The Bugle Band

The horns, i.e., bugles, have the place of honour in a rifle regiment. This arises from the fact that, in action, orders were given to the widely scattered scouts and skirmishers by this medium. Nor is such a use outmoded. The 7th Parachute Battalion rallied by the bugle call after their drop east of the Orne River on D Day, 6 June 1944. So too, in the same action, did the famous six platoons of the 2nd Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, now a unit in the Green Jacket Brigade. It is well to remember here that the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion which dropped at the same time included several volunteers from The Queen’s Own.

In the early days of rifle regiments the band consisted of horns only. Drums were not then used to beat the marching pace. The leader of the band is styled Bugle-Major. He does not carry a staff. The appointment of Drum-Major does not exist amongst Green Jackets.

Francis Clark, who joined the regiment in 1860, was the first Bugle-Major. The actual appointment was given on 2 September 1865. In those days it was imperative that one or more buglers be attached to each company. Otherwise, the training of riflemen would be greatly handicapped. The idea of a band was quite secondary. By 1866 the band idea was slowly taking form as two bass drums had been acquired. In that year the buglers served at Ridgeway; so did one of the two bass drummers.

Bugle-Major Clark died in October, 1876. By that time one Charles Swift, who had joined the regiment in 1866, had made a name for himself as a bugler and drummer. He took over the band and by 21 April 1880 was confirmed as Bugle Major. In a few years he had a first-rate band; later, his band was considered the finest in the British Empire. Such an achievement was the result of hard work willingly performed by men under the direction of a born leader in his field. Swift could produce a richness of tone in the horns perfectly complemented by the flams, drags and strokes of the drums. Drill with the horns and drum sticks reached the same perfection as the foot drill. As well, the development by Swift of the crook adjustment for the B flat horn, enabled the key of F to be used. Now the music could be varied by stirring marches and thunderous combinations. played by bugle band and military band together.

In 1885, Bugle-Major Swift and sixteen selected buglers served throughout the North-West Rebellion. At home, Sgt. T. Bain soon brought the band up to its original strength. Snare drums were introduced in 1888 and proved an immediate success. Throughout these years, besides completely fulfilling its military duties, the band put on numerous exhibitions in Canada and the United States. Everywhere, the playing was acclaimed; and everywhere imitators of Swift’s system and methods sprang up. In 1897, in recognition of his many years of faithful service, Bugle-Major Swift was awarded Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

The outbreak of the South African War again saw the buglers in action. Bugler D. Williams made a name for himself by sounding the charge at Paardeburg. Bugler E. McCormack served with Lord Strathcona’s Horse. As well, a number of buglers went to Halifax to initiate a garrison band.

The Canadian contingent for the coronation of King Edward VII, originally intended for 26 June 1902, included The Queen’s Own bugle band under Bugle Major Swift. This was made possible by the generosity of the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel H. M. Pellatt, who personally paid all expenses. The band, fifty strong, consisted of buglers, side drummers, tenor drummers and bass drummers. Unfortunately, The King’s illness forced postponement of the Coronation until 9 August. However, this did give the band opportunity for many public performances, including two shows staged at the Alhambra. Praise came from all quarters. The Duke of Connaught complimented the band personally; The Times published a laudatory article; and Swift himself was besieged by British bandmasters enquiring about his methods and equipment. Canada, in a rather unexpected
fashion, was brought well to the front.

On New Year’s Day 1906, Sir Henry Pellatt entertained the bugle band at his home. During the festivities Bugle Major Swift was presented by the officers with a handsome watch and chain to mark the 40th anniversary of his service with the regiment. A long-standing commitment to the Canadian National Exhibition prevented the band from going on the 1910 trip to England. However, a proper complement of duty buglers – in fact sufficient for a small band – was provided under Sgt R. W. Taylor. Sgt Taylor, who was killed in World War I, was a brother of Major Ward Taylor, the famous drummer cum paymaster. At that time Ward was a corporal drummer in the band.

World War I saw Queen’s Own buglers and drummers serving in many overseas battalions from the 3rd Battalion on. They gave a lilt to many a tedious route march and fought gallantly in the trenches. With the advent of peace the band carried on as before. After serving in the regiment for sixty-two years, Bugle-Major Swift, now Captain Swift, died on 16 May 1922. He was sincerely mourned by the regiment, by the hundreds he had assisted with their band work and by the thousands to whom his artistry had given pleasure.

Sgt. J. U. Woolley carried on for a short tune; in 1923 Bugle-Major Frank Gardiner took over. Under his leadership the band never swerved from the path laid down by the old master-Captain Swift. During 1930, Mr. E. B. Collett, a one-time member of the band, presented the regiment with a set of silver horns, two bass drums and two tenor drums. It was a munificent gift and the silver horns did much to enhance the appearance of the band. Bugle-Major F. Gardiner retired in 1939. Between 1860 and 1939 The Queen’s Own had had but three Bugle-Majors. This is a magnificent record of service.

Bugle Major R. Wilson succeeded Bugle-Major Gardiner. With the advent of World War II several members of the band went active with other units. Amongst these was the son of Sgt. Mercer. Sgt. Mercer himself had been with the band for forty-five years. On mobilization, thirteen members of the old band, including Bugle-Major Wilson, joined the 1st Battalion, QOR of C.  Bugle Major Wilson worked hard with this nucleus and by the time Sussex, New Brunswick, was reached he had a band of twenty-four. They did yeoman work in New Brunswick and, later, in England; and, as ever, were a joy to the battalion and a bane to the Orderly Room.

In England, the band personnel were attached throughout the battalion and took their training accordingly. On D Day, 6 June 1944, seventeen of the original twenty-four landed on the Normandy beaches. During the war, eight who had played in the band were killed in action, ten were wounded and four were sent to hospital because of battle exhaustion. Two became anti-tank gun sergeants, one a transport sergeant, one a medical sergeant, and one the Officers’ Mess Sergeant. Bugle-Major Wilson was mentioned in despatches, received the Commander-in-Chief’s certificate, and was finally awarded the Military Medal; truly, a fighting leader of a fighting band.

After World War 11, Bugle-Major Wilson MM, and several of the overseas band, returned to the Militia. In 1947 the band changed over from the old valveless horn to a valved type. Glockenspiels, which are by no means an innovation in a rifle regiment, were also added. Old-timers deplored the change but it was inevitable. Recruits would not learn to play the old-type horn; the new one was all the rage. Such was the vigour and enterprise put into the work that, up to the time of Bugle-Major Wilson’s retirement in February 1954, the band had won, in open competition, seven firsts and two seconds.

It was in keeping with the identification of the regiment in all aspects of the life of the city that, ‘on the enthronement of the Right Reverend F. H. Wilkinson D.D. as Lord Bishop of Toronto on 18 October 1955, the buglers of his old regiment should be asked to sound the fanfare. The music Was composed especially for the occasion by Dr. Healey Willan. So interested was Dr. Willan that he came down himself to take the final rehearsal. It was a signal honour indeed for the buglers to be conducted by Canada’s foremost musician; a man honoured by Canada, England and the United States for his outstanding contributions to music. Later, the same fanfare was sounded by the buglers at the consecration of the Venerable George Boyd Snell M.A., Ph.D. D.D., as Suffragan Bishop of Toronto. incidentally,
Dr. Willan, whose son was an officer in the regiment, wrote a march for The Queen’s Own.

Bugle-Major Jack succeeded Bugle-Major Wilson but held the appointment for a short time only. His successor, Bugle-Major Kaiser, took over at a difficult time. Many had joined the bugle band with the object of taking part in competitions rather than of rendering service to the regiment. The two aims need not prove incompatible but it took time and patience before a proper perspective was achieved.

In 1958 Bugle-Major Kaiser was succeeded by Bugle-Major G. J. Callaghan. Once again the band shared, as of old, in the traditional life of the city when, in an unusual but striking act of symbolism, the reveille was sounded at St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Easter Sunday, 29 March 1959.

Mention should be made of The Queen’s Own Buglers’ Association. This group was formed on 11 May 1934, and is still [in 1960] functioning actively. Major W. R. Taylor was the first president and Sgt. John U. Woolley the first Secretary-Treasurer. Twenty-six years later Sgt. Woolley is still Secretary-Treasurer. The aim of the Association is to bring together twice a year all ex-members of the bugle band; in April for a business and social meeting and in December for a Christmas party. At present there are some two hundred members. Directly and indirectly the Buglers’ Association has been of very definite value to the band in particular and to the regiment in general.

Throughout the hundred years of the regiment’s history the bugle band has played well and fought well. The battle honours of The Queen’s Own are emblazoned on the drums. May the buglers and drummers of the future ever be mindful of the fact that they march with history.

5 thoughts on “The Bugle Band”

    1. There are excellent pictures of the band during dad’s time both during and after the war in the recent book published about “The bands of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (1860-2010)”, some of which were supplied by me.


    1. Yes there was at least one recording back in the early 50’s. It was an old 78 record with music on both sides. Dad (Bugle Major Bob Wilson MM) took it with him when he went to the Queen’s Coronation in 53, he was the Regiment’s representative at that event. He never brought it back I am not quite sure why he left it there I believe it had to do with interest on the part of some British Bugle bands that had not got involved with the one valve bugles and other instruments (glockenspiels & cymbals etc) which had become popular over here. I remember dad saying there was some interest in finding a way to get the band invited to one of the British military music events. This never happened.


  1. I remember as member of the RHLI Bugle Band playing alongside the QOR Bugle Band and other Bugle and Trumpet Bands at various Tattoo,s over the years Great stuff!


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