The Band of The Royal Air Force College
Director of Music: Flight Lieutenant Matthew Little
Bandmaster: Warrant Officer Gary Stevens
Band Sergeant: Flight Sergeant Ian Laidler
Drum Major: Chief Technician Simon Carter
During the First World War Cranwell was the base of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) Training Establishment, HMS Daedalus. A strong musical tradition was quickly established on the station and the first recorded concert by a volunteer orchestra took place in November 1917, conducted by Petty Officer B J Hales. In 1918 the RNAS became part of the newly formed Royal Air Force with flying training continuing at Cranwell, along with the activities of a volunteer brass band and an orchestra. On 5th February 1920 Cranwell was formally accepted into the Royal Air Force, a day which is celebrated annually as Founder’s Day. The Band of the Royal Air Force College, one of the first two permanent RAF staff or professional bands, was established two months later. The first Bandmaster was Warrant Officer A E Halford, who had been Bandmaster of the First Battalion of the King's Regiment. It would appear that at the time of his transfer he upset the Colonel of his old Regiment by persuading several of the Regimental Bandsmen to join him at Cranwell. Drafting a number of musicians from RAF Uxbridge, who were certified ‘free from infection and fit to travel’, quickly averted this problem, the Colonel was placated and the The Band of the Royal Air Force College began it’s life with twenty five musicians.
The Band was initially formed to support RAF College functions, which included weekly dining-in-nights, daily parades and Sunday Church Parades, a custom that continued until the late sixties. The combination of early morning parades and late dining-in nights afforded little opportunity to perform away from the RAF College, the only break from this routine being the summer months when the Band would tour seaside resorts to perform public concerts. During such a tour in 1923 the Band travelled to Wales and became the first military Band to broadcast on BBC Cardiff. Over the next few years, through a number of similar broadcasts from other regional radio stations, the Band became well known to a much wider audience. Warrant Officer Halford retired in 1932 claiming to be the only person ever to have conducted a military band in an airship! During this early part of the Band’s history, affairs of State figured prominently with the coronation of King George VI being the most notable event.
On declaration of World War II the Band was playing on Plymouth Hoe under the direction of the legendary Wing Commander George Sims, composer of the 'RAF College March' and the man responsible for the changes which led to RAF Music Services becoming the force it is today. The war changed the entire role of the Band, which, although still committed to the RAF College, was also tasked with providing entertainment for all the RAF bases in Northern England. This was interspersed with lengthy detachments to London, where they were required for morale boosting marches through recently bombed areas. A six month tour with the British Expeditionary Force in France was planned but had to be cancelled when the advance of German forces forced the evacuation of musicians from The Central Band of the Royal Air Force, deployed as the first BEF Band, who escaped via Boulogne shortly before its capture.
The Band continued to perform throughout the post war years taking part in the Funeral of King George VI and the subsequent Coronation of our present Queen. In 1950 it was decided that the Band should be the first to have a Corps of Drums and the RAF College provided £300 for the purchase of instruments. Five extra musicians were employed taking the Band from twenty-five to thirty members. However as the Band’s official establishment did not allow for a Corps of Drums the new musicians were all wind players who, as so often in the armed forces, were expected to double as drummers whenever the occasion called for it. Unsurprisingly this arrangement was never really successful but continued for twenty years until a formal request to establish a Corps of Drums for every RAF Band was turned down by the MOD. During the 1960’s the Band gradually performed an increasing number of engagements away from the RAF College with regular appearances in the Royal Tournament and The Edinburgh Tattoo joining the usual summer concerts. In 1973 the administration and control of all Royal Air Force Bands passed to the Ministry of Defence and the RAF College lost its direct control of the Band which bares its name. RAF Music Services was subsequently reduced to five bands with the closing of the many bands posted to places such as Cyprus and Singapore, necessitating more frequent and prolonged excursions away from home. Overseas visits to Canada, Cyprus, Germany, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, USA, Falklands Islands, Poland, Hungary and Israel have featured in the Band's itinerary, presenting a greater challenge to the flexibility and adaptability of today's RAF musicians.
The Band of the RAF College Today
The Band continues to perform at a diverse range of venues and engagements, across the UK, and in countries worldwide.
The Band performs at numerous concerts throughout the year, many in support of charities such as the RAF Benevolent Fund and the Royal Air Force Association as well as in support of the Band’s own chosen local charity. They form part of the annual RAF Charitable Trust concert series performing at venues such as The Sage, Gateshead; Symphony Hall, Birmingham and Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.
The Band still supports functions at the RAF College, such as Dining in Nights, Graduations and Founders Day parades. Public events include ‘Anthems in the Park’, with the College Hall as a back drop, as well as a series of concerts throughout the year at The Whittle Hall.
On Parade, the Band has performed at the Edinburgh Tattoo, changing the guard at Buckingham Palace and was the first RAF Band to change the guard at Edinburgh Castle in July 2014. Battle of Britain Beat and Retreats, Sunset Marching Displays, Freedom Parades, and displays at Air and County Shows also form a major part of the Band’s programme.
The Band is very versatile and as well as the Concert and Parade Band, it breaks down in to smaller ensembles such as RAF ‘Swing Wing’, jazz group, dance band, brass and woodwind quintets/dectets and clarinet/saxophone quartets. The Band have recorded many CD’s illustrating the wide range of music performed, as well as highlighting individual talent within the Band.
As serving members of the RAF, Band personnel are required to support various operations worldwide. As such, personnel have served in countries such as Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Cyprus and The Falkland Islands in varying roles including guarding aircraft, ambulance driving, convoy commanding and passenger handling.
Royal Air Force Swing Wing
Royal Air Force Swing Wing is the Band of the RAF College's Big band.Royal Air Force Swing Wing