Alan Crosby dis­cov­ers the de­lights of the Jerome Gate­house Col­lec­tion – a trea­sure trove of mil­i­tary band ma­te­rial col­lected over one man’s life­time

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The Jerome Gate­house Col­lec­tion cel­e­brat­ing mil­i­tary bands

Many of us have en­joyed lis­ten­ing to and watch­ing mil­i­tary or po­lice bands. They are an im­por­tant fea­ture of most state oc­ca­sions, fetes and civic fes­ti­vals, sport­ing events and, of course, mil­i­tary dis­plays of all sorts. Bands such as th­ese, or their smaller in­for­mal pre­de­ces­sors, have been around for hun­dreds of years – for in­stance, the ‘Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy’ is a well-known fig­ure in old folk tales and tra­di­tional bal­lads, and drums and pipes gath­ered and ral­lied troops in bat­tles long ago. And in the 21st cen­tury, de­spite the trans­for­ma­tion of mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy, this tra­di­tional el­e­ment flour­ishes and en­joys pop­u­lar­ity across the world.

A huge per­sonal ar­chive

In his late teens, Jerome Gate­house, born in 1945 in Cwm, a small min­ing vil­lage near New­port in South Wales, be­came a pas­sion­ate en­thu­si­ast for mil­i­tary and po­lice bands and their mu­sic. He ex­plored their his­tory, fo­cus­ing orig­i­nally on Bri­tish bands but from the mid-1960s on­wards ex­pand­ing the scope of his pro­ject and cov­er­ing the world, re­search­ing, pho­tograph­ing and col­lect­ing arte­facts. He de­vel­oped links with bands in many coun­tries, and be­came the in­ter­na­tional ex­pert on the sub­ject.

Jerome amassed a huge ar­chive of in­for­ma­tion on their ori­gins and his­tory, and re­searched and wrote the his­tory of quite a num­ber of bands, many of them sub­se­quently have dis­banded. Trag­i­cally, he died sud­denly in 1994 and since then his col­lec­tion of over 40,000 items has been cared for and de­vel­oped by his widow, Anne. Af­ter a se­ries of at­tempts to find it a home (at one point in­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of the col­lec­tion go­ing to the United States) it is now run by a char­i­ta­ble trust and for the mo­ment is based at Hoskins Street in New­port, al­though it is in­tended that a more per­ma­nent home will be cre­ated where the col­lec­tion can be prop­erly dis­played.

The col­lec­tion is be­ing cat­a­logued and the ar­chive, cov­er­ing the whole of the 20th cen­tury, has been listed and recog­nised by The Na­tional Ar­chives. It is very wide-rang­ing – there are more than 4,000 pro­grammes from mil­i­tary events where bands played a prom­i­nent role, al­most 19,000 pho­to­graphs, 2,000-plus his­toric mu­si­cal record­ings, over 2,000 files of in­for­ma­tion about bands world­wide, 150 videos and DVDs, and nu­mer­ous mod­els, copies of mag­a­zines, and a wide ar­ray of books.

Now the Jerome Gate­house Col­lec­tion Trust is be­gin­ning to progress fur­ther re­search into the sub­ject and to make the col­lec­tion and its re­sources avail­able for ed­u­ca­tional use. As part of that goal it is ex­plor­ing the role of mil­i­tary bands dur­ing the First World War, and seek­ing bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion and sto­ries about the boys and men who served in mil­i­tary bands dur­ing that con­flict.

It’s fa­mil­iar (in a gen­eral sense) that many boys, some as young as 14, joined the army and served as drum­mers and other mu­si­cians in mil­i­tary bands, go­ing to the front and of­ten demon­strat­ing great hero­ism – but their sto­ries have rarely been told and recorded in de­tail, so this is an in­ter­est­ing new per­spec­tive on the his­tory and ex­pe­ri­ence of that bloody con­flict.

Bands­men had a more mun­dane but even more vi­tal role to play on the front line, as they very of­ten served as stretcher-bear­ers, car­ry­ing the wounded back from the lines to re­ceive med­i­cal treat­ment.

The Trust is also en­cour­ag­ing other re­search – for ex­am­ple, it has been con­sid­er­ing the place of women in mil­i­tary and po­lice bands. This di­men­sion to the sub­ject has scarcely even been men­tioned in most pub­lished works, and there’s plenty of scope for con­tri­bu­tions from fam­ily mem­bers or in­deed the par­tic­i­pants them­selves to fill out their sto­ries. If you have fore­bears who served as mil­i­tary or po­lice bands­men – or if you did so your­self – the Jerome Gate­house Col­lec­tion Trust would love to hear from you.

Jerome be­came the in­ter­na­tional ex­pert on mil­i­tary and po­lice bands

Above,bove Jerome Gate­house Gate­house, left left, on a visit to the Ed­in­burgh Tat­too with his father

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