RMB/X 2486 Robin Neilson Smith 'Syd' Rose LRAM, LGSM, RM
1933 - 2018

Robin Neilson Smith ROSE was born in the village of Highworth near Swindon Wilts on 19 July 1933. Little is now known of his family life and upbringing before he enlisted in the Royal Marines as RMB/X 2486, on 1 October 1947, as a Band Boy aged 14¼ in 104 squad at Burford, Oxfordshire at the Royal Naval School of Music, not too many miles up the road from his home.

The open site of the former American hospital built at Broadwell Grove for D-Day emergency casualties flown in to the nearby airfield at Brize Norton, had been taken over by the Admiralty from our Allies in 1946 and was to be the ultimate home of the School before the return to Deal. The accommodation was typical hospital wards of about 30 beds, the whole camp connected by covered colonnades, and the Boys formed `B` Company numbering between 250 and 300 in training, which culminated when each Boy was considered "Fit for Sea"- a category much desired by them, which came at 17½ or onwards to 18. On joining each boy had been allocated a specific musical category to learn; most were required to become proficient on a wind and a stringed instrument to fulfil the need for each ship`s band to provide wind-band music and orchestral sounds as well as dance band, thus maintaining the unique versatility of the RM Band Service. When each Boy was considered "Fit for Sea" he would be rated to adult Musician status, move to the mens` accommodation, and be ready for drafting to a ship or shore establishment band. Robin - who quickly acquired the nick-name of Syd which stuck for the rest of his 26 years in the service - was allocated as a Solo Cornet, which meant he had to specialise in the cornet and trumpet for the three types of music required. At that time there were no Buglers at the School and Solo Cornets had to perform these duties additionally; when Duty Bugler for 24 hours sleeping in the cold and draughty Guardroom near the main gate. Although not appreciated at the time, discipline was relatively relaxed there, of which more in a moment. Sport was plentiful and occasionally at weekends there would be an opportunity for the boys to volunteer to act as beaters for pheasant shoots over the rolling acres of the local landowner Colonel Savage, ex- Indian Army. The resulting rewards were sometimes a few stray pheasants to be enjoyed cooked in mess tins over the coke stoves which heated the rooms, and supplemented the always-starving Boys in those days of wartime rationing which still remained until the early 50s. This soon- to-be appreciated semi-idyllic existence was to come to a traumatic end on 6 January 1950 when `B` Company was shipped by 3-ton lorries to a special train waiting at a local station, probably Ascot-under-Wychwood, to take us direct via Oxford, Reading, Reigate, Tonbridge, Ashford & Folkestone to the arrival at Deal station where the Boys were stunned into silence at their first sight of an Adjutant mounted on a charger accompanied by a Regimental Sergeant Major, both exotic creatures unknown at Burford. Disembarkation, followed by forming up behind the Depôt band for the march into and through Deal High Street and up the Strand past the castle into East Barrack and its prisonlike atmosphere; a traumatic change which was soon reinforced when daily routine took over and morning parades were taken in North Barrack with all the adult marine recruits. A real shock to the system after Burford camp!

However, boys are adaptable and quickly adjusted to this new taut discipline and continued their all-round musical training with PT, general education classes and sport at Walmer & Coldblow. The move to Deal also gave more opportunity for band performances in public than the rural setting in Oxfordshire. Syd took part in all these activities, gaining gradually in knowledge and understanding, also physically in height from 5` 3`` to 6` in 2½ years. In the cornet class he was notable as a natural with an embouchure that needed little routine attention; in short, he could go on leave for a fortnight, come back and utter divine sounds to rival the arch-angel Gabriel himself. In those days there was a very quick succession of instructors thus little continuity in the tuition and we were left largely to our own devices to make progress. Awareness of these conditions probably influenced him, and myself, many years later when we ourselves were appointed Instructors.

One of the changes made on moving back to Deal was that no-one was rated Musician until their 18th birthday, and that day came for Syd on 19 July 1951 when he moved over to North barrack to await draft, being attached to the Staff Band until June 1952 when he joined a band formed for the C-in-C East Indies which served in the cruisers Ceylon & Newfoundland based in Trincomalee, Ceylon and generally `Showing the Flag` in the Indian Ocean from the Persian Gulf to Singapore. In October 54 the band was relieved and a return to Deal sent him on the Cpls course before promotion to Corporal in March 56 and instructing duties in East Barrack. Syd`s private life took a significant turn soon after as he and Clare were married in August of that year, with the arrival of their son David in late 1957. In May 58 he went to Albion as Volunteer Band Instructor, being promoted to Sergeant in July 58 and in October 59 he returned to Deal having been selected for the 1960 Bandmasters Class. This was the first class with Ernie Stride as Professor of Theory in place of Michael Hurd. Among fellow classmates was David Wells who remembers Syd as an outstanding member, having a wonderful ear for Aural work, an ease with Harmony & Counterpoint, and natural authority with the baton in Conducting; qualities which seemed to parallel his natural ease with instrumental work. Add to this his quick wit and optimistic outlook which was always ready to ready to raise morale and lighten the mood. A successful exam result at the end of the year`s course then led to his promotion to Bandmaster in June 1961.

In his new rank he was required in October 62 to take over the RM band in St Vincent, the training establishment in Gosport; here the Rose family enjoyed a settled life for 2½ years. A return to Deal in April 1965 then led to another draft to sea, this time to relieve me in Lion in July 65 as Flagship of the Home Fleet until December when the band paid off. Clare always jokingly blamed me for Syd`s pierhead jump.......as if I had anything to do with drafting?!

From 1966 to the end of his time in 1973 he was in Deal during which he acquired the LRAM in Conducting and the LGSM in Teaching. This was a period where he was mostly concerned with the Staff Band under the PDM Colonel Paul Neville who had the highest regard for Syd`s professional abilities and also his personal qualities of leadership and integrity. These outstanding attributes must certainly have been a major factor in his next step on going to Pension in July 1973 when he was appointed Professor of Trumpet at the RMSM. These prestige positions were usually won by former members of the major symphony orchestras, and it was significant that this was a new indication for an ex-RMB member and showed the vastly improving quality of RM musical training. This period of Syd`s life clearly resulted in the steady production of a very large number of high-quality performers on cornet and trumpet; an additional benefit was gained by the Bugler branch which he had offered to take on to improve their basic techniques, with results that are transparent to this day. In March 1996 came the day appointed for the closure of Deal Barracks and the move of the School of Music back to its original home-town of Portsmouth. As a result Syd took the opportunity to retire a couple of years early and enjoy life with Clare. They had suffered the tragic loss of David in a road accident some years previous and this was perhaps a fortunate decision as Clare later developed medical problems which led to her decline and death from cancer. Syd seemed to manage solo living very capably but this very private man undoubtedly missed his family that he had cared for so much. About eight years ago he was persuaded to join the Globe & Laurel Lodge of Freemasons where he was able to resume some of the camaraderie of the Corps he had served so well; however by now his own health was declining and it was sad to see this former Warrant Officer of immaculate bearing clearly having difficulties in mobility and posture, and it was probably from a feeling of personal pride that he resigned about a year ago, as he became aware of his condition. A caring group of neighbours and friends were attentive in offering help around Fiveways Rise and were constant visitors at his bedside when he was admitted to Kent & Canterbury Hospital where the ward staff were devoted in their care, for which the Family thank them. Syd leaves behind a huge number of former pupils; a reputation of having been probably the finest teacher of trumpet the Royal Marines School of Music has ever had; and a horde of friends and shipmates who held him in the very highest regard.

Terry Freestone

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