Warrant Officer Class One Shane O’Neill is the Bandmaster of the REME Band. He started his career in the Corps of Army Music with the Band of the Grenadier Guards before completing the 3 year Bandmaster at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, Earlier this year Shane was attached to the RE Band in Afghanistan.
Day 10 (02 June 12) – ISAF Headquarters, Concert
The day starts at 0700hrs with the collection of the bands passes for our concert in the ISAF Headquarters in central Kabul. A flurry of activity as a hymn was requested that the band had not brought with them, so to the Internet and with pencil and manuscript paper it was quickly scribbled out in time for a rehearsal in the gym.
After lunch full PPE was donned and kit loaded onto the transport. There were five armoured vehicles and the BSM. We were informed that there were not enough spare personnel to run the convoy, which meant we had half an hour to get up to speed on the route, comms and security procedures and act as vehicle commanders.
The trip from Camp Souter to the main road into Kabul (H7) was another stark reminder of the pressure those on longer term postings fall under every day. Kabul itself was a bustling hive of activity with many shops and street sellers offloading their wares to crowds of local people. The thriving atmosphere was good but you were always aware that everything was a potential threat.
The garden, behind very large walls, in ISAF HQ was beautiful and quite a surprise when compared to the arid nature of the land outside the protective walls. “Last Night of The Proms” type concert to esteemed guests; commander ISAF Forces, four star General Allen and our own Lt General Bradshaw.
The return trip to camp was a little nervy as it was getting dark and the odd teenager would throw a stone at the vehicle which kept you alert. Safely back and unloaded by 2100hrs and after a cold drink straight to bed.
Day 11 (03 June 12) – British Embassy, Kabul
An admin morning and a chance for the band to get some much needed washing done and hung out to dry on the makeshift para cord washing lines that were strung up between the sleeping quarters. With the washing dry and ironed it was time to load up the convoy once more and depart to the British Embassy in Kabul. Again we act as vehicle commanders, the difference between outside and inside the wall was a shock but we arrived without incident. The band set up stage on the tennis court under a massive red, white and blue tent.
Thankfully, an uneventful trip back to Souter where I used the remaining credit on my phone card to phone home and discovered that the RE Band Brass quintet was featured on the BBC back in the UK.
Day 12 (04 June 12) – Leading the Parade
Today was given over to celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and it started with the band leading a parade to the square and supporting the soldiers in a Jubilee service. The CO awarded several meritorious certificates to local workers who had contributed well to the running of the camp over the last few months.
After lunch the coffee bar area was turned into a shrine to Britain with cardboard phone boxes, London buses, BuckinghamPalaceetc. etc. A fantastic site BBQ was arranged by the chefs and the band provided some entertainment during the evening with the pop group continuing the motion until the CO closed procedures at 2300hrs.
Both the band and pop group worked hard and it really paid off with everyone joining in and taking part, it went a long way to taking everyone’s mind off the troubles for an evening.
Day 13 (05 June 12)- Entering the Hot Zone
An early breakfast then packed and cleaned rooms ready to be handed back to the Quartermaster. There was a delay of 3-4 hours to our flight to Kandahar so we hung around the coffee area until called to airport. We arrived at Kabul airport to the news that further delays were in place. Eventually we boarded onto a Hercules at 1600hrs; two hours flight time to Bastion and then a further hour to Kandahar.
When we arrived the area was described as a hot zone and it was policy to carry your weapon loaded at all times, have a combat tourniquet and Mark 1 field dressing in right hand pocket, makes you think!
Day 14 (06 June 12) “The Boardwalk”
The band set up on “The Boardwalk”, a raised shopping area within camp that surrounded a sports area. There was a 5k Run for Life event taking place and the band played suitable “running music” while the amazing people ran, walked, tabbed, ran backwards and ran three legged 5k to raise money for breast cancer awareness.
The band then moved the kit to the “Hero’s” (Naffi) area where another “Last Night of The Proms” concert took place and the pop band carried on the motion until late in the evening. Once again this went down extremely well with soldiers from many countries joining in and singing along.
After the music had ended we returned to our accommodation where we heard fighting break out in the nearby mountains. Several jets and helicopters were scrambled and a fire fight was clearly taking place. A stark reminder that the ‘hills were not alive with the sound of music’.