Historical steps: Sandhurst and speed marching

LCpl Damian Dunphy

LCpl Damian Dunphy

Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick, North Yorkshire. Prior to joining the HC&C Band on its formation in 2006 he was a member of the King’s Division Waterloo Band, and prior to that the Regimental Band of the Green Howards.

Relocaton, relocation

The Band have recently been relocated from our native North Yorkshire down to the sunny Surrey, where we have been employed as the residential Band for the Royal Military Academy (RMA) Sandhurst.  In years gone by the Academy had its own resident band known as the RMAS Band Corps.  The Band Corps was disbanded in 1984 as part of a strategic defence review which also saw many of the Army’s then Regimental Bands reduced in size from 35 to 21 performers.  Since 1984 the resident band position at Sandhurst has been rotated amongst the bands of the Army and since 1994 the Bands of the Corps of Army Music have undertaken the task in rotation.

RMA Sandhurst is where all British Army officers are trained prior to taking up commissions within their relevant arms and Corps.  The camp comprises a number of buildings prized for their architectural beauty and the whole place has an air of history about it which give the place something of a timeless quality.

Sandhurst Old College

Sandhurst Old College

The duties of any musician as part of a residential band at Sandhurst are to support the officer cadets, both on parade and at dinner nights and social functions, all of which are imperative to provide a  grounding for the future officers of the British Army.  Your author’s first visit to Sandhurst was in 1993 when Bands served a full term (three and a half months) on each visit.  In those days the British Army had 69 Bands and could easily provide the manpower for such deployments.  As times have progressed the  deployment of the Bands of the Corps of Army Music has changed somewhat, with Bands covering shorter spells on a more frequent basis.

Tradition still going strong

The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band have been the resident Band at Sandhurst just once before.  On that occasion in 2006 the Band was newly formed and served a seven week term at RMAS.  The seven week tour was at the end of term and the Band had the honour to perform at the Sovereign’s Parade for the graduation of Prince William, an event which gave both RMAS and the Band global media coverage.

Anyway, with our feet on the ground the Band arrived on Sunday to unload our associated freight into the “Sullivan” Band block at RMAS.  In times gone by the resident Band have spent many hours travelling between accommodation, practice facilities and messes. Fortunately these days all three are very close so unloading the equipment was a relatively simple task.  Having allocated the relevant storage spaces to the relevant departments the Band met on Monday morning for a full band rehearsal.  On this occasion the band had to organise after dinner events for the various officer’s mess engagements on the immediate calendar.  A quick look at the schedule revealed that we had a number of forthcoming dinner nights, which invariably comprise a quintet performance through the dinner followed by after dinner entertainment provided by a small marching Band with the odd cabaret item thrown in.

Prior to the creation of Regimental Military Bands the officers of a Regiment would club together to employ civilian musicians, normally around eight in number; their primary task would be to entertain the officers before, during and after dinner.  Nearly 200 years further down the line the tradition is still going strong, Bands of the Corps of Army Music still regularly perform for dinner nights in messes all across the Forces world. Whilst the after dinner music is often a matter of the personal taste of the Director of Music, the formula is probably not.  The Band march into a dimly lit room and deafen a number of unsuspecting guests in a grand twist on the Victorian concept of ‘parlour music’!

The Band normally then find an area of the room, often the darkest area to add to the complexity of producing the music, and perform a number of solo items for the utterly startled, and hopefully delighted dinner guests.  Such displays of pageantry often find favour with more relaxed and lubricated audiences; however in the stoic atmosphere of a Sandhurst dinner night it is sometimes clear that the officer cadets are unsure as to how to react.  A trait which invariably disappears upon graduation from Sandhurst!

Whilst on tour the Band also performed for the Commandant’s Sovereign’s Parade music review.  This is the process whereby the music for the end of term Sovereign’s Parade is chosen and it is held in the nearby Woolwich Hall.  There is something of a gladiatorial quality about the process as the Commandant, seated directly in front of the Band gives either the thumbs up or the thumbs down to each piece of music.  Fortunately the Band always have alternative music available so that on the odd occasion that a piece gets the thumbs down a replacement is immediately at hand.

Members of the band training for an AFT

Members of the band training for an AFT

New members

When not employed musically the Band maintained imperative admin tasks and continued training for both PFTs (Personal Fitness Tests) and AFTs (Army Fitness Tests).  For the uninitiated a PFT comprises a fixed number of press ups and sit ups and a 1.5 mile run, to be undertaken within a set time (which varies with age); an AFT is an eight mile speed march (or tab) to be completed carrying weapons and with a weighted Bergen.  Members of the Band completed both in unseasonably warm March weather, needless to say there was a run on foot treatments and blister plasters at the local supermarket during our stop at Sandhurst.

New members

New members

On return from our short tour of Sandhurst the Band were delighted to welcome a number of new members who have been posted from Bands across the Corps of Army Music to bolster our numbers.  We look forward to performing at full strength once more and hope that all new members will be very happy in beautiful North Yorkshire.

One thought on “Historical steps: Sandhurst and speed marching

  1. Do you march cornets? US military bands never do, but cornets can provide an interesting and likeable sound.

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