Royal Marines Musicians will return to Kent on Sunday September 22 – 30 years to the day of one of the darkest moments in their proud history.
Eleven musicians were killed and another 11 injured when a bomb planted by the IRA in the ‘Coffee Boat’ rest area of the Staff Band at the Royal Marines School of Music, Deal, blew up.
The blast destroyed the building and a neighbouring accommodation block and rocked the quiet, close-knit seaside town leaving a dark pall of smoke hanging over it.
After the initial shock, followed by outrage – the then Commandant General of the Royal Marines Lieutenant General Sir Martin Garrod branded the bombers (who have never been caught) “the scum of the earth”, vowing to purge “this foul and dark force of evil” – the bombing forged even closer ties between townsfolk and the Corps.
“As a young 17-year-old trainee musician at the time, I was amongst the first on scene – helping to support the injured and clear rubble to get to buried casualties,” recalled Warrant Officer 1st Class Si Tripp, bandmaster and editor of the musicians’ official magazine Blue Band.
“The Training Band had been on the parade ground at the time, only a few hundred yards away. I still remember it vividly: the shock, disbelief and chaos.”
Warrant Officer Tripp said the response of Deal residents was “truly heart-warming”. As musicians queued at the barracks payphone to reassure loved ones they were safe, locals opened their doors and allowed them to use their phones to call home and gave the bandsmen reassuring hugs to those shaken by the atrocity.
“The whole unit demonstrated their unbreakable spirit, courage and pride in the local community’s support by parading through the town a week after the horrific event; leaving holes in the band for those who lost their lives. The townsfolk came out in force lining the streets in tribute,” Warrant Officer Tripp added.
The barracks closed seven years later – the School of Music can now be found in Portsmouth Naval Base – but the Band Service vowed to return to Deal each year for a summer concert at the memorial bandstand built in memory of the bombing victims (attended by around 12,000 people in 2019), followed by an annual service of remembrance at 8.22 each September 22, the very moment the explosion occurred, in the memorial garden which is close to the former blast site.
The intimate ceremony will be attended by the families and friends of those killed, with a brass group of trainees from today’s Royal Marines School of Music providing musical accompaniment, and the band’s Principal Director of Music Lieutenant Colonel Jon Ridley reading the roll of honour as a bugler sounds the Last Post.
“Thirty years on the disbelief is still as real, those killed are still remembered reverently and the relationship with the town seems stronger than ever,” said Warrant Officer Tripp.
As well as commemorations in Kent, all five of the Royal Marines Bands – Portsmouth, Plymouth, Scotland, Lympstone and Collingwood – will hold their own services of remembrance in their establishments.