Each year. on Remembrance Sunday or thereabouts I post one of the Tinker's (father of dgr) stories from his little memoir Bugle Boy, his boy's-eye view of the war from the height of 4ft 8" and a mere fourteen years of age...
Name that Tune!
Someone once asked me, how did you buglers ever remember all those bugle calls? There were a lot of them and we had the worst of two worlds, all the Army calls and also those applicable to the Navy. I believe there were about 150 in total and, together with the ones for the drum and the flute, they were taught within six months.
In October 1939 I ‘passed out’ in front of Lieutenant Vivian Dunn as proficient on bugle, drum and flute, without being able to read a single note of music, thereby earning another 1s 9d (9p) a week.
Well, you don’t always remember, but that comes later, it was easy really – we gave them all one common denominator, profanity, the more profane the words the easier they were to commit to memory. I can still recall the worst ones now, sixty-seven years later, so it must have worked well. As an example here is a clean one, it’s ‘Mail Call’ –
‘A letter from Lousy Lou boys,
A letter from Lousy Lou.’
Remember that and the tune sticks with it.
On the other hand, another method was used. I could never master the ‘First Mess’ beatings on a drum, I was a ‘thicko’ really, so the Bugle Major (a kindly man) stood behind me with a bass drum stick and repeatedly beat them out on my shoulders until they had sunk in; unfortunately the RM numerals on my shoulder epaulettes sunk into my shoulders as well and had to be dug out later. I can remember that drum beat to this day, so it must have worked. What a shame that we never had personal injury lawyers in those days.
One occasion when my memory did fail me was in January 1940. I had joined HMS Iron Duke on the Saturday and on the Sunday morning I was told to report to Jimmy the One for instructions for Sunday divisions. Who was Jimmy the One I asked, having been told that he was the Executive Officer. I eventually found him and he instructed me (after he had stopped laughing at the sight of me) to sound divisions in the port waist at 0.900 hours.
The time got nearer and nearer to 0.900 hours and I still had no idea who, what or where the port waist was, so I thought I must swallow my pride and ask this nice sailor, which I did.
‘Yer innit’, he said with all the grace of an Elizabethan pirate.
When the divisions had all been mustered in their different parts of the ship, the Captain said to me,
‘Bugler, sound the “Close Aft for Prayers”.’
A simple call, easily remembered, but at that moment I knew exactly how Sir Laurence Olivier would have felt if he had forgotten the opening lines to Hamlet, sheer naked panic and terror. The Captain could see that there was no way his bugler was going to remember ‘Close Aft’ so, calling over the Sergeant-Major of Marines, in front of everyone mustered on the quarterdeck he said,
‘March this bloody bugler away and bring him back when he can remember the “Close Aft”.’
I suppose there have been worse musical debuts but I have never forgotten that bugle call even to this day. That was another way of learning.
I had the last laugh in a sense, though. As we went to ‘Air Raid Warning Red’ I remembered the ‘Alarm to Arms – Repel Boarders’, but a German dropped a bomb on us which served that Captain right because it blew a ruddy great hole in the ship’s side. It didn’t pay to upset a Royal Marine bugler, we had powerful friends.