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Hessle Royal British Legion Band

by Peter Beilby, October 2004

The history of the band goes back to the turn of the century when it was known as Hessle Halcyon Band. It later became the Scarrs Shipyard Band under which name it remained until the 1914-1918 war. Then it became known as the Hessle Victory Military Band and comprised of brass and woodwind instruments. The conductor at that time was a Harry Turner who was also band sergeant of the West Yorkshire Regiment.

During the 1939-1945 war the instruments were loaned to the home guard. When the home guard was disbanded in late 1945, Frank Payne, along with a few more, started the band again, and practices were held in the British Legion hall in Salisbury Street Hessle, Sunday mornings at 11 am, and Thursday evenings at 8 pm. The band then was known as Hessle Band.

I had just started to learn to play the trumpet, and went along to join the band about the first week in January 1946. The conductor then was Mr. Pickard, who is on the 1933 photograph. But in 1947 its present title was taken when the Hessle branch of the Royal British Legion took an interest in the band's fortunes.

The appointment in 1948 of Mr. A. Whitehead as conductor heralded the start of a very successful period for the Hessle Royal British Legion Band. Mr Whitehead held the conductorship for almost twenty years. Contesting played a great part in the band's activities and success was also to be relished under Mr. Whitehead. He also taught and coached many of the younger band members.

After Mr. Whitehead retired, the band had a number of conductors. Mr. Sam Walmsley conducted from 1968, gaining first prize on 24th November at the York and District brass band contest with 'Sirius'. In 1969 again under the baton of Sam, the band won the third section of the Yorkshire qualifying contest at Leeds Town Hall in March, entitling the band to play at the National Finals in London in October.

I am sure anyone reading this can imagine, how a self subscription village band was going to raise enough money to get the band to London, stay two nights in a hotel near to the contest venue, find somewhere to rehearse prior to the contest, and find time to rehearse the test piece for London when it became available, which was about six weeks beforehand.

Bingo was being run by the band on Friday night's at the legion hall, and a further midweek session was run to help with the fund raising. The first donation we had was presented to the band by the Chairwoman of the Ladies Section (Hessle) Mrs. C. Ralph, to which we were most grateful, giving us a good start to the funds needed.

Mr. Bill Overton, and Frank Payne, who had started the bingo, were stalwart supporters, turning up every Friday night, to run and organise, plus the extra midweek nights. Besides Bill and Frank, all the other band members were expected to not only help with the regular Fridays, but with the extras. All band members helped in various ways not only with the Bingo, but organising raffles, a jumble sale in the hall, plus various other fund raisers. The secretary of the Hessle branch of the Legion Dick Orum, helped the band's Friday bingo sessions, by calling the numbers. He also called on the midweek sessions.

I must not forget our hard working secretary, George Veneer, our bass trombonist, who still played a trombone with a handle, in order to get the slide to the lower positions. He was also a member of the Hull Police Band, on bass trombone. He organised the coach, the accomodation, rehearsal room in London, and did a good job in keeping all the band in order, to enable them to give of their best on the day.

I think that playing in the London finals was the highlight of the bands history, and all thanks must go to Sam Walmsley, for his patience, expert knowledge of music, interpretation, and keeping us all in order. Out of twenty-three bands in our section, we were placed seventh, which was a great achievement, having played as well as could be expected. After dinner that night there was great celebrations.

After Sam Walmsley retired, we had various conductors

1971-1972 Keith Edwards (bank manager, Lincolnshire)

1972 John Jefferson ( a member of the band, trombone)

1976-1980 Mr. S. Swancott (from Doncaster)

1981-1984 Dixon Laing (our principal cornet for many years)

1985-1986 Mr E. Wildman

1987 Mr. Graham Townsend

Other conductors who wielded the baton were:

Harold Lillford (a band member)

Frank Payne (who I remember conducting after Mr. Pickard left during 1947 and early on in 1948 prior to Mr. Whitehead being appointed).

Roy Newsome (professional) coached us for six weeks prior to an area contest.

Whenever the band was without a conductor, at either practices or engagements Bill Overton was always willing to fill the gap. He played euphonium for many years, and

Then moved onto Eb bass where he played until his retirement. I had the good fortune to play alongside Bill on the other Eb bass for a good many years.

During my time with the band, besides contesting, we played at garden parties, (public and private) company sports days, and certain years, at musical festivals, where there was a section for brass band. Plus many more that do not readily come to mind. Summers were always busy, and with holidays, players from other local bands were recruited to fill the gaps. Hessle Band members also did their share of helping out.

For about 30 years as I remember, the band headed and played the branch armistice parade, from the legion hall down to All Saints Church, played the last post and reveille, at the cenotaph, where wreaths were then laid, then headed the parade from the church back to the legion, where refreshments were served for many years by the R.B.L. Women's Section.

I retired from the band after 39 years (which included my national service time (Jan 1950 until Jan 1952) during this time I was secretary for 14 years, and treasurer for three. During the next few years players drifted to other bands leaving about six, which was not economical to play in the legion hall. They arranged to play above the Hessle Library which only maybe lasted just over a year then, with no ensemble, the band unfortunately came to an end.

It is sad to think the Hessle Band in some form or another survived two world wars, and lasted about 90 years. Many organisations today face similar problems, trying to recruit members to fill empty spaces.

All the above history is what was passed to me, accumulated and much that i have been involved in.