FOR his 84th birthday John Neal received the best present a former boy bugler could hope for – a surprise visit from members of the Royal Marines Band.
More than 65 years after the former serviceman became a bandsman in the corps, a four-strong drum and bugle contingent made a special appearance at the Bedhampton Nursing Home.
Their arrival stunned residents and brought a huge smile to John’s face.
He had joined the band in his teens as a bugler and drummer and after his time in the Royal Marines also served in the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence police.
Following a stroke he was left unable to speak and moved from his home in Talbot Road, Havant, to the nursing home in Hulbert Road two-and-a-half years ago.
His son Lawrence and daughter-in-law Rachel realised a visit from the band would be the perfect gift for his 84th birthday after seeing his reaction to a video of them performing live.
Lawrence, 51, said: ‘I was at an event where the Royal Marines Band was playing and I recorded it on my phone.
‘When we showed it to dad he couldn’t stop smiling and giving us the thumbs up. He took us to see them play in the Guildhall years ago and I know he never lost his love for them.
‘So we thought why not organise them to visit him as a surprise for his birthday? It seemed like such a good idea I’m surprised we never thought of it before.’
On the big day the members of the Band of the Royal Marines Portsmouth performed for the residents in the home’s courtyard, paying tribute to Mr Neal by presenting him with a pair of ceremonial drum sticks.
His son, who lives in Crowborough, East Sussex, said: ‘We pushed him into the courtyard outside with everyone else and when he saw them his eyes just lit up.
‘He looked so happy and was smiling throughout their performance; it is definitely the best thing we have ever been able to do for him.
‘Dad can’t really speak any more but he managed a couple of words afterwards when he spoke to my wife.
‘All the old people in the nursing home enjoyed it as well; it’s amazing how something like that can cheer everybody up.’
Rachel Neal, 45, said the enthusiastic reaction from other home residents was a pleasure to see, with one elderly gentleman saluting the band throughout their performance.
She said: ‘It went so well, even more so because all the other elderly people enjoyed it as well. We thought as John hadn’t seen the marines band for at least 20 years, either on screen or in reality, it would be great to bring them to life again for him.
‘He can just about say one word with a lot of effort, but when it was over he called me over and said “fame at last!”.’
‘It was a wonderful moment.’