Royal Marines Band Service Historic Articles

The development of music in the Royal Marines is inextricably linked with the evolution of British military bands. Lively airs and the beat of the drum enabled columns of marching men to keep a regular step. The drum was the normal method of giving signals on the battlefield or in camp. As long ago as the days of Drake and Hawkins the drummer's rhythm would advertise the changing watches or beat the men to quarters.

Without doubt, groups of musicians existed in the Service before this, but in 1767 Royal Marines Divisional Bands were formed at Chatham, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Deal.

The original Royal Marines Band Service, together with its headquarters, the Royal Naval School of Music, was founded in 1903 to provide Bands for the Royal Navy. The task of forming the school was assigned to the Royal Marines and from then on the Band Service became an integral part of the Corps. Its original home was Eastney Barracks Portsmouth; where it remained until 1930 when it was transferred to the Royal Marines Depot, Deal. After the outbreak of World War II, it moved to Malvern, then it divided with the Junior Wing moving to the Isle of Man and the Senior Wing to Scarborough before reuniting at Burford in 1946 and finally returning to Deal in 1950. The amalgamation of the Divisional Bands with the Royal Naval School of Music to form today's Royal Marines Band Service also took place in 1950 when the headquarters and training establishment were re-named the Royal Marines School of Music.

Today, all Royal Marines Bands are required to provide every imaginable musical ensemble including orchestras and dance bands. To achieve this, most musicians, except solo specialists, are required to attain an acceptable standard on both a string and a wind instrument. As a result of this special amalgam of expertise, Royal Marines musicians are regarded as one of the most versatile in the military musical world. The Corps of Drums receive an equally thorough training and pride themselves on maintaining the highest standards of drill, bugling and drumming. Their glittering presence at the front of all Royal Marines Bands on the march gives the bands a visual impact that is second to none.

The Royal Marines School of Music is firmly established at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth, where the exacting process of producing military musicians and buglers worthy of the Royal Marines begins. Through a very productive link with Portsmouth University, Royal Marines Musicians can now attain civilian qualifications linked to each stage of their training and professional promotion courses. Male and female students of all ages are trained in all aspects of military music. They are taught by professors of the highest calibre that include musicians from the London and provincial orchestras. The students are also drilled in all aspects of military ceremonial in order to ensure that the worldwide reputation enjoyed by the Royal Marines Band Service for both its music and precision marching is maintained. At the School of Music the future of the Band Service, based upon the experience of the past and the professionalism of the present, is forged; here the young instrumentalist is tempered and honed before taking his or her place in one of the five Royal Marines Bands.

As the Musicians and Buglers careers progress they return to the Royal Marines School of Music to undergo further musical training to qualify for a higher rank. This culminates in a place on the Student Bandmasters' Course that is widely recognised as one of the most demanding courses of its type. Students study all the main music disciplines; the orchestral and contemporary wind band repertoire and they work with world renowned musicians.

In addition to music making, Musicians and Buglers are trained for a dedicated military role within the Royal Marines. In the past 100 years and during virtually every major conflict members of the Royal Marines Band Service have temporarily set aside their musical instruments in order to carry out their operational military duties. These duties have been conducted from the beaches of Gallipoli to the transmitting stations on board Second World War warships. From guarding prisoners of war during the Falklands conflict to casualty decontamination in the scorching heat of the Iraqi desert. From casualty handling in the flight-deck of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Primary Casualty Receiving Facility during both Gulf wars to guarding sensitive communications installations high in the Cypriot Mountains.

During the last decade, we have seen the tempo of this activity increase dramatically. Members of the Royal Marines Band Service have participated in the humanitarian mission to war-torn Kosovo in 2000, deployed as a rifle company to Cyprus in 2007 and supported 3rd Commando Brigade Royal Marines during their 2009 tour of duty in Southern Afghanistan. In April 2011, the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Lympstone deployed as part of the Joint Force Medical Group in Afghanistan. Members of the Band have qualified to drive a range of specialised military vehicles and they will form part of the Motor Transport Section. They will take a full part in combat logistic patrols which replenish supplies in forward operating bases. Some will be manning the ambulances in Camp Bastion and will be responsible for receiving casualties and transporting them to the hospital facilities. Others will be acting as radio operators. They will have their musical instruments with them and will perform various ceremonial parades to include repatriations, and morale-boosting musical entertainment for the deployed troops. More recently, a team of musicians formed a show-band deployed from the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth (Royal Band) as musical support to the Joint Force Medical Group and other deployed NATO forces. They performed entertainment in Camp Bastion and other surrounding bases in the Southern area of Afghanistan.

Last updated 08 September 2011

A Life on the Ocean Wave - Regimental Quick March

The music of the Regimental March is derived from two songs composed during the first half of the 19th Century which remained popular and in print until about the First World War. The bulk of the march is taken from Henry Russell's 'A Life on the Ocean Wave' published in the 1840's and the short central section (trio) is based on eight bars of 'The Sea' by Sigismund Neukomm, first published in 1832.
Sigismund Neukomm (1778-1858) was a favourite pupil of Haydn. He pursued a varied and interesting career in Austria, Sweden, Russia, France and Portugal before coming to England in 1829 where, for some eight or nine years he enjoyed considerable popularity. His success only declined with the arrival of Mendelssohn. 'The Sea' was one of several songs he wrote to words by Barry Cornwall (the pseudonym of Bryan Walter Procter), which became very popular. The words, so far as they relate to the Regimental March, are:
The Sea, the sea, the open sea!
The blue, the fresh, the every free,
The ever, ever free!
Henry Russell was born at Sheerness on 24 December 1812 and died in London, 8 December 1900. He was at one time a pupil of Rossini at Bologna and Naples, and went to Canada about 1833, and from thence to USA where he was organist of the Presbyterian Church, Rochester, NY. He returned to England in 1841. In 1897, Henry Russell wrote to Mr. George Miller, Bandmaster RMLI, Portsmouth Division (later Major/Director of Music) and said 'A Life on the Ocean Wave' was composed by me some 60 years ago, whilst in America. The origin of the song emanated from Epps (Epes) Sargant, the poet, walking with him on the Battery, New York, watching the ships in the harbour. The scene before him gave him an idea which induced him to write the words, 'I set them to music and the song ultimately became one of the most popular in England and America'. Henry Russell composed over 800 songs and in his book of reminiscences 'Cheer Boys, Cheer' has outlived nearly every other melody, with perhaps the exception of 'A Life on The Ocean Wave'.
Before 1883, each Division of the Royal Marines had its own march, and even these frequently changed as new Commandants often introduced new marches. The DGRM, called upon the Bandmaster of each Division to arrange a march, if possible on a Naval song. Mr Kappey (Chatham); Mr Kreyer (Portsmouth); Mr von Froenherdt (Plymouth); (all German Bandmasters) and Mr John Winterbottom (Royal Marine Artillery), each submitted a march. The arrangement of the song 'A Life on The Ocean Wave' for the Regimental March was made by Mr Kappey, who was Bandmaster of the Chatham Division Band, RMLI, from 1892, using an old naval song 'The Sea' as the trio. This arrangement was authorised as the Regimental March of the Corps by the War Office in 1882 (Grove's Dictionary of 'Music and Musicians' says 1889), and by the Admiralty in 1920. Kappey died in 1907 and his music manuscripts were donated to the British Museum.

Preobrajensky - Regimental Slow March

Presented to the Royal Marines by Admiral of the Fleet The Earl Mountbatten of Burma on 10th June 1964 and first performed as the Regimental Slow March of the Royal Marines on Horse Guards Parade that night. The march was composed by the Russian composer Donajowsky for the Russian Tzar's Preobrajensky Guard.

The Ceremony of Beating Retreat

The origin of this Ceremony is very obscure, but there is no doubt that it was one of the earliest to be instituted in the Army. One of the first references appears to have been made to such a ceremony, which was then called "Watch Setting", in the "Rules and Ordynaunces for the Warre", dated 1554, and also by Robert Barrett in his "Theorike and Practice of Moderne Warres", dated 1598.

It appears that the original "call" was beaten by drums alone, and that it was some years before the fifes were introduced. The bugle came at a later date still, and the present ceremony of having a band paraded is a modern innovation, which is purely used as a spectacle.

In olden times, when the hours of darkness meant a cessation of hostilities until the following day, the object of the call was to collect and post the necessary guards for the camp, garrison, etc., for the night. It was also a warning for those outside the camp or garrison to retire or they would be kept outside the night. We thus find that there is some confusion arising between "Retreat" and "Tattoo". This confusion may, in part, have been caused owing to the French using the word "Retraite" for the familiar call to our "Tattoo". From the following extracts from old orders, it would appear conclusive that Retreat was meant to be separate from Tattoo and to be beaten at sunset.

The earliest reference to Retreat itself is to be found in an order dated 18th June, 1690, from an officer in the Army of James II, which states: "The generalle to be beate att 3 clock in ye morning…. Ye retreate to beate att 9 att night and take it from ye gards". A further seventeenth century reference is contained in an order of William III, dated 1694, which reads: "The Drum Major and Drummers of the Regiment which gives a Captain of the Main Guard are to beat the Retreat through the large street, or as may be ordered. They are to be answered by all the Drummers of the guards, and by four Drummers of each Regiment in their respective Quarters". These two references would, however, appear to refer more to what we now call "Tattoo", as they were carried out at night and not at dusk.

In the General Orders of the Duke of Cumberland, a distinction is made between the two ceremonies: "The Retreat is to beat at Sunset", whereas "Tattoo (is) to beat at (Ten, nine or eight) o'clock at night".

Whilst the Army were serving in Flanders, the Duke's Orders have these references to Retreat:

1745. Aug 17. "Soldiers who take their arms out of the bell tents after Retreat to suffer Death".

1746. May 5. "No Drummers to practice…. After the Retreat".

1747. May 26. "If any officers meet soldiers strolling from Camp after Retreat beating…."

In "An Universal Military Dictionary" dated 1779, by Captain George Smith, Inspector of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, Retreat and Tattoo are definitely separated, and Retreat is defined as follows:

"Retreat is also a beat of drum, at the firing of the evening gun; at which the Drum Major, with all the drums of the battalion, except such as are upon duty, beats from the camp colours, on the right to those on the left, on the parade of encampment; the drums of all the guards beat also; the trumpets at the same time sounding at the head of their respective troops. This is to warn the soldiers to forbear firing, and the sentinels to challenge 'till break of day', that the reveille is beat. The Retreat is likewise called setting the watch".

The 1799 "General Regulations and Orders for the Conduct of the HM Armed Forces in Great Britain" lay down that it shall be "beat at Sunset", and this is repeated in all editions of King's (and Queen's) Regulations down to the present day.

The Parade (1958)
As the clock strikes the half-hour, fanfare will be sounded to herald the arrival of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, K.G., K.T., G.B.E., Captain General Royal Marines, who will be received with the Royal Salute by the Massed Bands. The parade is in honour of the Captain General's birthday on the 10th June.

The fanfare will be performed by fourteen trumpeters using the Memorial Silver Trumpets of the Royal Marines School of Music. These Silver Trumpets form the Memorial of the Royal Naval School of Music to commemorate their comrades who lost their lives in World War II (1939-45). They were subscribed for by all ranks, past and present, and were dedicated on 1st June 1948. On conclusion of the Royal Salute, the Massed Bands will step off in quick time and advance to the Horse Guards Buildings, counter-march and execute a pivot wheel to the left at the centre of the parade. After a further counter-march the Bands halt. Immediately the Bands cease playing, they will commence a Troop and advance across the parade in slow time, counter-march and halt.

The marches selected for this phase of the ceremony include the well-known South African tune "Sarie Marais", which was officially adopted as the march of the Royal Marines Commandos on 28th August 1952, and "The Captain General", which was composed in honour of the occasion when His Majesty King George VI, as the first Captain General, Royal Marines, dined with the officers of the Corps at the Savoy Hotel on 21st December 1949. "Where E'er You Walk" is an arrangement of Jupiter's aria from the opera "Semele" by Handel, which was first performed at Convent Garden on 10th February 1744. It dates from the period just prior to the Royal Marines becoming part of the Royal Navy.

The Bands will again advance in quick time, for which a bugle march has been selected which is a lively tune giving full scope to the bugle section of the Bands. This will conclude the first part of the programme.

The Corps of Drums are now in position for Beating Retreat and the second part of the programme will be introduced by a fanfare, sounded by the 32 Silver Bugles.

These Silver Bugles were presented by the officers the Corps to the Royal Marines as a Memorial to the officers who were killed in World War I (1914-18). Eight were given to each of Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth Divisions and The Depot, Deal. They were used on all commemorative parades in the Royal Marines, and the fanfare used on this occasion is the one which is sounded on all important dates in the history of the Corps. It is interesting to note that this is only the second time that all the Silver Bugles have been paraded together for such a ceremony. They were previously used on a similar occasion in 1950.

No attempt has been made to produce a score of Retreat as beaten in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. This would be very difficult to demonstrate as the march in those days was more in the nature of a stroll than the march as it is known today. The Corps of Drums will, however, use a score dated 1810 to Beat Retreat as the halt and preceded by a Ceremonial Ruffle of Drums. This will be followed by the Drums marching across the parade and back again to the drum part of "The British Grenadiers". It is interesting to note here that "The British Grenadiers" was used, at one period, as the Regimental March of the Royal Marines.

The Bands will then continue with the third part of the programme with a Troop, for which "The Preobrajensky March" and "The Globe and Laurel" have been selected.

"The Preobrajensky March" is generally recognised as the finest ceremonial slow march of the old Russian Imperial Army and was the Regimental March of the first regiment of Foot Guards, the Preobrajensky Guards. It was also the regimental march of the Halberders Guard of Spain and the music was given to the Royal Marines by King Alphonso XIII and has been played from time to time ever since. "The Globe and Laurel" was officially adopted as the slow march of the Royal Marines on 24th April 1953. It is based on the old English air "Early One Morning" and was first used for Guard Mounting at St. James' Palace by the London Battalion of the Royal Marines which was formed specially to carry out the ceremonial duties in London in 1935. On completion of this Troop, the bands will break into quick time without halting and counter-march across the parade.

At this stage, the bands will carry out movements in combined and divided formations before finally halting in the centre of the parade for the Finale. The Drums will take post in rear and the Memorial Trumpets in front of the Bands, respectively.

The Finale will open with the celebrated Military March "Pomp and Circumstance No. 1", so well-known as "Land of Hope and Glory". This will be followed by "Crimond", which has been chosen as the evening hymn. The Bands, Silver Bugles and Memorial Trumpets will then combine in the musical setting of the bugle call for Retreat, which is the same as that known as Sunset in the Royal Navy. This arrangement was made by Captain A.C. Green, RM who was Assistant Musical Director of the Royal Naval School of Music. It was first performed by the massed bands of the Mediterranean Fleet in the early 1930s. After a fanfare in which bugles, trumpets and bands are again combined, the Finale will conclude with the playing of "Rule Britannia" and the National Anthem.