Words and pictures by WO2 (SMI) Peter Russell, County Media Officer
Playing in front of Royal visitors and the public is something that members of the Silver Bugles Band are familiar with. When they were invited to take part in a massive event with the Massed Bands & Bugles of The Rifles, The Band of The Brigade of Gurkhas, the Salamanca and Waterloo Bands of the 6th and 7th Battalions of The Rifles (Reserves) and the Buglers Branch of the Rifleman’s Association, that was a whole league apart.
Unlike all other regiments in the British Army, Riflemen uniquely ‘sound’, rather than ‘beat’ retreat; the signal to sentries as day moves to night. Traditionally drums were used on the battlefield to communicate orders over short distances, but as the newly formed Light Companies and Rifle Regiments were created in the American Wars of Independence and later in the Napoleonic and Peninsular Wars, the clarion call of the bugle became much easier to hear over the roar of cannon and thus it was that the bugle horn was adopted by Riflemen. With their use of dark green uniforms, unlike the crimson used by the rest of the army, the Riflemen became the first to use camouflage, moving swiftly across the battlefields and acting in small formations and using their own initiative - things that went against the grain of command everywhere else in the army of the period. It was that ethos that set the Riflemen apart then and still does to this day.
Please don’t imagine for a moment that the two Army Cadets bands - those of Somerset ACF and Durham ACF - just arrive in London and play for an audience in the gathering dusk for two evenings before returning to barracks. More than even Reserve bands, the cadets have to spend hours, week, months learning to play instruments on only a few evenings a month, all the while trying to fit in their normal day-to-day Army Cadets training. Uniforms have to be begged, borrowed, altered, customised and adapted, often by selfless parents and skilled well-wishers proficient in the art of tailoring, whose efforts transform cadets into spotless ‘mini-Riflemen’ indistinguishable from older Regular and Reserve musicians at anything over 25 metres. There is very little financial support for cadet bands yet despite - or perhaps because of that limitation - The Silver Bugles Band is almost certainly one of the best, if not the best Rifles’ badged cadet band in the UK.
The previous week had seen all the bands practicing intensively together at Longmoor Camp in Hampshire, some three to four hours away by coach from their secondary base at Wellington Barracks, a stone’s throw from Horse Guards Parade. Light Division (Rifles) drill, unique to The Rifles and the Gurkhas, was used by Army Cadets until a few years ago before being replaced by All Arms Drill as used by the rest of the Army. Working with The Rifles meant that not only would the cadets have to be musically perfect but they would also have to master an entirely new form of drill, marching at 140 paces a minute, rather than the 120 paces a minute that modern day cadets use! This, allied to the struggle to get to, and return from London on three days; the Tuesday of the undress and dress rehearsals, followed by Wednesday and Thursday nights full events in hot weather, made for a punishing schedule.
To add to the excitement and drama, the 95th Rifles (95th Regiment of Foot), an historical re-enactment group portraying The Rifles from the Peninsula War period, fought their way across Horse Guards, with London echoing to the crash of their Pattern 1800 Infantry Rifles, better known as Baker Rifles, firing aimed shots, rather than the volleys associated with regular line infantry, all the while wreathed in smoke as they closed with the enemy French troops and gave them a drubbing. This delighted the crowds and guests in equal measure.
On Wednesday evening the Massed Bands & Bugles performed in front of Lt Gen Tom Copinger-Symes CBE, Deputy Commander UK Strategic Command, escorting HRH The Duke of Kent and HRH The Princess Alexandra. On Thursday, the last evening, Gen Sir Patrick Sanders KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen, Colonel Commandant The Rifles and newly appointed Chief of the General Staff (CGS), escorted HRH The Duchess of Cornwall LG GCVO PC, Colonel-in-Chief The Rifles, to the display. Supporting both performances were singers from the English National Opera (ENO), the Quirinus Band & Bugle Corps from Germany and veteran buglers from the Rifleman’s Association. The Grand Finale was a brief but spectacular firework display.
Our Silver Bugles Band are surely our ‘Jewel in the Crown’ - the publicly visible face of what we do and what our cadets are capable of achieving - and it is events such as Sounding Retreat that remind us just how brilliant they are. The unceasing drive of Maj (Band Master) Scott Bunker, who somehow manages to find the time to be OC Gibraltar Company, CAA Jellalabad Company and Band Master, allied to the dedicated team of Cadet Force Adult Volunteers such as SSI (Bugle Major) Libby Bunker and SMI Mark Ball, to name but a few, means that the cadets in the band have the best possible chance of success and the best forum to display their success on!
Celer et Audax - Swift and Bold