Garrison Fields

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Chapter 23 - Life inside

The boys quickly began to adapt to their lives in the orphanage. They had followed in their father’s ability, in being able to learn new ideas quickly. Their father had also been able to pick up most instruments given to him and before he had even learnt the scales, he would be amusing himself by playing it by ear. The boys seemed to have acquired the knack without knowing it and were to be given instruction at the mission.

The band of the orphanage was mainly a brass band, though there were several other instruments which had been donated over the years such as violins and a cello. The boys found themselves at liberty in their time at the mission to explore many instruments and would grasp the fundamentals of several of them. They learnt to read music as well. It must be emphasised that the mission band would lead a procession to the main church each Sunday with the resident girls and boys from the orphanage marching behind. In the summer they would perform at several band stands on public and bank holidays and take part in other events on weekends, sometimes at the Roker Park bandstand, if a slot was available. This was the public face of the mission. It was Matt and Luke’s ticket out of the orphanage and allowed them to see something of the world outside the orphanage. Those who didn’t, soon institutionalised, especially those who had been put into the care of the orphanage at a young age.

Jacko had asked Matt if he could play any music on that first day. Both Matt and Luke had been brought up in a musical house and could knock a tune out of a squeeze box and a piano when Matt told him he looked disappointed.

‘That’s a pity.’

‘Whys that?’ Asked Matt.

‘Well getting in the band, that’s why!’

‘Why do I want to get in the band?’

‘Because if you get in the band, you get excused from most of the dirty jobs as you have to do music practice, and you go on trips out.’

‘Oh, well me and Luke can play a few other instruments.’

‘What like?’

‘Well, I use to pay the baritone and Luke the flugal horn.’

‘He played what?’

‘The flugal horn.’

‘What in the name of god is a flugal horn?’

‘It’s like a really big cornet.’

‘Oh, where did you learn to play those?’

There was indeed a look of interest on Jacko’s face was it he was really interested or just curious to find out, where these instruments which Matt had tried to hide been learnt.

‘We used to be in the Salvation Army Citadel band at Lambton Street, we had to go up to three times on Sunday and then for band practise once during the week!’

‘The Sally Ann! Well, why didn’t you say, you’ve got it sorted!’ Jacko paused for breath and then continued, there was real enthusiasm in his voice.

‘If you want to join the band, I’ll take you and Luke to the Bandmaster. He’s always looking for boys to join, he gives them a trial for a few months to see if they have an aptitude. If you two can play already, well that’s half the battle won!’

And so, on that evenings parade, Jacko made an excuse for them all to leave the dormitory. He requested permission of the Duty Officer to see the Bandmaster, who patrolled the dormitories during that period before their free time ensuring that, they were getting about their tasks such as cleaning their uniforms, polishing their boots or buckles perhaps on their uniforms, blancoing the gaiters they wore on their dress uniforms for Sundays.

Those boys who had been caught on a morning with their uniforms not up to the required standard or perhaps a face unwashed would have to queue up at the end of the evening parade to show, the offending article or extremity cleaned. They were as it was known in the book this was filled in each day and the offenders would either have the offence cleared off if suitable or if it appeared, they were not correcting the item to the required standard thy would be given a dirty job, which would be written into the book, this book appeared to be like a bible for the duty officers to review, to decide on the most suitable punishment for the perpetrator.

That evening Jacko wanted to take Matt and Luke over to the bandmaster, so at the start of the evening parade he summoned them over to him.

‘Stand here in a rank at the door, when the duty officer comes in he then knows we have a request.’

‘Ok’ the boys obliged.

In due course the Duty officer arrived, the room as usual was called to attention, and he instructed the boys to proceed as usual, several of the boys were queued to leave the room each one presented their reason for wanting to leave this in the main part was to either perform laundry or ironing, now it was the turn of Jacko.

‘The bandmaster wishes to see Burns A and Burns B, may I take them to his office sir.’

All the boys were known by their surnames the only exception were dead ones, so if two boys had the same surname they had to be distinguished, and the way was not to use their own initial but to start giving them an appendage begin at the start of the alphabet and incrementing by a letter for each subsequent boy with the misfortune to have the same surname.

‘Certainly Jackson, cut about it.’ They left the room and Jacko took them over to the band practise rooms, this was one of the classrooms during the day, as the boys went into the stairwell, Jacko went up the stairs.

‘They practise in the classroom, but the instrument store and band office are upstairs.’ There were several boys now coming down the stairs having collected their instruments for that evenings practise. Each one knew Jacko and exchanged a few words of good-humoured childish banter as they passed. It was curious to observe that the smaller or weaker looking the child seemed to be, the larger the accompanying instrument.

They reached the top of the stairs; it was a small dimly lit landing with only one door into the music store. The room was quite badly lit, as they entered, they could smell the instruments, the metal polish used to clean them, the smell that comes from the leather and velvet hard cases which hold them; warmth of the room heightened these senses. Several boys were milling around, retrieving their instruments from the cases, some were taking music stands from the shelves. As they proceeded a couple of the more humorous boys mentioned.

‘You’ve brought a couple more sheep to the slaughter have you Jacko.’

‘Ha, ha very funny,’ was Jacko’s stock response. He now tapped on the smaller inner office door when the bandmaster was. The bandmaster was in the process with some of the boys of selecting the different music for that evenings practise and, he finished handing them the selection.

‘Now gentlemen, if you distribute that to your stands, I will be down in a moment.’ They left and he now turned his attention.

‘What can I do for you Jackson?’

‘I have two new cadets who would like to join the band Sir. They used to play in the Sally Ann.’

‘Did they indeed, well come in gentlemen and show yourselves.’ They obliged and as customary called out their names to the officer.

‘I may have to shatter your dreams, I have no more trumpets, cornets or trombones, I have more boys that want to play those than I know what to do with. What did you play in the Salvation Army?’

‘The baritone sir.’

‘The flugal horn sir.’

‘We most certainly have room for a baritone player, good god a flugal horn player I’ve had one of those on the top shelf for ten years and no one to play it!’ The bandmaster stood up and told the boys picking the music books to go downstairs and start the practise.

‘I want to here For Those Lost at Sea, and tell cymbals, I would like to hear the rest of the band not just him!’ With that the bandmaster went into the instrument room and pulled up a baritone case from a bottom shelf, he flicked open the black case and pulled out the instrument from its rich red velvet interior. Inserting the mouthpiece from the case into the instrument, he placed his fingers on the three keys and pressed the valves down several time, the keys responded slowly at first and then began to flick up a bit quicker.

‘You’ll have to pull the valves out and give it a light oil.’ Once the bandmaster was satisfied that the instrument was reacting as required, he pressed the mouthpiece to his lips pursed them slightly and immediately rattled of his major scales, up and down he went, after which he stretched out his hand with the instrument.

‘Which one of you is the baritone player?’

‘I am sir,’ came the reply from Matt.

‘Well take it, let’s see what you can do.’

Matt took the instrument from him and positioned it for playing. ‘The scales Sir?’

‘Aye that’ll be a start.’ He commenced pursing his lips both he and the sound started off hesitantly but gradually improved, he was competent and would perform admirably in the orphanage band. Once he finished the scales the bandmaster complemented him.

‘Excellent, the Salvation Army do give a good grounding, but it was a bit windy wasn’t it.’

‘I’m sorry sir I don’t follow you?’

‘The mouthpiece, it was too big for you.... Jackson, get down that tenor horn next to you.’

The instrument was handed to the bandmaster who flicked it open, pulling out the mouthpiece from the case.

‘Try that instead and lets have the same thing.’ The mouthpiece in the baritone was swapped with this smaller one which better suited the size of Matt’s mouth, he then lifted the instrument and repeated the exercise. The difference was clear.

‘Much better, far richer, now put it in the case you’ll take it with you back to your dormitory that is yours while you are here.’ He then looked at Luke.

‘Now for my new flugal horn player.’

He reached to the top of the shelving and pulled down a black hard leather instrument case, which was shaped like an enormous cheese dish, on pulling the instrument an amount of dust cascaded onto them, not enough to harm, but enough to cause a fare deal of spluttering from the bandmaster. Placing the instrument case on the table he ruffled his hair to relieve himself of any dust, and then brushed his shoulders with his hands relieving himself of the last vestiges of it. He opened the case, inserted the mouthpiece and went through a similar exercise, finally handing the instrument to Luke. He took it more hesitantly than Matt and began. The results were not convincing the noises which were emanating sounded as if he hadn’t had much experience, the bandmaster looked at him.

‘Spit boy, spit, you need to spit tongue, tongue, tongue.’ He took control of the instrument and to demonstrate played a fast section from a hunting song.

‘Now give it a go, play whatever you like, let’s get some spit in it.’ He handed the instrument back to Luke who by this time had flushed with embarrassment, his brother had proved himself and he felt as if he had failed, he determined he would try better.

‘Play the hymns we used to practise.’ Luke looked at Matt, his mind cleared, he had been so self-conscious a moment ago at being put on the spot, but yes, he knew, those he had played them solo on the Sunday night service and the Captain of the Citadel had introduced him and he played solo with the whole Salvation Army Citadel band accompanying him. He had been scared that day, but had overcome it, his family had been there to help him and he was here now with Matt.

He placed the instrument to his lips and pursed and spat into that instrument for all he was worth, he didn’t need music he had learnt these tunes off by heart, he knew every quaver and semi-crotchet in them, he played and played fast and slow the tunes came out, he switched them and made a medley switching between hymns as the feeling took him “Onward Christian soldiers” leading into “Those lost at sea” and eventually finishing on “Abide with me”. He finished and hesitantly put his instrument down. The Bandmaster was the first to speak.

‘If I had not seen that with my own eyes, I would have never believed it. I have my horn player as well!’

The compliments were well received Luke looked away as was his manner then at his feet, he was slightly shy, and being the centre of attention as now did make him uncomfortable, but nethertheless he was happy with the compliment. Matt was beaming as well, he was proud of his brother and he had been slightly worried at the start of the rendition. As for Jacko, he was all smiles as well in deed it was a happy moment for all, the bandmaster broke up the mutual admiration society.

‘That horn is yours while you are here, now you’ll take it and look after it.’ Luke placed the instrument back in the case. Picking up their instruments they followed the bandmaster out of the store and down the stairs, halfway down he turned to Jackson.

‘I’ve left my baccy and papers in the office, be a good lad, run up and bring them down for me.’

‘Aye aye sir.’ He did not need a second invitation he turned and took the stairs two at a time and disappeared into the store in an instant. They continued on their way down to the practise room and were introduced to the other members of the band and allocated to their respective stands. They sat in a horseshoe shape formation facing the Bandmaster in two rows, the larger instruments bass, baritones and tenor horns were at the back, cornets, trumpets, piccolos at the front. The bass drummer was at the back with this large drum stood on a chair and next to him the cymbal player, and to their left and right of the front rank were half a dozen boys with rope tensioned snare drums. They were also standing and had brown leather practise slings which allowed the boys to march with the drums, on Sunday’s, where they used their best white blancoed ones. Sitting was not really an option for them and also being stood allowed them to practise their stick lifting of the drum sticks as they were playing.

The bandmaster introduced the Burns boys to their respective stands and room was made for them to slot in amongst the others. Just as this Jackson hurtled through the door, to Matt and Luke’s surprise he was wearing a practise sling and had hold of a snare drum and a set of sticks, they should have known, always wanting to be at the front. He handed the bandmaster the tobacco and papers he had collected off his desk for him and proceeded to his position. The bandmaster pushed his tobacco pouch in his pocket, it felt slightly lighter than he remembered. He smiled to himself, he knew that Jackson lived by his wits having been in the orphanage for so long and well, tonight it was his reward for providing him with two new players. With no further disruptions he picked up his baton.

‘We’ll start with Sunday’s parade. Three nice marching ones to get us to the church. What do you fancy for the first one?’

He looked round the boys, it would be right to say the old favourites came back from the boys, this was because collectively they could manage several tunes to compare with most brass bands, but then they had several that needed slightly more practise, there were several shouts for ‘Soldiers of the Queen.’

‘Excellent choice that’ll get the chests raised and the blood pumping.’

For the next hour, they played the tunes for the Church Parade. The bandmaster stopped them more than several times to give instruction, usually to an area as a whole at the end of the time he pronounced himself please that this Sunday’s Church parade would be a resounding success, if they played as they had in that final fifteen minutes, the town would be proud of them. Having been dismissed for the evening, the boys dashed away. There were the usual larks as the boys put their instruments away. The bandmaster stopped Luke, on his way out.

‘That was excellent. What I would like you to do for Sunday, is practise those pieces for a second cornet. I need to order some sheet music for your horn, follow me and I’ll get them.’

Most of the boys went back upstairs to put their instruments back in the store, some took their instrument to practise. Practising was usually performed in the toilets with a cloth rammed down the bell end of the instrument to muffle the sound. The bandmaster found the music and gave it to Luke, explaining that the second cornet part would form a melody just under the pitch of the cornet and would really give the band an edge, but the second part was actually harder to play than the first cornets, which played the tune everyone new, he was depending on Luke to give it his best shot. The boys left, Jacko, Matt and Luke, they had all had a good night.

‘Who’s the bandmaster’s golden boy,’ said Jacko.

‘I only did what he asked.’

‘And all that new special music, we are honoured to make your acquaintance, oh great one.’ Jacko did his usual bow.

‘I don’t know how I am going to learn it all in time for Sunday though!’

‘You’ll be burning the midnight oil in the toilets I think!’

‘Oh’

This took the edge off there evening; Luke began to worry again.

It was now Matt’s turn to speak. ‘Don’t worry I’ll come in with you we’ll practise together, how about you Jacko, what you doing?’

A rather nonchalant look came over Jacko as he moved away from them slightly, ‘I thought I might take the night air and perhaps enjoy a nice smoke!’

The boys stared at him, Matt as always acting as the spokesman for what they both thought.

‘You didn’t nick some smokes from the Bandmaster did you, when you got his baccy?’

‘Well dear papa forgot to send my allowance this week.’

‘You nicked his ciggies,’ reiterated Luke.

’Of course I did, I’ve been nicking smokes from Bandie since I was eight. He don’t mind every now and then, you see tonight he wanted me to nick ‘em, that’s why he sent me to get his baccy.’ The boys both expressed their admiration and astonishment.

‘See you ladies later, us men are off for a smoke!’ He may have been in the singular but being plural always gave him more gravitas.

Luke shouted after Jacko. ‘Why is this Sunday’s Church Parade special?’

‘Cos it’s Jack Crawford’s day.’ The matter of fact reply came back. There was that air of don’t you know anything implied in the tone of the reply.

‘Jack Crawford!’ came the reply from Luke, the tone of his voice tapering off and his look made itself evident that nothing Jacko had so far said had made the slightest sense to him.

‘He’s only the most famous one in this place ain’t he!’

It was becoming much clearer he must be one of the officer’s Luke thought, oh it must be a special occasion for him, maybe his retirement. Jacko looked again at Luke, he noticed that he still had an air of puzzlement about him.

‘He’s not here anymore you know.’ stated Jacko, to get the conversation moving again.

‘Why not?’ came the swift answer from Luke.

‘Because he had his head blown off at Trafalgar.’ Came the Matter of fact reply from Jacko as if he had stood next to him when it happened.

‘Trafalgar, I thought you said he was still here!’

A grin came over Jacko’s face. ‘He may as well be the amount they talk about him round here, blimey, they witter on about him something rotten. You listen to the padre on Sunday, he’ll stare and point directly at us as he talks of Jack’s selflessness, and how he should be an inspiration to us all, anyone would think the way he bleats about him they were related!’

The boys nodded to Jacko in agreement with his sentiments, whatever his sentiments where they agreed with them. Having gained their full attention, he continued with the story.

‘Have you been to Mowbray Park?’

The boys had, it was at the back of the Town museum and town library, at the end of Fawcett Street. There was a large lake with balustrading where couples would court by promenading in the summer months and families would picnic, the boys would sail yachts they had made on the lake. Behind the lake, the park stretched out with its formal flower gardens and a man-made mound had been created with a statue on the top. The storyteller continued.

‘If you follow the path that goes round and up the mound, at the top is a statue, have you seen it?’

The boys when they were younger had run up to see what was up there, they had become bored that at the top of the mound. It was just a large bronze statue with a large granite base, both showing signs of age with various shades of brown and green now mottling its appearance. They had not bothered to question their parents on its relevance to the town when they had returned.

‘Did you notice anything about it?’ quizzed Jacko.

‘It had a seagull sat on it which squawked a lot’ came the reply from Luke, who thought his answer was more amusing than the present company did.

‘Why do I even bother... The statue is of Jack Crawford. The Frogs canon had smashed most of the masts of the ship, the captain was dying and the white ensign was lying on the deck next to him. Jack had just joined the ship, he was the cabin boy. The Captain cried out with his mortal wounds, who will hoist the ensign for England? No man stepped forward, but Jack took the pistol from the captains bloodstained hand and some nails and with the white ensign slung over his shoulder and the pistol tucked into his belt, he climbed to the highest point on the shattered mast and using the brass end of the pistol he nailed the ensign to the mast.’

He now briefly stopped to gather his breath, the boys were speechless and agog to hear the finale of the story. They didn’t interrupt, noticing his audience were captivated he continued.

‘The men seeing the white ensign manned their cannons again and sent broadside after broadside crashing through the French, until the French broke and ran, just as the victory was theirs a French sniper shot Jack who fell to the deck and died next to the captain. It’s his monument on the mound, him nailing the white ensign to the mast, and that same white ensign is hanging in the chapel for all to see. You can still see his blood on it, where the men covered him with it after the battle.’

They now knew the story. It was Luke that broke the silence, ‘And they encourage us to act selflessly like Jack?’

‘That they do, but I’ll tell you this Luke, I would rather act like me and not have my head shot off, anyway I’m off for my smoke now!’

Matt winked at Luke and whispered. ‘That’s funny I thought Jack Crawford died of cholera and was buried at Holy Trinity.’

Luke was speechless as he whispered back ‘You mean.’

‘Yes, what Jacko doesn’t know, he makes up!’

And with that the boys were left to return to the dormitory.

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