The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Band Club
A Brief History of The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
History of The Band
Members of the Club
The Pingat Jasa Malaya Medal Award Ceremony
The Band Reunion 2009
Band Reunion 2010
Band Reunion 2011
Band Reunion 2012
Contact Information for The KOYLI and 2LI Band Club
History of the Band of the KOYLI and 2nd Bn LI
| The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (51st & 105th Foot)
Early inspections of the 51st Foot mention fifes and drums ('handsome young men, very well dressed and play well') but there is no record of a band until the letters of Private Wheeler of the Regiment, written during the Napoleonic Wars.
These letters provide an insight into how bands were perceived by their senior officers in the early 19th century. Music being, like the colours, a symbol of a regiment's honour, it was apparently to be used only when pride had been earned: on 17 February 1810, for example, Pte Wheeler wrote: 'This was another of the Colonel's proud days, he had brought the Colours and band with him, as he said to do us the honour.' The entry for 17 June the same year, however, shows the other side of the coin:
After a field day when everything went wrong, as we were returning home and was just entering the town, as is usual, the Musick struk up a quick march. The Colonel spurred his horse and dashed into the centre of the band, nearly upset the big drummer, whirled his horse about, drove the musicians in all directions, shouting 'They shall have no music, the Poltroons, let them sneak through the town like a set of thieves.'
The first recorded bandmaster of the 51st was appointed whilst the Regiment was stationed in the Ionian Islands in 1821-24, though beyond his name - Mr Thompson - little is known of him. He was, however, British at a time when many of his contemporaries were foreign, a fact that must have endeared him to a regiment that was frequently posted abroad: from Corfu it moved to Burma and India as well as to England and Ireland.
The line of succession after Mr Thompson is unknown, and even when names do exist they appear only briefly. In 1865 a German musician, Mr Oertal, is reported as being Bandmaster, but the following year a serving soldier, Sgt Murray, was appointed. He lasted just a year (he became the Regimental Quartermaster), as did his successor, a civilian named Mr Winckeer, before a more permanent incumbent, Albert Green, was sent from Kneller Hall.
Mr Green joined the KOLI at Aldershot in 1868, and remained in his post for twenty years, during which time he served in Ireland, India and Burma, including a spell during the Afghan War. The Band at this time was at a strength of 39 musicians, which included 17 acting bandsmen.
What was to become the 2nd Battalion of the KOYLI started life as the 2nd Madras European Regiment, raised in 1839 and coming under the authority of the British Army (rather than the East India Company) in 1861. When it first formed a band is uncertain, the earliest reference dating from 1868 when a civilian, Mr Flaners, was Bandmaster. He left when the Regiment was posted to Aden in 1872 and his place was taken by a serving NCO, Mr Richards. The first Kneller Hall graduate to take up the position was George Battershall, followed in 1881 by John Le Grove.
The longest serving bandmaster in the Regiment's history - 24 years with the two Bands - Mr Le Grove is also one of the best documented, since he wrote a series of articles in the 1920s for the regimental journal, The Bugle. He acquired a reputation for leading a strong Band during his stay with the 2nd Battalion and spent two successful years in Malta, but the conditions in India, where the Battalion arrived in February 1887, proved too much for his family:
[In] Karachi, I found that my youngest son was very ill and my wife's health failing; our little boy died on the 22nd June 1887. The doctor said my wife would not survive another hot weather in India and that he would lay her case before the Invaliding Board. They decided to send her home at the first opportunity, so we left Karachi at the beginning of January 1888.
Arriving in Gosport, Mr Le Grove was assigned to the 1st Battalion, whilst Mr A A Wilson - who been sent from Kneller Hall to replace Albert Green - was posted to India to take over the 2nd.
The bandsmen that Mr Le Grove inherited were, he recalled, far from satisfactory, having recently been involved in the Burmese war: 'They were in a poor condition both as to their playing and discipline and there was no Band Sergeant.' He dispensed with the services of some musicians and obtained permission to spend six months with the others having no duties save for band practice. By the end of this period the Band returned to engagements at a garden party held by the officers, to the evident approval of the Colonel. Among its more prestigious engagements over the next few years was playing for the Kaiser's visit to the Isle of Wight. Mr Le Grove went on to serve in Belfast and Gibraltar, before retiring in 1905.
His immediate replacement was Henry Simpson, though it was not a lengthy appointment, Mr Simpson leaving in 1910 to become Bandmaster of the Carabiniers, the regiment into which he had originally enlisted. It was therefore left to F G Moss to take the Band through the upheavals of the Great War.
2nd Bn, KOYLI
2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
The 2nd Battalion Band - which had previously been involved in the Boer War - was also affected badly by the Great War, with many musicians killed or wounded, including Bdsm Astbury, killed in action in 1915.
For the 1st Battalion there was scant opportunity for re-building after the Armistice. Sent to India in 1919, it subsequently moved to Mesopotamia, where the bandsmen were again required to put down their instruments for active service. In 1924, however, the Battalion returned to the UK and two years later Charles Raison, perhaps the most distinguished bandmaster of the regiment's history, arrived from Kneller Hall, where he had won the conducting prize and earned himself a not inconsiderable reputation as a musician and composer. Under his command the Band enjoyed a glorious period at home, playing all the major seaside resorts and establishing itself as one of the key ensembles of the time. It also played in the villages and towns around Blackdown and Tidworth, where the Battalion was stationed, and on one occasion had the honour of playing to an audience that included Ivor Novello: the famous composer presented a silver cup to be competed for each year by the bandsmen.
This golden era came to an end in December 1934 when the men were posted abroad to Gibraltar. At the King's Birthday Parade the following year, the bandsmen played alongside Spanish mounted trumpeters under the command of one General Franco. During the later civil war that made Franco's fortune, the Band's trips into mainland Spain were restricted, and it concentrated exclusively on regimental duties on the Rock; the result was that when the Band was visited in 1939 on its return home by the Kneller Hall Inspectorate, Lt-Col Adkins himself commented that the marching band was the best in the Army. Soon afterwards the Band came to an end, with the musicians going to Europe as medical orderlies.
During this period the 2nd Battalion was stationed in India, where musical duties were balanced by activities on the ever-troubled North-West Frontier. There was, however, time to create a string orchestra, which made its debut in 1927 and, alongside the dance band, became a standard fixture of battalion life. In 1934 the 2nd moved to Burma, where it was to remain until forced to retreat by the Japanese in 1942.
The move to Maymyo coincided with the arrival of a new Bandmaster, Mr Martin, but there were also departures, both from retirement and disease: Band Boy Crisp died in 1937, whilst Boy Ross was sent home and invalided out of the Army (happily George Ross later achieved success in another field as editor of the Sporting Life). For those who remained, the horrors of 1942 and its aftermath were costly indeed: fourteen bandsmen died in action or as prisoners-of-war, and the band was never re-formed.
At home, Charlie Raison was given the task of creating a band from twenty band boys and various conscripts and reservists, with the usual round of morale-boosting engagements to fulfil, including a monthly appearance on the BBC's Music While You Work.
The wartime Band boasted an impressive line-up. The Band Sergeant was Ben Simpson, who had played Eb clarinet pre-War in the 1st Battalion and had served with the 2/4th in France before being evacuated. When several members of the Coldstream Guards Band were killed in a German rocket attack in 1944, he transferred to that Regiment as a replacement and ultimately became its Band Sergeant; on his retirement he was appointed Bandmaster of the Honourable Artillery Company. His replacement in the KOYLI was Horatio Kenney, later to become Director of Music of the Welsh Guards, whilst other musicians included the even more famous 'Jiggs' Jaeger.
The aftermath of the War brought major changes to this Band. Messrs Kenney and Jaeger moved on to Kneller Hall and their own bands, whilst many others departed in the demobilization programme. Then Mr Raison himself retired (to become a Captain in the Barbados Police), and the new incumbent, C T Beare, effectively had to start over again.
Although Mr Beare took the Band to Germany in 1946, to re-join its Battalion, he did not stay for long, taking up instead an offer to lead the Ugandan Police Band. His replacement was even more short-lived. George Craig had been studying at Kneller Hall when war was declared and passed his bandmasters' examination in 1940 when the School was located at Churchill Barracks in Aldershot; with no bands available, however, he had been appointed to the General Staff, where he rose to the rank of Major. At the cessation of hostilities he returned to Kneller Hall as a senior student and was posted to the KOYLI in 1947. It appears, however, that he had not fully recovered from the effects of the War, and within the year he retired.
Under Harry Balshaw the Band served in Germany, the UK and then - with the 1948 amalgamation - Malaya. In this latter station, despite the disruptions of the guerrilla war, the dance band became a strong live attraction; at one dance in the NAAFI Club in George Town, a facility shared with the Royal Navy, a full-scale fight broke out between soldiers and sailors that threatened to destroy the Band's equipment - showing commendable presence of mind, the Band Sergeant started the National Anthem and, whilst everyone stood to attention, organized a hurried evacuation of the instruments.
Returning to Germany in 1951, the Band received an 'Outstanding' grade in a Kneller Hall inspection. A subsequent posting to Kenya provided opportunities for music, particularly for the dance band, but also for military activity since the Regiment was under-strength and needed all the manpower it could get in the continuing conflict with the Mau Mau. The globe-trotting tradition of the Regiment continued through to the 1968 amalgamation: there were regular stays in Britain, but there were also visits to Malaya, Brunei (where a patrol of bandsmen captured the first and only rebel to be taken prisoner by the Regiment), Thailand and Berlin.
It was in Berlin that on 10 August 1968 the KOYLI became part of the newly formed Light Infantry.
1st Bn, KOYLI, 1941
1st Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
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2nd Battalion, The Light Infantry
In July 1968 what had now become the Band of the 2nd Light Infantry staged a floodlit pageant in Berlin, in which the histories of the four constituent parts of the new Regiment were depicted and the four regimental marches performed. The following year, Mr M Cadwallader was appointed Bandmaster, a post he held until the arrival of John Simmonds in 1974. The strength of the Band in this period can be judged from the fact that by 1982 there were three student bandmasters at Kneller Hall from the Battalion, together with five pupils; of the former, Tex Carlton went on become Bandmaster of the Black Watch, and Bob Hatton that of the 15th/19th Hussars.
In 1981 Mr Simmonds took a regimental commission and was succeeded by A S 'Jack' Leeming, a former bandsman of the Yorkshire Light Infantry who had gone on to become Bandmaster of the 3rd Green Jackets. He in turn was followed by Bandmaster D Burton. When the Light Infantry decided to form two bands instead of three, Mr Burton became Bandmaster of the new Salamanca Band.
The History of British Military Bands,
Volume Three: Infantry & Irish
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