The following introduction to the history of the Band was written by the Founder of the Band, Mr. Peter Richardson B.E.M.
This organisation was born on the 20th October 1952, a Monday, at Pettits Lane School (now Marshalls Park School) with two members only. In making that opening statement, I am somewhat jumping the gun, because unless one is aware of the conditions at that time, the thoughts and aspirations that lay behind the formation, it would be impossible to make an assessment of the achievements of the organisation.
In 1952, apart from the youth centres run at schools that were run by the local authority, the only youth organisations that existed were the pre-services units (army, air and sea cadet forces) scouts and boys brigade with perhaps a few church youth clubs, organisations for girls were only limited to either the girl guides or girls brigade. Of the boys' organisations, most had a band of sorts either a bugle or trumpet band, perhaps consisting of something like a maximum of twenty players. Probably the pre-service units were the strongest and best equipped because they were funded from official sources, but by today's standards of band work, could not be considered particularly well trained or attractive It should be appreciated by the reader that in the first instance the member of any band had to first to owe allegiance to the main body of the organisation to which he belonged and before any band work could be indulged in, he had first to take part in and become proficient in whatever was the main objective of the orgnisation, consequently band work came a very poor second in the order of priorities.
Television was in its infancy, programmes were limited to two hours transmission every evening between 8 and 10 pm. Discos hadn't been invented and "the charts" meant those maps that sailors used to get around the world. If you wanted to carry a tape recorder, you would have needed a wheel barrow and a mains supply. The tape recorders were 16 feet per second. Tapes, normally of 6 inch diameter would have been twice the size of a modern television set.
Mr Dick Bouchard (now Director of Music of the Romford Drum & Trumpet Corps) and myself were serving as commissioned Bandmasters with the 285 Airborn R.A.Cadet Regt., he I/C "P" Battery and myself I/C "Q" Battery. Our regimental commanders idea of good psychology was to promote a rivalry between our two bands. However, to cut a long story short, by accident we discovered this little scheme, we discovered that we had similar ideas and determined to resign our commissions and start an independent band according to our own concept without the restrictions and constrictions that other bands had to work to.
Realising that we wouldn't get far calling it Peter and Dick's Band, as I had been a member of the Executive Committee of the British Legion for some time, I set up a meeting with a special committee of the Romford Branch to sell them the idea of starting a Boy's Band. They naturally were very cagey about the idea, but to their credit they agreed that we should go away and form an organisation and when we proved it actually existed, they would allow us to use the name of the British Legion Boy's Band (Romford). There were all sorts of other conditions which resulted in the Branch giving us a charter, the main object of which was to ensure that we acted independently and could not call upon them in any circumstances for financial support (in other words, "it's all down to you Jack").
Although we didn't know it, it turned out to be our greatest asset because we were truly independent. Between us (Dick and I) we owned a few instruments, Dick's holding was greater than mine as it included a couple of rope tension side drums, but for our ideas we needed a lot more. We embarked on a hunt of every army surplus store, second hand shop, antique place in Greater London to try and find second hand instruments. Over a period of some weeks, we acquired quite a few calvary trumpets, but no drums. However, having always been of a practical turn of mind, I tried making drum shells out of aluminium which proved successful, our biggest problem was drum hoops. Fortunately a contact at Potters of Aldershot who has remained a friend all these years came to our rescue and proivded some old drum hoops. These were scraped down and repainted to our own design, castelleted triangles of blue and gold. Thus were born the first collection of instruments.
To attract our recruits we designed a recruiting leaflet which was produced by Dick's dad who was a printer and armed with these we stood outside the gates of Romford Secondary schools at home time giving them to all the and sundry (but boys only) the leaflet explained what we intended to do and that the first meeting would be held at Pettits Lane School in the art classroom at 7pm. On Monday 20th October 1952. On the first evening two boys turned up, we had distributed 5000 leaflets and just two boys came along. However, these two were charged with the responsibility of each fetching a friend to the next rehersal and on the following Monday we had four boys, using the same technique we doubled again. On the next rehersal we had eight boy's, then sixteen, then thirty two and from that moment we were in business. At this time, the Branch Headquarters was at the Queen's Hall in London Road opposite the Woolpack Inn, the Hall was brick and there was a corrugated extension alongside making it quite a large building.
At that time, the British Legion ran a judo club, football club, whist drives, socials, table tennis club etc, etc. We had grown so large that it was impossible to operate in a classroom so I asked the Branch if we could use the social hall on a Sunday morning. They reluctantly agreed, but as a judo session occupied the hall on a Sunday from 10am. until closure, we wouuld only use it providing it was before 10am. We therefore started our Sunday morning rehersals at 9am. Allowing us 1 1/2 hours and 1/2 hour to clear up. When we had established ourselves as a band can be, we negotiated using the hall on Tuesday and Thursday from 6pm. to 8pm. which was when the Branch started its evening activities.
By this time, it was now Xmas 1952, we had a band that could play a few numbers marching excellently, but no uniforms. Through a gift we had acquired a few Royal Marine uniforms which Betty (my wife) and I cannibalised and remade into uniforms that could be worn by "midgets" and we had discovered an old uniform and equipment dealer in the East End of London who had a large number of ATC uniforms which could be dyed navy blue, but we would have to do all the embellishments. Our problem was finance. I persuaded an old friend of mine to stake us to a huge loan of £25.00. Yes, twenty five pounds, with which we succeded in purchasing these uniforms and with sufficient surplus to buy yellow braiding in bulk from Piggott Bros. so that we could put a yellow stripe on the trousers. Where we obtained the berets from escapes me now, but we did provide each member with a lanyard which we plaited and designed ourselves. By the end of February 1953, equipped with instruments and uniforms we had a band of 48 players" The Band's first competition was the Hornchurch Contest, held at Harrow Lodge Park, where they took first place in the "non-pre-service class" and the "open championships".