Ox & Bucks - 1RGJ

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Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

The 43rd Foot is noted as having a 'Band of Music' as early as 1768, an ensemble that had grown to '11 Music (4 young)' by 1792. Shortly after this Inspection, the Standing Orders of the Regiment issued in 1795 make clear how established the Band had become; having specified that the Master of the Band is to be considered as a Sergeant, they add:

In order to prevent disputes relative to the distribution of any money which may be given to the Band, it is ordered that all money may be divided into one more share than there are of the Band present, of which each is to receive one, and the Master of the Band two. Cymbals, bass-drum, tambourine &c., when employed, are to be considered as belonging to the Band and receive their share.

It is unclear what happened to this Band when the Regiment was converted to Light Infantry in 1803 and thus acquired bugles. Accounts from the Peninsular War seldom make mention of a band being present, save for an anonymous Irish sergeant in the 43rd who described in his memoirs 'the emotion felt on one occasion, merely because, on commencing a march, the band struck up the national air of "St Patrick's Day in the Morning"'. The 2nd Battalion of the 43rd (which existed between 1804 and 1817) also had a Band, and an Explanatory State of the Battalion compiled in 1816 in Plymouth shows the musical strength standing at one sergeant, one corporal, four buglers, fourteen privates and seven extra buglers. It seems likely therefore that the senior battalion, too, would have had music.

The 43rd Band went abroad with the Regiment, and thus suffered proportionately when a ship from the West Indies brought yellow fever to Gibraltar in 1828: 90 men of the Regiment lost their lives. Yet more difficulties were experienced in the early 1850s when the 43rd became involved in conflict in South Africa, though the venture started out peacefully enough; Arthur Ponsonby, an officer in the Regiment, noted in his journal for 1851 that as the men marched to their embarkation point in Ireland, 'the band played 4 or 5 tunes and the men in great spirits, sang the whole way and marched beautifully.' En route for the colony, he recorded: 'Band played in afternoon, very jolly indeed.'

Despite casualties in South Africa, the 43rd Band was clearly in a healthy state around this era; a photograph taken in 1866 shows it at a strength of 33 musicians in addition to the (unnamed) Bandmaster. And there were more pleasant activities: a playbill from 1874 survives of a double-bill production of 'Don't Lend Your Umbrella!' and 'I've Eaten My Friend', for which the Band under Mr H Dowdall played Schubert's overture 'Rosamunde'. The Regiment was then stationed in India; en route it had stopped off in Malta, where it was welcomed by the Band of the 52nd Foot. As the troopships left, the 52nd Band played 'Auld Lang Syne', an appropriate choice for two regiments whose auld acquaintance was to be cemented in 1881 by their amalgamation to form The Oxfordshire Light Infantry.

The 52nd had also endured the privations of life abroad. Present in India during the Mutiny, when the Bandmaster was a Mr Embury, it was hit again whilst stationed in Jhansi in 1862 - a cholera epidemic killed 80 men, women and children. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that a photograph taken two years later shows just Mr Embury and sixteen musicians. The Band recovered, however, and in 1883 won the first prize of œ20 in a contest staged in Cork, beating off competition from six other bands. (Mr Embury, regrettably, had already departed by this stage, with comments on his confidential reports that while his musical ability was 'very good', his conduct was 'unsatisfactory'.)

Bugles, 1st Battalion, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry - Ireland 1894

Unlike many other amalgamations, that of the 43rd and 52nd was, if not actively sought, at least not resented, for the two regiments had forged an historic alliance during the Peninsular War as part of the famous Light Division. Under the new arrangement both bands continued to thrive, and in the early '90s the 1st Battalion even re-launched its string band, which had disappeared a quarter of the century earlier: the revival was an initiative of the bandsmen themselves, who bought their own instruments in order to expand their musical range. The 2nd Battalion also had a string orchestra.

The strength of the 1st Band at this stage stood at the Bandmaster and 22 men, but this level fell when the Battalion was called upon to serve in the Boer War. Perhaps the greatest loss to military music in the Regiment during the hostilities was the death of Major Charles Day at Paardeberg; an excellent musician in his own right and something of an authority on bands, Major Day's stated ambition had been to become Commandant of Kneller Hall, in which capacity he would undoubtedly have been a great success.

With the coming of peace, Bandmaster Lamb rejoined the Battalion and was soon conducting the Band in less stressful engagements, such as the 1902 dinner for the King of Portugal, the Colonel of the Regiment. The following year the 1st returned to England for a brief period before swapping postings with the 2nd, then in India.

The 2nd Battalion was still in England when war broke out in 1914, and Bandmaster Neville - who had earlier received his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal - switched to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion at the depot. By 1915 he was leading a Band of 25 men and ten boys on a recruiting march through Oxfordshire; later that year a photograph of the Band shows it to be 38-strong.

It proved impossible to maintain such high numbers in peacetime with the demobilization programme, and a further photograph taken in Germany in 1919, after Mr Neville had rejoined his Battalion, shows him accompanied by just fifteen musicians.

Both battalions were involved in the Irish war, with the bandsmen serving as stretcher-bearers, but thereafter the most bellicose activity for nearly two decades seems to have been the boxing career of Bdsm Hobson of the 1st Battalion: as a middleweight he won the Army and the inter-services championships and represented the Army in international matches.

The 1st Battalion spent most of the inter-war period in Britain, though there was a posting to occupied Germany in the mid-'20s and a Band visit to Brussels in 1934. This latter expedition nearly ended in disaster when Bandmaster Plater lost his attach‚ case containing not only the funds for the trip but also the return tickets; fortunately it was discovered and re-united with its grateful owner. Amongst other engagements of the era were regular appearances at the Colchester Oyster Feast, whilst a newly formed accordion band rivalled the military band as a live attraction. More formal duties saw the Band play for the laying of the foundation stone of the Bodleian Library extension by Queen Mary in 1937, and in the same year a performance in the Aldershot Tattoo, playing Denis Plater's prize-winning march 'The King's Men'.

Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion was stationed in India, where the Band was severely weakened in 1924 by the departure of many senior members. By 1928, however, it had recovered sufficiently to play for the laying of the foundation stone of the new Bengal Legislative Council building and to appear at the Calcutta Searchlight Tattoo; two years later it could boast both a dance band and even a boys' band - the former at least found plenty of work, and it is reported that for the first time in many years the band fund went into profit.

In 1939 Bandmaster Feltham of the 1st Battalion was sent to the depot, where he was joined the following year by Bandmaster Taylor of the 2nd. Unusually there appears to have been an effort to maintain two separate bands during the war, a difficult endeavour but one that at least ensured a degree of continuity for when peace eventually came.

The major event of the war years, from the perspective of regimental history, was the bicentenary of the 43rd in 1941. At a celebratory parade all available bandsmen and buglers played a succession of favourite marches, whilst an evening concert saw the men tackling some of the older pieces associated with the two regiments: 'Britons, Strike Home' was reportedly played by the 52nd during the storming of Savandroog in 1791 and 'The Fall of Paris' was likewise a standard piece during the Peninsular War. The old regimental double-past, 'Weel may the Keel Row', was also revived by the wartime bands.

In August 1944 the 1st Band made a tour of Northern France, visiting its Battalion amongst others, while the 2nd under Bandmaster Taylor was sufficiently strong to be playing civilian concerts as soon as the war ended, including a season at Southend in June 1945. Soon afterwards the 2nd Band sailed for Palestine, where the Battalion was engaged in anti-terrorist activities, but it was to be a short-lived reunion, for the 2nd was put into suspended animation in March 1947 prior to the amalgamation of the two battalions. The 1st was also abroad: in Germany in 1948, where the Band won the inter-platoon cricket competition (Mr Feltham scoring 43 not out in the final), in Greece, where a 1949 Beating Retreat at Salonika attracted an audience of over 18,000, and then in Cyprus.

Other overseas tours followed, with less pleasant duties: the bandsmen spent much of their time in Suez on guard duties and returned to Cyprus in 1956 at a time when terrorist activity made music less important than security. In between came the bicentenary of the 52nd, celebrated in Osnabruck with the last parading of the old colours - Bandmaster Kenney wrote a march 'The 52nd Colours' to commemorate the occasion.

In 1958 the Regiment was redesignated the 1st Green Jackets, an event marked by a parade in Cyprus with the performance of the marches of all the constituent regiments, but there was little disruption to everyday operations. More significant was the move to England the following year - the first time that the Battalion had been stationed at home since 1939. The massed bands of the Green Jackets made their debut performance soon after at Wembley for an England-Italy football international, though unfortunately the wrong Italian national anthem was played, which must have caused some offence.

Bandmaster Kenney moved to the Royal Artillery (Plymouth) in 1960, having said farewell at a concert in the Albert Hall, leaving behind a band of a very high standard. It needed to be, for the last five years of its existence before the implementation of further defence changes were hectic ones. Two years were spent in the Far East - mostly in Malaya, where the band played for the King and Queen of Thailand, and Borneo - before a move to Berlin, where the Regiment was inspected by the Queen.

On 31 December 1965 the Regiment was redesignated the 1st Battalion, the Royal Green Jackets.

 

1st Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets

Stationed in Berlin at the time of the amalgamation, the 1st Green Jackets continued its standard round of engagements, including the Queen's Birthday Parade in 1966, before moving to Cyprus the following year. Subsequent postings were mainly concentrated on England and Germany, though there was a trip to Hong Kong in 1978 and frequent visits to the Battalion in Northern Ireland.

More pleasant duties included playing for the England vs Wales football match at Wembley in 1969 - when the Band and Bugles were at a strength of 60 men - and a rugby international between the same two countries the next year at Twickenham, but any account of the eighteen years of the existence of the 1st Green Jackets is inevitably dominated by the horrors of 20 July 1982, when the Band was the target of one of the IRA's most appalling outrages.

A terrorist bomb planted underneath the bandstand at Regent's Park, London, exploded during a routine lunchtime concert by the Band, killing seven musicians: WO2 (BSM) Graham Barker, Sgt Robert 'Doc' Livingstone, Cpl John R McKnight and Bandsmen John Heritage, George J Mesure, Keith Powell and Laurence Smith. Others were wounded, some very seriously, and when the Band regrouped five weeks later just nine men were present, headed by Bandmaster David Little.

Despite enduring the worst post-war tragedy in Army music, the Band was determined to rebuild as soon as possible and - with the assistance of musicians brought in from other bands in the Division and with the donation of new instruments and music - it was functioning again by Christmas that year. The task was given a huge boost by the massive wave of public support that followed the bombing; amongst the many events staged to raise money for the emergency fund was a star cabaret evening in Bournemouth organized by the former Bugle Major of the 1st Battalion, John Jackson, and his wife, the actress Ruth Madoc of Hi-de-Hi fame.

In 1983 Mr Little conducted the Band in a concert on the rebuilt bandstand to commemorate the unveiling of a plaque by Margaret Thatcher to those who had been murdered. In a happy postscript to the tragedy, and as a testament to the enduring spirit of the Band, its last Kneller Hall inspection in April 1984 saw it awarded the highest grade possible: ....outstanding.

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