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Royal Australian Navy Band – the Bay Islands connection

AHOY shipmates. I feel privileged to write this story about the Navy Band and its connection to our islands.

Now I know I’ve done several stories on the early Queensland Navy, but this time it’s about the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) that formed in July 1911, just 10 years after the federation of all Australian states.

Prior to Federation, some of the state’s navies had their own small bands comprising servicemen.

We have on our islands a long-serving member of the Queensland detachment of the Royal Australian Navy Band – but more about that later.

The first RAN band was formed in 1913, with 18 bandsmen posted to HMAS Australia, our first battle cruiser. They were a mixture of British and Australian sailors. As Australia’s first RAN fleet of seven ships sailed into Sydney Harbour, the stirring music from the flagship band could be heard by the thousands who lined its shores.

RAN bandsmen first saw action in 1914 when World War II was declared, and HMAS Australia sought out the German fleet in the Pacific. RAN musicians saw service throughout the war, working as gun crew, shell bearers, in first-aid parties and manning lookouts – so it wasn’t all blow and drum, and musician-sailors were amongst our war casualties.

Musicians were aboard the carrier HMAS Sydney III during the Korean War, on the HMAS Melbourne II and HMAS Sydney III during the Vietnam conflict, and more recently have been in deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Solomon Islands and East Timor.

These days the RAN band has two permanent detachments – based at HMAS Kuttabul in Sydney and HMAS Cerberus at Westernport, Victoria. There are also four reserve detachments in Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and our main interest – Brisbane.

On Lamb Island we have retired Petty Officer Alan Early who joined the Navy Reserve in 1966 aged 19, and was a member of the Queensland detachment of the Royal Australian Navy band based at HMAS Moreton for 50, until his retirement in 2016.

That’s believed to be a record for service in one of the country’s RAN bands, and Alan still plays at our Anzac Day and Remembrance Day events around the islands.

Alan was responsible for having the Queensland detachment of the RAN band play at the Karragarra Yacht Club beach ball in 2014. The band also played at the newly-built Macleay Hall to help raise funds for junior sailing at the Tingira Boat Club.

Alan is ambidextrous when it comes to music, having played a variety of instruments in the RAN band. He joined the band as a drummer and bugler, went on to trumpet and then percussion, becoming the leading side-drummer in the band.

Well done sailor. Keep up the good work – we islanders appreciate it.

• Alan Early, Armistice Day, Lamb Island 2018.

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