L Simmonds 1955-1989
Robert Leslie Simmonds was born in the seaside town of Littlehampton in West Sussex on Sunday 28th August 1955. He was known as Bob all his life and was raised in Bognor Regis along with his sisters Babs and Jane and brother Alan by their parents Daphne (Titheridge) and Maurice. Young Bob’s musical journey began when he took up learning to play the piano age just six, his talent stemmed from the very early tuition that he received from his jazz-loving father… more commonly known as Mole and a musician himself his whole life. He not only continued to encourage Bob, he was to be a guiding influence throughout his career. Bob was a pupil of Bognor Comprehensive School and it was evident in those school days that he was very sporty. His youthful pastimes were spent with the Cub Scouts before moving on to the Sea Cadets. He left school aged fifteen and went to work in a butcher’s shop for a while.
Bob had just turned sixteen when he travelled to Deal to join the Royal Marines Band Service on 31st August 1971 following a successful audition. His musical upbringing along with the discipline of his youth groups would have made the transition to service life all that easier when he became a member of 2/71 New Entry Troop along with another forty-three trainees, including Ian Crowther, Al White, Dave Emblem, Chris Beaman, Ken Peers, George Tate, Phil Crabbe, Michael Barfoot, Clem Cocker and Steve Quirk. Bob studied the clarinet and violin and he excelled on keyboards too, his natural musical ability coupled with his hard working nature helped him breeze through training. He played cricket to an extremely good level during his time in training and his ability came to fruition when he earned selection for the Kent under 19’s team. It was around this time that Bob met a young local lady by the name of Pauline, their relationship continued throughout his career, from the day they met.
his success during training, he was drafted to the Royal Marines School
of Music Staff Band. He lodged with fellow musicians Phil Gilbert and
Dave Sharp at 4 Oak Street in Deal and was such great fun to be with
on a run ashore. He quickly rose to prominence in those early days at
Staff Band at Deal, when his natural musical ability was really beginning
to mature. He travelled extensively with the band during those eight
years and featured in many massed bands engagements and overseas trips
including regular excursions to play at the Canadian National Exhibition
in Toronto. “During the past year, Musician Simmonds has really
excelled himself in ability and confidence. He is a first rate solo
clarinet player and a very good first violinist capable of leading the
Royal Marines School of Music orchestra.”
Bob had been based at Deal for a total of eleven years since the day he joined up, but it was now time to move on and he did so in September 1982, to the Royal Marines Band Commander in Chief Naval Home Command at Eastney Barracks in Portsmouth, under the baton of their newly appointed Director of Music Captain Peter Heming. Bob’s musical abilities were rewarded with a place in the band onboard Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia in January 1983, and what an adventure it was to become. Bob’s first tip on the Royal Yacht was in May, Britannia sailed for Stockholm Sweden after The Queen embarked in Portsmouth for the voyage across the North Sea and up the Kiel Canal. The Britannia remained in Stockholm for a further two days before transiting the Atlantic to arrive in Halifax on 10th June in support of The Prince and Princess of Wales's tour of eastern Canada. Their two-week tour included visits to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. In June 1984, the band embarked and sailed again across the Atlantic for The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s tour of Canada, only for the tour to be cancelled at the last minute due to the Canadian elections. The tour was rescheduled and she departed once again from Portsmouth on 10th September.
was an asset to the band and Captain Heming was so delighted with his
musical performances that he was always one of the first musicians selected
in any of his Royal Yacht deployments and continued to issue him with
glowing reports. The Yacht put to sea on her three-month spring deployment
to the west coast of Africa and the Mediterranean in February 1985,
she headed for Madeira, for the first fuel stop on her way to the Gambia
River, where she arrived on 7th March. The ship also visited Dakar and
Mauritania, then it was onto Lisbon for Her Majesty’s state visit
of Portugal, before The Prince and Princess of Wales boarded for their
own tour of Italy.
1986, Bob and his shipmates embarked on the trip of a lifetime to New
Zealand, Australia, via Aden, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
As the Yacht made her way down the Red Sea, a civil war was erupting
in South Yemen. This led to fighting between Government troops and rebels
from other Marxist factions. In London the British Government were discussing
how to evacuate British nationals trapped by the fighting in South Yemen.
Britannia's close proximity to South Yemen coupled with the fact she
was a non-combatant ship of the Royal Navy made her a very attractive
candidate to be used as part of the British rescue operation which was
given the code name of Operation Balsac. 152 people and a dog were initially
evacuated from Aden, before the yacht returned later to recover more,
a total of 1082 people were rescued by the Royal Yacht Britannia. The
crisis soon came to a conclusion and the Britannia continued with her
slightly delayed route to Cairns and onto Auckland New Zealand, Melbourne
and Adelaide. Following a cruise to the Western Isles, the yacht returned
to Portsmouth in preparation for Bob’s last venture in August
1985, the state visit of Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip to
China, visiting Shanghai, Canton (Guangzhou) and Hong Kong. The yacht
then sailed to the Persian Gulf in support of the Prince and Princess
of Wales’ visit to Oman and Saudi Arabia. It was also the final
trip for the Director of Music, who once again gave Bob another final
a glorious five-year adventure with Pompey Band, Bob was drafted back
to the Royal Marines School of Music Staff Band in June 1987. In February
1988, Bob was rewarded with his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.
Bob possessed a prodigious appetite for life, his personality and infectious sense of humour was something to behold and matched only by his immense talent as a musician. For whatever he did, he enjoyed and really was the nicest of blokes to be around. Bob's musical impact stretched far and wide… he had progressed into an accomplished jazz pianist, serving once again at the Royal Marines School of Music and was a major influence to the younger members and a total asset to the Staff Band. Bob was a brilliant all-round sportsman, he played rugby union to an exceptional standard as a fly half for Deal Wanderers… earning the nickname ’Bobby the Boot’ due to the fact that he used to kick the ball so much. Above all, he was a doting family man… he shared a home with his loving wife Pauline and their three children at 70 Delane Road in Deal. Pauline had three children from her previous marriage, Bob adored all of them and treated them as his own. They didn’t have children together, but their relationship was blessed, they truly loved and were dedicated to each other.
whole of the Royal Marines Band Service was left shocked and devastated
following the terrorist atrocity which occurred at Deal Barracks on
22nd September 1989, taking eleven of our colleagues. Bob was severely
injured by the blast that caused so much needless pain and sorrow. He
was rushed to Buckland Hospital in Dover, sadly he didn’t make
it and passed away in the operating theatre at 12.30pm aged just 34.
A Memorial service was held onboard Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia for the victims of the atrocity, in particular Bob who had been a well known and respected member of the band for three years. Bob’s funeral service along with Richard ‘Taff’ Jones was held on 3rd October at St Michael and All Angels church in South Barracks. The two coffins, draped with Union flags and bedecked with the caps and white belts of the two bandsmen, were escorted the five hundred yards from the officers' mess by the Royal Marines Band. As a tribute to Bob, who played in a jazz band at a local pub, as his coffin was carried from the church, the Marines' band struck up with the jazz song ‘Around Midnight’. The service was followed by committal at Barham Crematorium.
Darts professional Jockey Wilson later attended the Admiral Keppel to perform in a darts exhibition… the money raised that evening went towards two blind dogs, who were appropriately named ‘Taffy’ and ‘Bob’.
Nothing can bring Bob back, but his memory lives on… since 2001, the Royal Marines School of Music Band has performed annually in the delightful town of Alton in Hampshire for the annual Bob Simmonds Memorial Concert. The concert was dedicated to Bob, whose sister, the Reverend Jane Walker, was a former curate of All Saint’s Church. At the time, the church was in need of funds to help pay for the replacement ring of six bells and ably supported by Newbury Building Society. In addition, the Simmonds family commissioned a solid silver trophy ‘The Bob Simmonds Memorial Cup for Musical Endeavour’ which would be presented each year to the local senior school, whose pupils were seen to be exploring their musical talents to the full. The participants also receive a donation to their music department to help with their music development. The concert was still ongoing til 2016, when the band played in support of the Fire Fighters Charity.
Approaching the thirtieth anniversary of the bombing, David Yates organised the design and implementation of a bronze plaque now in place in the Memorial Garden, managing to obtain the necessary financial support for this venture from Corps Charities. The plaque was dedicated and blessed in 2019 by Jane, now the Vicar of St Mary’s Church, Frensham, who makes the pilgrimage from Hampshire to take the memorial service on 22nd September each year.
Bob achieved many things in his short life and we count ourselves very fortunate indeed that we were privileged to share his musical talent.