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

by Michael G. Hutton

I was lucky enough to gain the award as outstanding boy in that group which gave me lots of confidence for the next stage in my career. I was to be a member of the band to be sent to Malta to become band of the Commander in Chief Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. The band would form for training in November of that year, just after my 18th birthday.

1952. After considerable practice and training the band by mid February was ready to leave and in March 24 of us flew from RAF Northolt to Malta to join HMS Glasgow. We were to become the C in Cs Band Mediterranean Fleet, the C in C being Lord Louis Mountbatten. It's impossible after all these years to remember all our exploits and movements but I will try to recall a few.

When we embarked on the Glasgow we were without many of our instruments, having flown out to Malta in a 'Dakota' there was only room for our kit and small instruments, so the heavy brass, percussion, string basses and 'cello were sent by sea to arrive a couple of weeks later. Unfortunately the instrument crate packed correctly at the RMSM arrived in Malta the wrong way up and one of the double basses was damaged and my 'cello was flattened into hundreds of pieces! No hard cases in those days, and it was an instrument that had been presented to me by Jimmy Pottle for a performing prize at the RMSM the previous year. What a start to a two and a half year commission - however, we managed to borrow instruments for the few weeks until replacements arrived. (Incidentally I did manage to get the original 'cello repaired and had it back in a couple of months.) On HMS Glasgow we had to live in the Gun - Room flat area which is where the midshipmen had their quarters. There were 120 Royal Marines on board so there was no room for the band on the marines mess deck, although we were able to borrow half a table at TOT time for those who were old enough to draw their tot of course. All of those under age ie; under 20 just hung around for sippers!!! The Band Officer Lt Ernie Ough had a cabin and the Bandmaster also had a small cabin where all our music and small instruments were kept and most of the administration for the band was done. The rest of us shared lockers and a space not much bigger than a couple of snooker tables. I'm not sure how we managed during those difficult times having to perform daily at many different functions and wear many different uniforms for each gig.

In the 50s most bands on HM ships were 18 strong, but being the C in Cs we were augmented to 24 including the luxury of an Oboe, Cpl Tubby Griffiths, a Bassoon, my mate Denis Ovenden and two French Horns in John Stone and Jonny Corner. The Bandmaster was Crash Petters (his nick name comes from being a star on the Cymbals!!!) and the Band Officer already mentioned. Finding anywhere on a Cruiser to practice and rehearse was very difficult.

We were allowed to rehearse in the dining area most days (the Glasgow had a central feeding system unlike most other ships where you ate, lived and slept on a mess deck) but private practice was a non event although I do recall Denis and I playing duets in some unheard of place deep in the bowels of the ship with about a square yard of space each, just about room to use half the bow!. We had many good players in the band…Ray West was our lead Violin & Alto Sax, Jim Mason Solo Clarinet, Jim Beach Solo Cornet and the great Stan Wilkinson our 1st Trombone. More names later….

Once Mountbatten arrived on the scene in May we were kept busy with engagements all over the Med especially in Greece where he was of course particularly pally with the Royal family and I think we went there so many times that I even had a regular girl friend in Piraeus! That's the port for Athens. There were many diplomatic visits to France and Italy that were necessary at that time not long after the war and one included a trip to Yugoslavia and Brioni which was President Tito's HQ and Private Island. Some of our cruises were on HMS Surprise which was Lord Louis' sort of Royal Yacht, but there was only room for about 7 or 8 of us - just enough to play for entering and leaving harbour, colours, a small orchestra for dinners and cocktail parties etc; Piano, Bass and Drums for dance gigs.

Time to mention our percussionist Ginge White-Sansom who I see every year at the 'All Stars'. These trips were most uncomfortable as there was little space on HMS Surprise for RM Bandsmen.

Previous | Home | Next  1 - Photo  by Richard (Dickie) Valentine  1 - Photo  by Richard (Dickie) Valentine
Richard Valentine -1996 - 2010 © - All rights reserved