Where are they now?
Bill 'Jock' McConnell
Bill 'Jock' McConnell joined the Band Service at Burford as a
Band Boy in 1947. Prior to this he had started work at the tender age of 13
drawing 16s a week. A spell as an apprentice piano tuner for 10s a week had
followed before the lure of the Band Service proved too great - even if it meant
taking a further cut in pay to 7s 6d! Such dedication to music has been the
hallmark of Bill's life right up to the present day.
Joining with him were such notables as: Sid Richardson, Rex Ayling, Dave Walton,
Dave Parkin, John Brown and Eric Gilham while others already at Burford were
Joe Guest, Dave Elliot, Jim Mason, 'Goofy' Williamson, Pete Fox, Dave Wells
('the first junior musician I met') and Sid Rose.
Bill says "We lived in a world of button polish, blanco, ironing greatcoats
and serge trousers with old fashioned irons, and dhobey by hand with pussers
issue block soap. Life at that time was very regimented and our weekends consisted
of fatigues and clean huts, collect coal, polish floors and general duties in
officers and sergeants messes plus the sick bay. It seems a wonder we had any
time for music.
In my first year as a bandboy I found myself in the boy's band and orchestra
and I remember we were all inspired by such people as Bandmaster 'Nazzer' Bone,
Ernie Phasey, 'Chan'Kirkwood, Eric Fletcher, Paul Neville and 'Titch' Hazel,
who were all involved with training the junior band and orchestra. On one occasion
the composer, John Bath, came down with a very descriptive soundtrack for a
Naval film about life aboard a Carrier and we eventually went off to Ealing
Studios to make the soundtrack for the film. An interesting experience to see
at first hand how the music was synchronised to the film.
At seventeen and a half I was drafted to my first ship's band, HMS Vengeance,
under Bandmaster 'Dusty' Miller and the renowned BdSgt Bill Moth. A band of
16, it was to be four years before we saw the School of Music again. One particular
memory worth sharing was when I and a promising young Candidate (who went on
to become a famous PDM) were ashore in Ayr, a small town in western Scotland.
We had missed the last boat back to the ship and were looking for somewhere
to sleep when we met the local policeman who said we should make our way up
the hill to the bakery and tell them "Alec sent you". We went into
the bakery where they fed us rolls, scones, butter and huge mugs of tea. By
now it was very late and we were directed next door to find a place to crash
out. This we did. In the morning we were awakened by a lot of scuffling outside,
and people peering in through a large expanse of glass. We had slept in the
window display of the local furniture shop! Hastily we beat a retreat via the
bakery, where they were enjoying the joke, and back to our ship arriving just
in time for Colours!
I remember the fleet gathered at Malta and all the bands massed to produce a
band of 200 to give a display to the fleet under the Fleet Bandmaster of the
time Lt Ernie Ough. With so many bands on Colours it was often he who blows
Paying off from HMS Vengeance we moved back to the School now at Deal. I remember
our arrival at the Guardroom in the early hours with kit, instruments and hammocks,
having travelled down from Rosyth. We suddenly found ourselves being inspected
and I don't think we impressed the Duty Officer. We were on parade again at
8am for a kit inspection by the Adjutant Capt Blood and as a result all had
to purchase at least one item of kit, though in my case, nearly a whole uniform!
Happily our stay in Deal was to be short-lived as most of us were to be drafted
to HMS Eagle under JJ Martin. We spent a rough fortnight with too many inspections
and were picked up and on at every opportunity, however the band did leave a
lasting impression. On the evening before our departure two members of the band
(who shall remain nameless) thought it would be a good idea to do something
about the beautifully polished brass canons outside the Adjutant's office. Quick-drying
black paint appeared from nowhere. Next morning, as we boarded our bus for Plymouth,
we saw first hand the less than enthusiastic reactions of the Provost Sergeant
and the Adjutant. They were as red with anger as the canons were black. We drove
out and what happened afterwards, nobody wanted to know!
On completion of my time in HMS Eagle I returned to Staff Band in 1953 under
Captain Vivian Dunn. We took part in Her Majesty's Coronation which for us meant
a 15 mile round trip
.on foot! We started marching from Earls Court at
0800, into Central London, then down the Coronation route before returning to
Earls Court at 1630. This took quite a toll on both feet and lips; it was a
A number of ships drafts followed including HMS' Superb (Vic Sylvester's first
ship), Victory (now Nelson), Maidstone, Tyne (where I first met Derek Holder)
and then it was off to the Far East for two and a half years in HMS Terror,
Singapore, under Kim Butler, Bill Greasley and finally Jim Mason. This in turn
was followed by more sea time in HMS' Alert, Albion and then HMS Belfast.
Whilst in Belfast, Tanganyika was granted independence and our band was amalgameted
with the band from 3 Commando Brigade and Dick Place. The ship was present in
the Indian Ocean when a Destroyer came alongside for replenishment and during
this the Band entertained on the Quarter Deck. The Destroyer, hearing the music,
requested the Band to be transferred to give a concert for which we were jackstayed
across! Sea time had its moments!
On a visit to a small island in the Indian Ocean the Flag Officer received a
signal to say that the Head of State would be pleased to receive the C in C
on shore where both anthems would be played. The Flag Officer sent for Bill
Greasley, the Bandmaster, saying this obviously means a return visit to the
ship by the Head of this island, 'I take it you have the anthem'. 'What anthem?'
replied Bill. Ever practical he decided to go ashore with the C in C in his
barge and during the reception hid in the depths of the barge and wrote out
the anthem as it was being played. Arriving back on board, Bill and I arranged
it for the band within the hour. No photocopiers or computers just good old
fashioned handraulic. The band copied their parts out and we checked it through
with 5 minutes to spare. It bore an uncanny resemblance to Auld Lang Syne in
places. The VIP arrived on board with due ceremony and 'right or wrong we made
it strong'. To our relief the Head of State had the grace to say he had never
heard his anthem played better and Bill Greasley had a well deserved Bravo Zulu
from the C in C, Admiral Sir David Luce.
Further ships, the Bandmasters' class with a successful LRAM exam thanks to
Michael Hurd and Ernie Stride, an Instructor's post with Peter Sumner in Junior
Wing and a draft as Bandmaster in HMS Ganges all followed in succession.
Bandmaster McConnell on parade
The promotion structure changed and the ranks of Staff Bandmaster and Non Commissioned
Bandmaster were made redundant in favour of WO1s and 2s. However, coming to
the end of my time I was encouraged to sign on for a 5th Five on the understanding
that my new rank would have to be that of Band Colour Sergeant. As my new role
was to be in the training wing, I philosophically accepted this.
It was during this time that I accompanied the Junior Musicians up to Loch Ewe
in NW Scotland for Adventure Training under the leadership of RM Mountain Leaders.
I was to learn a great deal of mountain skills in the next 5 years. It was also
during this time in the Wing when I took a few junior musicians across to Col
Neville's orchestra in North Barracks, to introduce these young violinists to
playing in the symphony orchestra. On one occasion this included a young and
promising junior musician - Andy Henderson while Peter Best and Chris Davis
were others who were in my care.
Although retired Bill still passes his knowledge onto the next generation
In 1978 I was awarded the MSM being the first member of the Band
Service to receive it since the medal was reinstated, (having been
suspended in 1928).
On retirement from the Band Service in July 79 I joined Paul Neville
on the permanent staff at The King's School, Canterbury. I was very
lucky to be given the opportunity to continue teaching and to be
involved with young bands and I shall always be grateful to Paul
for introducing me to such a school where I have spent many happy
I was eventually persuaded to take over the RN Section of the Combined
Cadet Force at the School where I set up a band course for cadets
alongside all the other activities onboard HMS Bristol. It is a
privilege to continue to be associated with members of the Band
Service; Bugle Major Bob Platts and Sergeant Bugler Chris Bolton
are two who support me regularly when I bring down the National
CCF Band Summer Camp to RMSM. I now spend my time writing, arranging,
teaching and hill walking. I consider myself very fortunate to be
involved with the things I enjoy in life. I am still busy repairing
instruments and once a year I am involvedwith East Kent Holiday
Music where I meet up with Paul Neville, DaveWells, Keith Sharpe,
Sid Rose, and Bob Gill.
Lt(SCC) Bill McConnell marches alongside his Combined Cadet Force
It is also a pleasure to meet on occasions Joe Guest,
Pete Rose, Dave White, Ian Shawcross, Pete Selby, Ken Shears, George
Simpson and Ian Crowther.
I have had 19 volumes of folk music published ranging from string
quartets to flexible woodwind ensembles, violin, and violin duets,
with more in the pipeline. Recently I have been encouraged to resurrect
my band scores, and have published a band arrangement of Ode to
Joy, Button Boy (a Bugle march originally written for the displays
at HMS Ganges), Sir Walter's March, for my step daughter's Pass
Out at HMS Raleigh (QARNNS), and I am currently working on a new
piece which is nearing its final stages; 18,000 lines of computer
instructions so far!
Today I am continually inspired by the quality of sound, presentation
and the wider arranging skills of the talented people we have now,
all very much in evidence at this year's Mountbatten Festival of
Music. What tomorrow brings, none of us can ever be sure, except
that in my case I know I will be busy and I'm looking forward to
"My very best wishes to all members of the Band Service past,
present and future."