Reunion 2005 - Photo Album
Brazilian Marine Corps Band - 1974 by Patrick Hill
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It was a great pleasure to meet up with Ian Naylor at the last Reunion and have the opportunity to reminisce about a visit we both made to South America a little more than thirty years ago. At his suggestion I am going to 'spin a dit.'

In 1974 HMS Ark Royal joined up with HMS Blake for a visit to Rio De Janeiro. Blake was at the tail end of a global deployment in company with several other RN warships and RFA vessels, including HMS Warspite. Ships accompanying the Blake deployed to other ports on the Brazilian coast.

Anchored off, in Rio's breathtaking natural harbour, we were subject to a difficult and lengthy boat routine for gigs and runs ashore. The ubiquitous Cocktail Party Beat Retreat, performed by the Ark Band, took place on the Blake's flight deck. On board Blake we met up with Blake's VBI and his 'guest' Solo Cornet Ian Naylor, drafted to the ship for the jolly. This turned out to be a bonus for us since these two Booties knew exactly how to organise beer for the Ark Band.

We were in Rio for a few days and I recall a small ceremonial gig at a large memorial in the city - wreath laying stuff. There was a Brazilian Marine Corps band there at the same time. Quite impressive and completely different in style from us.

Later that night, back on board and suffering from 'shore fatigue' we had a visit to the Mess from the Bandmaster 'Taff' Webber. Apparently he had been contacted by the Ark's Visits Office and given an invitation for the Band to attend a social function, or so we thought. No instruments, just the guys. We were all a bit low on enthusiasm for this but a small group of us elected to go, if only out of good manners in response to the kind invitation. It goes to show how clear things need to be for Royal Marines Bands when they are embarked on a large warship. Details given indicated we should arrive on the jetty, in Rio's Naval Base, to meet up with transport and from there we would travel to - get this, "Il Hotel Alpha Descobara." We were blissfully unaware, at the time, that the Hotel Alpha did not actually exist and there was no such place as Descobara.

The boat came alongside the jetty and we were met by a small group of very smart looking Brazilian Marines, at least one of whom was an officer - it was difficult to tell - who treated me to an exceptional salute. I returned it in a manner that would have impressed even the most particular RSM. At the time I had no idea why he singled me out. We spread ourselves out in the three 'tillies' waiting for us and left the naval base. I was not the only one starting to feel uneasy about our situation; there was a lot of transport. It dawned on all of us things were feeling a bit too official for just a run ashore. Still, stranger things have happened - there was a gig in St Thomas, or Barbados, when we were fed giant buckets of KFC by the island's Police Chief washed down by an endless supply of free booze provided by a local Roman Catholic priest.

If my memory serves our nominal was me, Trevor 'Bruno' Brown, Pete Usher, Steve Shutt, Mick Holder, Sean Mason and Ian Naylor - from the Blake. Anyone else who was there but not mentioned has my apologies.

There was a bit of a drive before we swung in to a large main gate, manned by sentries who also provided our vehicles with smart salutes. The officer travelling in my minibus was chattering away in Portuguese, returned the salutes and went on to explain what lay ahead of us. At least I assume he was, not being fluent in anything other than English and Jackspeak I was more concerned about what was going on.

The tillies pulled up in front of a large building, in front of which was a substantial posse of other Brazilian Marines. It was at this point I think we all realised there had been a serious cock up between the Ark's Visits Office liaison team, Bandmaster and Brazilian Marines. The gentlemen waiting for us were all, without doubt, senior officers the most braided of which marched smartly up to me, slammed to attention, chopped one off, waited for my response then removed his cap and held out a hand of welcome. There is something positive to be said about our basic training at this point; all my, by now, nervous colleagues were stood in a short rank behind me rigidly at attention during this brief little ceremony. Abject fear that we were on the edge of an enormous socio-military gaff may have had something to do with it, of course. We were ushered in to the building.

It being Rio during mid-morning it took a moment for our eyes to get accustomed to the gloom inside after the bright sunshine. Things got worse. As we entered there was a rush of sound as a very large concert band rose to its feet on a stage. There was a line of chairs set directly in front of them; we were seated spread amongst those who met us at the door. Behind in the audience seats were other Marines and some families. The place was full of people. The concert band's conductor welcomed us - we had by now realised there was an officer acting as translator - and they gave a short concert, just three or so pieces, for our benefit. They were an excellent band numbering some seventy musicians.

While they were playing 'we few, we happy few, we band of brothers' engaged in some desperate sign language that need not be explained here. Although we were in half Lovats and Green Berets I was the only one wearing gold RMs in my shirt, all the others had bronze. Perhaps this was the reason I attracted the smart salutes, though with my Master's Degree in hindsight I am unable to imagine anyone in the Brazilian Marine Corps making such an assumption. These people were the soul of tact - they must have known something was not right.

The recital finished the senior officer who met us at the door asked me to stand forward and I received, on behalf of Her Majesty's Royal Marines Band Service, and the Corps in general (hell why not by now?) a copy of a piece of music we had just heard. Flash, flash from the attendant photographers - none of which were ours - handshake and quick pose. I am not certain now but seem to recall the piece was 'The Awakening of the Slaves,' and composed by a Brazilian Marine musician. Could be wrong but the music should be in the Central Library.

There must have been a collective sigh of relief from us Bandies when it was over and we were led out of the hall. Alas, we were to face yet another display of generous hospitality and musical excellence after negotiating a few corridors leading to a second large room. In one corner, playing, was a Dance Band - four maybe six piece - for our delight while we sampled drinks, large amounts, and a first class finger buffet. Stewards darted about, our hosts attended us…….unbelievable. Probably all of us, by this time, realised we were in a difficult place and began to curse all those who were not with us. We did not even have a JNCO and I could see this visit turning into some sort of international incident amongst the worldwide fraternity of Marines Corps. Worried? Sick with it. Nonetheless, we did well and I am sure presented ourselves as a credit to the Band Service.

Lunch over we were shepherded out of the hall by our hosts, once again into blinding sunshine. A short walk later, during which I began to wish I had had the courage to ask where the heads were a little while before, we came to a dais. This thing stood like a scaffold before us and we were invited to climb the steps and face a huge parade ground. Scaffold? It might as well have been because this Bandie would have welcomed the opportunity to face his Maker at the instant we heard a huge set of drum rolls and, from between two nearby buildings, the Band of the Brazilian Marine Corps marched on. All two hundred of them. We counted. Ten across, twenty deep. Funny old thing, I remember wondering where Flag Officer Carrier and Amphibious Ships was at that time, or anyone for that matter, a Bandmaster perhaps? At the very least! Nobody is going to believe this. This was the longest marching display I have ever witnessed, though it probably only took about twenty minutes.

After this huge band had formed into the shape of a fouled anchor they reformed on the square, marched away from us, countermarched and approached the dais. Since I had been elected as the 'fall guy' by my peers, who were all stood well to the back of the dais, I could see what was coming and felt my bowels loosen slightly more than was good for me under the flinty stare of their Drum Major. All you former, or serving, Royal Marines Drum Majors who might be reading this and can recall marching toward the 'saluting' dais at the end of a Beat Retreat wondering what the devil you are doing lining up your world class second to none band to salute some obscure person, take heart, for you are not alone. There was only one thing to do. I gave him everything Corporal Curry (DL) taught me in Basic Training about 'Saluting at the Halt.'

Somewhere, I hope in happy retirement, there is a Brazilian Marine Corps Drum Major who probably wakes shrieking in the night from nightmare images of Brazil's Finest paying military homage to a small bunch of OD Booties who, unknown to him, were hapless victims of some Royal Navy Liaison Officer's team and RN Chinese Whispers. "Il Hotel Alpha Descobara" should have been Ilha das Cobras - which means Snakes Island and Snakes Island, as we all now know, is the historical headquarters of the Brazilian Marine Corps at Guanabara Bay, Rio De Janeiro. You can see the mistake, anyone could have made it, easily done.

There are some photographs, I had a very small pocket camera, I lost the originals during some divorce or other, but I did have copies sent to me by Peter Usher a few years ago. I have lost those as well, not because of a divorce - my computer blew up. Did I send copies to Bruno Brown? Maybe.

Believe all this? Ask Ian Naylor.

So, my thanks to the 1974 HMS Ark Royal Rio De Janeiro Visits Office - let us hope you were never required to provide Forward Naval Gunfire Support. Unforgettable, guys, unforgettable. Thanks to the other members of the 'happy few' who stitched me up on the day but, most of all, very many thanks to the Officers, NCOs and Men of the Brazilian Marine Corps Band who took us 'Brother Marines' for what we were, did their stuff for us, memorably, and gave no hint that they too knew something must have gone seriously astray.

End of dit.

Pat 'Pusser' Hill

[Editor] This had me crying with laughter. Thank you so much Pat for this genuine and well written account.

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