Published: 06:00, 04 March 2021
| Updated: 08:49, 04 March 2021
There was once more than a dozen St John Ambulance bands across the UK. Now there is only one.
Bel Austin travels down memory lane to see how they started and made it to today.
Who doesn’t like the sight and sound of a marching band? There’s something about the music that stirs the soul and brings on feelings of pride and patriotism. It is joyous.
And Islanders have every reason to be proud of our St John Ambulance band - it is the organisation’s only one throughout the UK.
There used to be 15, but only Sheppey’s has survived since forming in 1946. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few wobbles, financially, but by sheer determination this self supporting unit has clung on to continue giving pleasure.
Who would have thought when this picture, above, was taken in 1950 the band would perform on separate occasions to the Queen, late Princess Margaret, Prince Philip and the Duchess of Kent when they visited the Island?
And they have also taken part in nine Lord Mayor’s Shows in London, played at St Paul’s Cathedral, the Menin Gate in Belgium and Disneyland Paris.
"There’s something about the music that stirs the soul and brings on feelings of pride and patriotism. It is joyous..."
In the early days the drummers couldn’t even drum - there weren’t any so soon after the war - but practice they did with drumsticks beating out the rhythm on desk tops in the old Broadway junior school.
Interesting too is that the band was entirely male. Not until all three Island divisions, Sheppey Rural, Queenborough and Sheerness, amalgamated in 1974 were girls allowed. Now at full strength there are 40 musicians which head carnivals and fêtes, Remembrance Day services and the like.
The harsh reality is that these outings cost money and the unit is entirely self funding. When private cars are not available there has to be transport for the band, instruments and supporters. Sometimes work schedules have to be adjusted also.
But what was it like in the 40s and 50s when the focus of St John Ambulance Brigade, as it was then, was on bedmaking, blood and bandages?
Cadets and adults alike are proficient in First Aid and performed regular duties in hospitals, outdoor events, theatres and cinemas ready at all times to deal with minor emergencies.
It was 1944, when, after a band from Ramsgate performed in Sheppey, that SJAB members thought “why not us?”
Cadet Supt Scott said “why not indeed” and estimated £300 was a reasonable target to aim for to set it up. In fact it was too low, but the seed had been planted.There were donations of a few pounds, an actual trumpet bought in memory of a soldier son, and cadet Derek Howard persuaded his mother and sister Rosemary of the Burgoyne Dancing Academy to help swell the fund.
In two years it became a reality and has since gone from strength to strength.
By 1950, when the members pictured here marched to a review and inspection in Herne Bay 1950, they gave an excellent account of themselves, perfectly in tune and in step and immaculately turned out.
Among them were friends Rod Hull and Bill Wallace. Emu hadn’t even figured in their imaginations at this time, but the pair were already writing scripts and performing sketches with the Maidstone and District Concert Party.
"In two years it became a reality and has since gone from strength to strength..."
Brian Dawson and the late Philip Norris are to the fore of the picture wearing the forage caps which have since been replaced with more fashionable baseball-type hats.
Philip’s grandson Ben Pointing has carried on the drumming tradition, and he met wife Kelly, who plays trumpet, at band practice.
Perhaps the oldest member is Bill Jarvis who, at 85, is soon to have more “scrambled egg” and gold medals added to his uniform. He has been Area Commissioner and Assistant County Ceremonial Officer and has has a wealth of knowledge about St John, the band and its officers in an archive of pictures, press cuttings and memorabilia.
Bandmaster Dean Faukner is justifiably proud of the band, its history and achievements - so much so he prevents any one of them from leaving. It is, after all, an honour to be the only St John marching band in the whole of the UK.