Bob L Simmonds 1955-1989
Served 1971-1989

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.

Following 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.”
Richard Waterer WO2 Bandmaster 1980.

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.

Bob 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.
In September 1985, the Britannia embarked on a Commonwealth tour of the Caribbean, where they visited fourteen different islands. The Queen remarked “It would be difficult to exaggerate the value of the Royal Yacht during the recent Commonwealth Tour. It is obvious that the people of these islands have happy memories of their association with Great Britain. The behaviour and bearing of the Officers, Yachtsmen and members of the Royal Marine Band have helped remind them of all that is best in the old mother country. This has made our job in the islands that much more effective and, I hope more memorable. I know it has meant a great deal of work for everyone, but it was worth every bit of it."

In 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 glowing report…
“Simmonds has been of unquestionable value to the Royal Yacht Band… his natural musical talents have received the highest acclaim from the Royal Household. Of modest, likeable disposition, he has approached all tasks given in a thoroughly professional manner.” From 1983-87 he was leader of the Royal Yacht Orchestra, jazz pianist to The Royal Family and a prominent member of the Barbershop Quartet, with Dick Granger, Dave Bromley and Alan Upton, even Her Majesty The Queen had been known to succumb to the hilarious antics of that formidable troupe of strolling players!

Following 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.
He had other pastimes away from music, he loved his darts, playing for the ‘Port Arms’ in the early years along with Martyn ‘Rivs’ Jordan, Dave Bromley and Kevin Kay. On his return to Deal, he regularly turned out for the ‘Admiral Keppel’ pub in Deal, alongside Richard ’Taff’ Jones and Tim Reeves. They played on Monday nights in the ‘Blind Dog League’. The lads in the team were also collecting money to purchase another guide dog.

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.

The 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.
It was a misty Friday morning that 22nd September in Portsmouth Harbour when Steve Weir first heard the rumour of an incident in Deal. Steve was just leaving on a ferry from Portsmouth to Caen with some clients on a Jolly, having left the band service earlier that year. On board alongside him were three musicians he'd bribed to entertain the clients with a jazz trio. Steve Cook (drums) and Steve Angel (bass) were still serving in Portsmouth Band and on Keyboards was Mole Simmonds (Bob’s Dad). There were no mobile phones back then, so they didn't know how serious things were, but Mole was understandably concerned as his son was a Staff Band musician. When the ferry arrived in France, Mole went to the nearest available phone to call home to his wife. He returned shortly afterwards ashen faced and said, “Bob's been injured but we think he's ok.” That was the first moment they knew it was bad, really bad. On the sail home, the function had started, the trio were playing when Steve received a tap on the shoulder. A member of the ferry crew asked if he was in charge of the function, and he asked him to go with him outside. When they left the room the captain of the ferry introduced himself and asked if Mole Simmonds was amongst his guests. Steve confirmed that he was currently playing the keyboards… he’ll never forget his reply... “We've just received news that his son has been killed in Deal.” Steve’s first reaction was one of pure grief… he and Bob sat together as first violins on HMY Britannia. Then it was the feeling of pure fear as he walked back into the function room and looked across the room at Mole playing keyboards, knowing at that moment that his son was dead when he was unaware was harrowing. Steve didn't have the words, the courage nor the strength to tell him, so he asked the ferry captain to stay with him and help deliver the terrible news once the set had finished. “It was, and still is, the saddest moment of my life, he was a lovely lovely guy and a great musician.”

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.


Paul Foley

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