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Royal Marines band tours Helmand

The 15-piece show band, comprising a rhythm section, two vocalists and a host of instruments, has provided a welcome distraction for the troops…

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The 15-piece show band, comprising a rhythm section, two vocalists and a host of instruments, has provided a welcome distraction for the troops who have been working non-stop in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius since arriving in Helmand province in April.

Major Tony Smallwood RM, who heads up the band, said:

We wanted to come and entertain the troops, give them a break from the hard work, and raise morale.

The first performance took place in the Role 3 Hospital in Camp Bastion where the band played to patients and staff on the wards.

The playlist included favourites such as songs from the Blues Brothers, The Commitments and James Brown, as well as some more modern covers. Major Smallwood said:

We have so many good numbers, it is hard to choose a favourite! Glee is very popular and was written and assembled from a CD by one of our sergeants!

The Commanding Officer for the Role 3 Hospital, Commander Carol Betteridge of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service, said the staff and the patients thoroughly enjoyed the performance:

Music always makes you feel good and it raises morale. It was excellent for everyone here in the hospital.

During its month-long tour of Afghanistan, the band has performed in a wide range of locations; from forward operating bases in Helmand to a large ISAF camp in the capital, Kabul.

At the Task Force Helmand (TFH) Headquarters in Lashkar Gah, hundreds of people at the base took an hour out of their evening to enjoy a barbecue and listen to the band perform a string of hits.

Lieutenant Colonel Dominic May, the Deputy Chief of Staff of TFH, said:

Most people based in Lashkar Gah have now spent five months away from home, working long hours in a high pressured environment, supporting the 6,500 men and women that comprise Task Force Helmand.

We’re sincerely grateful to the Royal Marines Band Portsmouth for coming to entertain us and giving everyone a very welcome respite from our daily routine.

Back in the UK, the 74-strong Band of HM Royal Marines Portsmouth plays a wide genre of music. While its members are most used to playing military and marching band music for parades, the band can also transform itself into a symphony orchestra, Big Band or Jazz Band.

Despite being professional musicians, the men and women of the Royal Marines Band Service can be deployed on operational tours. Several members of the band are currently serving on Operation HERRICK 14 as part of the Joint Force Medical Group, spending six months based at Camp Bastion working as ambulance drivers and stretcher-bearers, supporting the medics at the hospital.

The members of the Band of HM Royal Marines Portsmouth currently touring Helmand have spent months preparing for the trip. Not only have they had to rehearse their performances, they have also undergone intensive military training to ensure they are prepared for any potential threats they face while in theatre.

Five of the band members have previously served in Afghanistan, but this is Major Smallwood’s first time:

I have been amazed at the dedication of the troops out here, especially in this oppressive heat. I am thoroughly enjoying getting around the area of operations, meeting all the soldiers and Royal Marines. Hopefully, we’ve been able to give them a bit of a boost with a bit of entertainment and by putting on a show!

Published 31 August 2011