Letter: A strategy for survival of military bands

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The Independent Online
Sir: In 'Army bandsmen total will be halved to 1,100' (17 March) you say: 'In wartime, bandsmen become stretcher-bearers and medical assistants, and this role remains unchanged.'

I was orphaned at the age of 11, which led to me being placed on the training ship, Exmouth. We went to school four days a week and trained in seamanship on the fifth. The class for musicians was a cut above the others, so I joined the ship's band to get a better education. When I was 15, the Army wanted a French horn player in the Royal Fusiliers. Off I was sent, and with nobody to advise me, signed a document that was to tie me to the Army for 12 years.

Yes, I was trained in medical matters and stretcher-bearing, but I was also trained as a proper fighting soldier, and unlike the Medical Corps, we had to carry our rifles and fight like anyone else.

In 1938, the band was split in two with regard to its fighting capabilities: half remained as stretcher-bearing riflemen and half became a mortar platoon.

On the way back to Dunkirk, we lost half the band. I was one of the lucky ones. Once back, I was offered the opportunity of reforming the band as the powers-that-be recognised the importance of boosting morale with entertainment. I turned it down in favour of becoming an infantry sergeant. I finished the war as a captain in Norway and left the Army after nearly 12 years' service.

My purpose in explaining this is to illustrate that most bandsmen can also be trained as fully fighting soldiers, so that they serve a double purpose. Instead of disposing of the bands, why not engage top-class agents to obtain bookings for them, so that they have a certain period for training, a period for regimental functions and the remainder to earn enough money to pay for the cost of their upkeep? I am, of course, referring to the half that is going to be scrapped anyway. The other half can carry on as it is now.

I might add that we also found the appearance of a military band excellent for recruitment.

Yours faithfully,

E. D. MORLEY

London, W1

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