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

by Michael G. Hutton

Life aboard a working Air-craft Carrier is rather unpredictable when at sea - a lot of the time everyone was at action stations, which meant we were flying. My action stations was on the bridge as a spotter! So I was hob-nobbing with the ship's Captain, Commander and Commander Air plus on some occasions an Admiral. I got on particularly well with the ship's 2nd in command known as the Commander - I had invited him, while in Portsmouth, to be Band President which he very much appreciated and from then on gave me all the support I needed. I also think that's how I got the job on the bridge! He's the one in the middle on the Band Photograph. Back to action stations. That meant that every time day or night when the squadrons were flying I was on the bridge at the control point watching everything that was happening. An experience I shall never forget. There were three different types of fix-wing aircraft plus helicopters on Albion. To take off the fix-wing planes were catapulted from about 50 yards before the front of the ship - this was before the angled deck had been invented . Albion would steam at about 25 knots into the wind and the aircraft had to leave the deck at full throttle. One of my Trombone players, a Lt in one of the squadrons managed to get me a ride in one of the two seater jets. The pilot took me up as a passenger in the navigators seat which was directly behind him and we did a couple of circuits round the horizon before landing. From a couple of thousand feet up the ship looked rather like a 'match box' in the ocean and on landing the pilot has to release a hook at the back of the plane which catches on an arrester wire to slow and eventually bring the aircraft to a stop. In my lifetime I had that experience just the once, but those Fleet-Air-Arm pilots were doing it every day and night for most of their careers in the Navy. During my time on the Albion we lost four officer pilots, three were landing crashes and the other was engine failure on take off and the plane crashed into the sea with the ship going over it.

Once we were through the Suez Canal there was a short stop in Aden before heading for Singapore. There the ship had to have some refurbishment so I was seconded to the HMS Terror RM Band for about 6 weeks and it was great to get involved with the musical Marines once more.

During my time in Terror I did lots of Drum Majoring duties on various trips around the far east. (Some photos to prove it!) I also got plenty of cello' practice with the RM orchestra and also played in a couple of concerts with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. One in particular when Alfredo Campoli (a famous violinist of the time) came out from the UK to perform the Tchaikowsky Violin Concerto in the Victoria Halls Singapore. I also made regular visits back to the Albion for mainly the Sunday mornings church service. I had formed quite a good Brass Quintet with my volunteers and having written special arrangements they produced a proficient accompaniment for those occasions. The ships company were informed that further damage had been discovered to the keel of the ship which must have happened when going through the Suez canal and the only dry dock big enough to take her for repairs was in Japan! So it was Yokosuka here we come!

Japan at that time was still very much under the influence of the USA, so we had a great time being entertained by the Yanks during our three weeks stay. On arrival in Yokosuka harbour with my frantic 15 playing on the flight-deck we were welcomed by a 40 piece US Navy Band performing on the quay side WOW! That day we invited four of the American Marine Sergeants from USS Ranger (the biggest Air-craft Carrier in the world) for a tot and lunch in the 'Horse Box'. With seven of us, four guests and lunch being Fish & Chips washed down with navy rum and plenty of beer, it was quite a party which lasted well into the afternoon, but led to all of us being invited to become members of the US Marine Corps PX (their private club) and mess for the duration of our stay in Japan.

Tom Bateman along with two of the guys from the American Marine Corps and myself spent a couple of days in Tokyo - the Yanks were able to show us around as they had been frequent visitors and one evening we ended up in a night-club on the Ginza, Tokyo's main red light district in the 60s. We were having a quiet drink when Charlie one of our American friends said he had to leave us for a while, but would return! He certainly did! Ten minutes later he appeared on stage as a Cherokee Indian Chief in full dress and war paint and performed the most amazing war-dance. Charlie and I kept in touch by mail for a couple of years, but somehow I mislaid his address and our communication ceased.

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