Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. Facebook will filled with photos and stories of men and women in uniform yesterday. It made me proud to know so many friends who served in the armed forced. At the same time, I was saddened to see photos of those who lost their lives while serving our country – grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers, and other relatives.
Yesterday was also Remembrance Day. I had forgotten that Remembrance Day also falls on November 11. It is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth member states since the end of the First World War to honor armed forces members who have died in the line of duty.
I was reminded of a musical story. It is sort of a “behind the music” sort of story and I hope it is ok to post this a day late.
This man is Frederick Joseph Ricketts. He wrote music under the name Kenneth J. Alford. (He wrote under this name because he was serving in the military and it was frowned upon to have a side job writing music!) He was considered by many to be the “British March King.” So, he was the John Phillip Sousa of Britain if you will. He was Bandmaster in the British Army and the Director of Music for the Royal Marines.
Admittedly, his most famous piece is the Colonel Bogey March. You may not know it by name, but I assure you that you will recognize the melody. Give it a listen:
Wikipedia says, “While there are several speculations of how the march was begun, the most accepted is probably from a note written by Ricketts’ widow to the publishers in 1958:
“While playing golf on the Fort George course, one of the members whistled the first two notes (B flat and G) instead of calling ‘Fore!’, and with impish spontaneity was answered by my husband with the next few notes. There was little sauntering—Moray Firth’s stiff breezes encouraged a good crisp stride. These little scraps of whistling appeared to ‘catch on’ with the golfers, and from that beginning the Quick March was built up”. Was the original whistler the colonel? We’ll probably never know for certain, but the title Colonel Bogey gives us a clue.
During World War 1, he wrote several marches which he dedicated to the fighting forces. Those marches included The Great Little Army, On the Quarter Deck, The Voice of the Guns, and a song that I remember playing in while in high school – The Vanished Army.
I remember before we began rehearsing this song, our band director (Tom Shaner) read us a story about the song. During the first few months of the war, the British Army saw the loss of 100,000 soldiers in combat. This was obviously quite a shock to them and the British public at the time. Ricketts wrote the song and dedicated it “to the first 100,000.” The song’s subtitle was “They Never Die.”
The song is a somber march, which is odd. Many marches are uptempo and bright. The Vanished Army is a march to remember those who lost their lives. The muted trumpet throughout was a very prominent thing. I don’t recall exactly what Mr. Shaner said, but he eluded to the fact that it represented the echoes of the troops that had vanished and represented their bravery and heroism.
Almost every video I found on YouTube of the song was done a little faster than “march tempo” or about 120 beats a minute. I recall playing it just a tad slower, which made it sound a bit more poignant and stately. The following version is about as close to the tempo we played it. While somber, there are still many “march” qualities to the song.
Frederick Ricketts joined the military in 1895. He became well-known and well-liked as leader of the Band of the Royal Marines. He retired from the Royal Marines on June 1, 1944 because of ill health and died at his home in Reigate, Surrey, on May 15, 1945. He had given almost 50 years of distinguished service to the Crown.
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