with fixed wing air-craft before becoming the second Commando Carrier like HMS Bulwark. My job was to recruit volunteers from the ships company and try to form a working musical combination to perform at various functions both ceremonial and entertaining with the instruments and music library made available to me by the RMSM stores back in Deal. I joined the ship in September when it was having a refit in Portsmouth dockyard. As I was my own boss more or less it was a pretty easy life and I was home most weekends. The job of getting sailors to play brass instruments was probably the hardest of my career although the majority of my volunteers had at least played before. Anyway by the time the ship was ready to leave the UK I had a small band of 12 possible and 2 RM Buglers. I did hope to get more players when the Fleet Air-arm Squadrons joined just before our sailing date, but only one extra guy came from 400 odd air sailors!

We set sail for the far east early in 1960. Rhoda went back to stay with her parents for a while as we hoped to get a married quarter on my return. The trip turned out to be amazing - we visited many places I had been to before like Malta, Athens, Suez and Aden etc; but also many that I had not! plus the experience of being on a working aircraft carrier.

The musical part of my life for the eight months we were away would be quite limited - for example when we were at sea I would be lucky if I got the band together once a week for rehearsals and as for teaching individuals and my own practice especially on my 'cello, that was very difficult. My band office and store room for all instruments was 6P2.……That's six decks down, just below the water-line, roundabout the middle of the ship and just below one of the main seamen's toilets!

Most of the space on an air-craft carrier is taken up by the flight deck and the hanger where most of the planes are kept when not flying. The rest of the space is divided into watertight compartments on 7 decks where the rest of us have to live and work. My band room was quite spacious, even big enough to have all the band there for rehearsals (excluding percussion of course), but on some occasions I needed to bribe the Bass Player, who was the Chief Petty Officer of the engine room, with a the promise of a couple of tots of rum! In those days all the ships company except the officers were given a tot of rum each and every day. Petty Officers, Sergeants and above had neat rum and all other ranks had two & one….that's two parts water and one part rum. I used to bottle most of mine and keep it for special occasions such as bribing the bass player and social functions. It came in very handy when we met the Americans later in the voyage. Anyway 6P2 was to be my home till we completed the commission the following December.

There was a detatchment of about 40 Royal Marines on board and they had a below mess deck which was a bit crowded. The Sgts Mess was quite snug as well. There were five Royal Marines SNCOs, myself and the canteen manager. It was, however, on 2 deck so was very light and airy unlike my band cabin 6 decks down. We ate, slept (well they did) in that fairly limited space, but we had a good social life together and I got on well with all the boot-necks particularly Tom Bateman who was a fairly newly promoted Sgt like me. Two of the other SNCOs had been serving in the last war so we were frequently told many hair raising stories about their exploits.

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