Joe Bloggs:An Unlikely Hussar Part 40 My Part in the Charge of the Light Brigade and the Edinburgh Tattoo

edinburgh Tattoo 1973-5

When we got back from Canada, we had to take part in a very big occasion in Paderborn. Our regiment staged a son-et-lumiere re-enactment of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava. Several hundred of us were involved. Our Band Master, P B Smith, composed the music specially and the Band played it at the event as well as for a short television programme of it made by the British Forces Broadcasting Service. The live event was staged on sports fields behind the officers’ mess in Barker Barracks. Dignitaries from all over Germany and the NATO forces were invited to attend it. It must have been quite an impressive sight for the onlookers, but for someone like myself who was playing an active part in it as a musician, enduring the endless rehearsals, marching on uneven ground where horses had been galloping, I had a different attitude towards it. Those with instruments at their mouths often ended up with bleeding lips caused by the unexpected jolts they got from marching on the rough ground. I was never one for playing at being a soldier and charging about on horses when we were an armoured regiment with tanks. As a soldier, however, you always want to give your best, and in front of an audience, you put your heart and soul into it so that the event is a great success. To this day I will never understand why we had to devote so much time to rehearsing, to spend so much money on pyrotechnics and to disrupt us all from our normal routines as soldiers to do all these things. It was good to do it to preserve traditions and keep the army in the public eye, but I still see it as a waste of time and money when soldiers could have been more gainfully employed.

It would seem that the government of the time had similar ideas, as it was during these years that a major restructuring of the army was underway following a defence review. Part of that which affected us was that the complete Band had to undergo training as B3 medics, stretcher-bearers and field hospital medical assistants. We had a six week course with qualified instructors from the Royal Army Medical Corps in our own classroom, complete with dummy skeleton and a follow up refresher course the following year. This was something which I found very interesting. I learned a lot which I was grateful for as it was to come in very useful in my work after leaving the army in later years.

NATO forces were expected to participate in many prestigious events in Europe and in doing so these experiences made me grow as a musician and taught me what it takes to perform on an international stage of importance. One such occasion was to play in Brussels at the European Parliament. Another memorable event we had to take part in was The Nijmegen Marches. This event had originated out of the Dutch Field Army Sports Day in the early 1900’s, grew after Amsterdam hosted the Olympic Games in 1928 and had been revived after the devastation at the end of World War II and has continued to grow ever since. Military organisations and other disciplined services took part and for us it entailed marching at all times of day and night playing our musical instruments. I found this very strange when for the first time we had to go out at 2 a.m. with certain groups of male and female marchers from all over the world marching behind us. After our allotted time of leading the marchers, another band took over and led the marchers on further. Hundreds of thousands of people, musicians, drivers, vehicles and expense were deployed for this event which seemed to me to be a pointless exercise. At the time, the food was terrible and the accommodation wasn’t much better and there was a good reason to celebrate when it was all over and we could get back to the sanity and good order of life back in Germany. This often meant time for holidays with the family and a rest from the relentless pace of work and military surroundings. It was a precious time to spend at a place called Travemundi on the Ost See. We stayed on an island called Prival, a haven for young children with sandy beaches, sea and hot sunshine.

The next couple of years were the busiest time I can ever remember. Not only did we have numerous engagements to fulfil as a military band and a dance band, but I was involved in so many sporting commitments representing the Band, my squadron and my regiment. I was involved in eleven different sporting disciplines: athletics, basketball, badminton, boxing, cricket, cross-country, football, hockey, table-tennis, tennis and volleyball. As well as these, I was still playing football for Tus Schloss Neuhaus (the German club,) competing in athletics meetings at the Tus Schloss Neuhaus grounds and S.C.Paderborn Athletics Club competitions. I was selected for the brigade and divisional cricket, hockey and football teams and for BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) hockey, cricket and athletics teams and the army athletics team. It was difficult to train for all these sports when I had a very busy band schedule. In the BAOR Individual Athletics Championships in 1973, I won the triple jump, came second in the long jump and third in the discus. I reached the 100m final of the army athletics Championships but had to withdraw due to a pulled hamstring. In the 1975 BAOR Individual Athletics Championships I came third in long jump and discus and fourth in the 400m hurdles.

I was playing trumpet fanfares with the trumpeters at various venues, percussion with the band at various schutzenfests around Germany, and military tattoos in Hurford, Biedefeld, Hohne, and other army bases. We also travelled to other parts of Europe, including cruises to Malmo in Sweden, The Maitrank International Wine Festival in Belgium and the Maitrank Ball in the evening, “Le Mans” Carnival in France, The Cheltenham Tattoo, the Aldershot Tattoo and the Royal Tournament, which I always looked forward to as it was “home” to me in Earls Court and Chelsea. In Paderborn, we did two concerts a year at the Blind School which was very rewarding as we not only entertained the children but gave them hands on experience of feeling our musical instruments to help them learn where the sounds came from.

The Edinburgh Tattoo was the worst one I ever took part in. We musicians were cooped up like animals in the Edinburgh Castle dungeons in terrible conditions while waiting to march onto the esplanade in front of the castle to perform. It was a confined space with damp running down the stone walls. Ignorant NCO’s were screaming and shouting at the top of their voices which was totally un-necessary and meant they couldn’t be understood. There were no toilet facilities and once in the area we weren’t allowed to leave, so we had to use buckets filled with Jeyes fluid. Once used, many times over, the buckets remained in the same room where we had to stay, savouring the stench. Roman soldiers on Hadrian’s Wall had better conditions than we did. Some of my colleagues contacted the press to come and see the conditions we had been put into. The food was dreadful and meagre portions left me feeling permanently hungry. As a protest all the musicians decided that we would conceal the stale oranges they gave us as refreshment and wait until the lights went out when the Last Post was being played. Then we all rolled our oranges down the esplanade so that they landed at the bottom of the slope in front of the stage where the dignitaries and the inspecting officer were seated. It caused quite a stir when the lights came back up, revealing hundreds of oranges that had apparently come from no-where. This silent protest may have had its effect in leading to an improvement in the conditions for future Edinburgh Tattoos.

If you want to know how I went on to achieve my ambitions in international sport and music around the globe, then click on the “follow” pop-up button at the bottom right hand corner of this page, and sign up, or follow me on my “Jane Joseph author” page on Facebook. Earlier parts of the story are also found on this website. If you want to find out what happened in my later life when I returned to help develop my birth country Guyana in South America, then order “The ElDorado Affair” by Jane Joseph ISBN 978-0-9932409-0-4 published by Sapodilla Press available in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon.co.uk, order it through Waterstones or your local book store via Nielsens teledata or read it in Kindle format ISBN 978-0-9932409-1-1 available worldwide on Amazon.com

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