"My name is Dougie, I joined the Military in January 1978 at the Royal Marines School of Music in Kent. For the first six weeks we had basic training, when we learnt how to iron, clean our boots and look after our uniform. I had known the importance of cleaning brasses and pressing trousers but in the marines it’s a new level of cleaning, you just get into that routine. One of the testing things is trying to walk around an oily, greasy ship in a starched white uniform, it can be frustrating when you manage to get up four flights of ladders only to get an oil mark on your sleeve and have to go back down and get another uniform. We’ve played for the Queen, Ambassadors, Princes and Princesses all over the world so its important you look smart but when you have to get changed four decks down you’re always going to be cleaning.
From a very early age, music was very important to me, I was always listening to it; I was given a trumpet at the age of 10 and became good very quickly. I played in a band when I was in school hence joining the marines.
During my 2 and a half years of music training I learnt the violin which was a bit different. I was told if you can read the music, you know the language, the instrument is just logistics. Luckily I’ve got a good ear, so I very quickly became a good violinist. You play a parade with the band in the morning, and play Mahler’s 2nd in the evening. You are generally expected to play a couple of instruments, saxophone and violin, euphonium and cello, flute and piano; trombones tend to play on their own, tuber and double base.
You know when you join that you are going to have to do other things than just play music. We learnt how to clean and fire weapons, drive trucks, do live fire and range test every year. Obviously not to the standard of the marines but we can still behave in a military way. We have a dual role, military and music. The band players are very versatile, they can turn their hands to most when you need to, they’re very good in a crisis but if you want us on the front line, you’ve lost the war!
When in the combat situation, it depends which band you’re in so when I was in the Falklands, I was a stretcher bearer. Other bands do chemical decontamination, key point guard over facilities, such as docks and important buildings. In Bastion they would do all of that and keep the status boards updated to know who was where because the doctors and nurses were busy enough.
Although the Falklands was a short war, it was quite nasty. It was a bit like MASH, the helicopters would bring casualties on to the ship and we would take them to the various treatment areas. When they closed down the flight deck at the end of a day, potentially we could be playing that evening, so you had to go and wash your hands, get a clean uniform and forget about what you had seen, you close your mind and get on with what you are doing.
Being a veteran
Strangely I don’t consider myself a veteran, I think of myself as an ex-serviceman. I know I am a veteran but I think those who were in the first world war or the second world war, the big conflicts, they are legitimate veterans. I have a veteran’s badge but someone who joins for just three days can get a badge, so for me that negates the whole meaning associated with being a veteran.
When you are part of a band you’re all in it together, you are a family group. from the musician to colour sergeant, or the warrant officer. We have had some reunions from the Falklands recently and, bear in mind we haven’t seen each other for nearly twenty years, we met in a pub and it was bizarre, we could have gone back on board that night and played as a band, we were one big family group together, it was lovely.
I try to keep in touch with people who I know but might not have seen for years but you just pick up. It's that instant connection again, because we’ve been through the same mill, the same training. A mate of mine left last year and he is bereft, he did 36 years in the band service and he had nothing to go to and, from his posts online, as far as he is concerned his life is over, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. Some of his posts are really disturbing and there is a collective sigh of relief if he hasn’t been heard from for a while and he makes a post. There are plenty of people telling him its alright, yes it’s a big step but its just another step, you’ve got to move on.
Putting down roots
It's slightly different for me I think, I lived in quarters for only 2 or 3 months and then my wife and I bought a house off the base so we lived outside. Whilst some move from base to base and didn’t have friends or didn’t want to make friends because of moving on, we were used to having neighbours and indeed being in a band, I could be with the same people for 10 even 15 years. Within the band service you can go to different bands from Portsmouth to Plymouth, to Dartmouth to Scotland but you will always meet up when there is a big mass band event.
I think I have transposed the camaraderie I experienced when in the military to what I’m doing now. Music has played an enormous part in my transition, I’ve always played or conducted in a band. I met a colleague by chance when I moved to Birmingham who had been a military band master so I joined the West Midlands Fire Service band.
The band I conduct now has a strong family connection of almost a hundred years and while my wife was in Afghanistan, I was playing every night either conducting or playing, neighbours used to come around bringing food.
Transition was strange for me because I had already organised to go into the full time reserves. A friend of mine was an ex-band service musician and he was working in recruitment so I applied and got a job in recruiting. I did 12 or 13 years in recruiting so it was out of the band but still in the Service. Last year, after 40 years, I felt I had done my bit, the slow transition made it so much easier.
I work within the music department in a school now, helping out when I’m needed.
Change of Pace
My job as a musical director is to manage the members’ worries about things that a Service band would never worry about. For example, we have people of different ages and with different infirmities so if the chairs or the stands are not the right height it’s a problem, whereas a Service band would just get on with it, it would be done. In a military band if you tell them the drill, they would do it, whereas a civilian band might take 5 months to get it right.
We play to civilians all the time, we go to a concert and it will be full of civilians so I have never felt there is a them and us. However, you could be talking of things and you do notice when someone’s eyes glaze over, they have no concept about what you are talking about, what you have seen and done.
I am quite practical, pragmatic, I don’t tend to dwell on things and when it came to my interview with the clinical psychologist who was a captain on board, he got everyone in and said ‘Mr Graham, how do you think and feel about what you have experienced over the past three or four months?” I said “I’m fine”. He went “oh Good….next?”.
That was my de-brief. We were lucky, we travelled back from the Falklands together as a band, it took two weeks to get back because we were the hospital ship. We had time to talk and exchange stories about what we had seen. For me it has been an easy transition, maybe I’m one of the lucky ones."