Musicians learn the instruments of war

At the end of a hard day's training, the would-be Royal Marines band members enjoy an impromptu mud run in the River Exe. All pictures: LA(Phot) Dean Nixon and WO2 Richard White
At the end of a hard day's training, the would-be Royal Marines band members enjoy an impromptu mud run in the River Exe. All pictures: LA(Phot) Dean Nixon and WO2 Richard White
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The latest batch of would-be members of the Royal Marines Band Service have downed instruments and picked up rifles as they embark on three weeks of military training before arriving in Portsmouth.

I’m a budding Bandie, get me out of here…

Royal Marine Band service medic stretcher run.''Today 24 Royal Marine Band Service Medics did a two mile stretcher run with 50KGs of weight on the stretcher. ''The run takes part on Woodbury common all year round and is designed to test the resolve of the trainee's to get the casualty to safety.

Royal Marine Band service medic stretcher run.''Today 24 Royal Marine Band Service Medics did a two mile stretcher run with 50KGs of weight on the stretcher. ''The run takes part on Woodbury common all year round and is designed to test the resolve of the trainee's to get the casualty to safety.

And here is the mud in the tidal estuary of the River Exe in Devon.

For just as their counterparts striving to earn a coveted green beret must struggle through the Exe sludge, so too must new entrants to the Royal Marines Band Service.

Thirteen weeks of the trainees’ 30 months of schooling to become fully-fledged musicians in the Corps is devoted to turning them from civilians into military men and women.

Having been given a two-week taster of life in the armed forces at the Royal Marines’ School of Music in Portsmouth, the musicians decamp to the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone to earn the ‘Royal Marines’ title on their shoulder flashes.

The course is intended to be similar to regular recruit training – although it’s adjusted to reflect the fact that the trainees are joining as musicians, not front-line commandos.

They endure Initial Military Fitness (also known as Swedish PT) in the gymnasium, drill on the parade square, are taught to read maps, receive medical training, send signals, escape from an upturned helicopter in the swimming pool at Yeovilton (known as the dunker) and go through amphibious and sea survival training in Portsmouth and Poole.

The musicians also complete several exercises on Woodbury Common, next to the commando centre, learning the basics of living and fighting in the field.

‘I realised there would be military training – I just didn’t realise how hard and how much they would be crammed into the time we are here,’ said 18-year-old Musn Mairi McEwan.

‘It’s hard, tough work, with a lack of sleep, but it’s well worth it.’

Musn Phoebe Kidson, 22, added: ‘I chose the Royal Marines Band because of the combination between the incredible musical training and the physical training element as well.

‘I knew it would be hard but you can’t ever imagine the environment until you are here.

‘I have a brother in the Corps and I never understood what he went through in training.

‘Now I have the utmost respect for him.’

And 20-year-old Musn Henry Neish, who plays clarinet and violin, said: ‘I think the band does need this level of military training because it’s better to train now than be thrown in at the deep end on an operation, but I didn’t realise it would be so mentally as well as physically challenging.’

As for the mud run, it’s considered a rite of passage for every member of the Corps.

The young musicians complete their training with a passing out parade in front of their families before returning to Portsmouth to complete up to two years and eight months of training before being fully qualified and joining one of the world-class bands.

There are five in total: HMS Nelson in Portsmouth; HMS Collingwood in Fareham; HMS Raleigh in Torpoint; the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines in Lympstone and the Scotland band in Rosyth.

Upon completing the next phase of their training at the Royal Marines School of Music in Portsmouth, the musicians mark their graduation with a concert at Portsmouth Guildhall and a bold Beating Retreat ceremony in Guildhall Square.