Alan Mills – Back in Leeds – Army Cadets and Regimental Bands

About 1942-43, in wartime Britain, all lads as teenagers had to register and join a youth organization. We had a choice of Boys Brigade, Army, Air or Sea Cadets, the Boy Scouts or Messenger Cadets. If the war was to go on, we could be conscripted in a few years and they didn’t want anybody slipping through the net. The girls didn’t get off either, they had to join the Girls Training Core. Personally, I couldn’t wait to sign up with the Army Cadets. I was living in Harehills at the time and joined the Army Cadet Unit based at Brownhill School, as did most of the lads living in the area.
The Army Drill Sergeants came by twice a week to put us through our paces. Within a month they’d knocked us into disciplined squads. Later a Pipe & Drum band was formed within the cadet unit. Veteran members of the Yorkshire Jocks Association taught us the art of bagpiping and drumming. I learned drumming and took my place as a side drummer in the band. After a few months of hard work and practise we were good enough to perform at various parades and pageants designed to raise money for the war effort.

As 1943 turned into 1944 the band were in demand throughout Yorkshire. They used to have charity weeks; Wings for Victory Week, Salute a Soldier Week and most memorably Warship Week.
If I remember rightly, Leeds raised six million pounds to pay for a new Ark Royal Aircraft Carrier. The six million was raised half way through the week and in the remaining days a further three million was raised to equip it with aircraft. I’ve often thought what a momentous effort that was by the citizens of Leeds, NINE Million pounds in one week, when the average wage was about a fiver a week – some effort.

Becketts Park Colleges had become Officer Cadet Training Units, the courses last about three months culminating with the passing out parade which was quite a ceremonial occasion. It was rumored either Winston Churchill or General Montgomery were to take the salute. We even had buses laid on for us to take us from Harehills to Becketts Park. Before we were allowed off the buses we were given a very stern lecture from the Pipe Major: ‘Keep the timing bang on the beat, keep a strict formation, no bunching, don’t march up the back of the man in front of you.’­

We nervously formed into marching order, the pipes in the front ranks, then the three bass drummers with the big drummer in the centre, flanked by the tenor drummers. Our big drummer was an old soldier called Woody. He’d enlisted as a band-boy in a Scottish Regiment before the War. He used to regale us with stories of the action he’s seen on the Khyber Pass in Northern India in 1937. He was, a real old soldier and when he had the drum, some of his trick beating was spectacular.

So, there we were, all lined up, ready for our march to the saluting base. Our young Drum Major gave the order, we as side drummers tapped our drums and raised our sticks just above the lips and he gave the order: Highland Laddie 2-4 time- Byy-ee the centre – quick march. The side drummers came in with two three beat rolls and the pipes joined in. The thrill of the sound of the pipes and the beat of the drums will always stay with me, to be part of it was exhilarating.
Now, some of the pathways at the park were a bit narrow and we had to bunch up to get through, but we were managing without missing a beat.
Nobody bothered to tell us, least of all Woody, there were little direction posts where the paths crossed. So there was Woody and his big drum, marching merrily along and bang!….straight into one of the direction posts. The momentum caused him to bounce back and swing into the tenor drummer who in turn was sent sprawling in the four side drummers who ended up on top of him. The right sided tenor got caught in a tangle with the drum ropes and what was left of the direction post and me and three other side drummers finished up in a heap on top of Woody.
Well, as you can imagine the language turned the air blue, I think us younger lads learned more choice expletives in those few minutes than in the rest of our lives put together – mostly with a Scottish Accent! The pipers who paraded in front of the drummers marched on oblivious to the carnage behind them. The pipe major realised they were without drums and quickly halted them and marched them back to the calamity.
We stood up, someone produced a clothes brush and thanks to the fine weather we were lucky to just brush our selves down, check our unscathed drums and marched on to take our place at the saluting base. The march went past with congratulations all round although the funny thing was, we never did find out who took the salute!

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