Hadleigh Marching Militaire

The Formation

The Band was formed on the 14th May, 1965, from a very small group, comprising of five members of the 3rd Hadleigh Scout Band and myself. Capt. Sydney Corbett, who was very keen on the youth movement, agreed to be Chairman and Councillor Ron Williams President, and we were off.

We started practising very hard in the old British Legion Hall, on the now site of the Western School of Dancing. Money was raised and some battered drums and trumpets were purchased. The news started to travel and within two weeks we had 24 boys, all very keen on being members of the Hadleigh Boys Band. After a year of hard practice we appeared in public on the 10th April for the very first time, marching in Hadleigh to the strains of ‘When the Saints come marching in’ and ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’. We were on our way to the Kingsway Cinema to receive our ‘Mace’ from Coun. Ron Williams. The uniforms we wore were cast-offs of the Brigade of Guards, bright scarlet jackets, navy trousers, and ex-Royal Marines white No. 2 hats. We were very proud to be marching through Hadleigh with uniforms which fitted where they touched, but nevertheless, in those days a full uniform cost £2. 7s. 6d. … a lot of difference from today, of over £60.00 each.*

Our first engagement was only two weeks away, at the ‘Renewal of Promise’ Parade for the Boy Scouts of Basildon, and we still had a lot of work to do if we were to perform with some degree of precision. The day arrived and one boy was late… Panic stations… What shall we do? Fifteen minutes later he arrived. That boy is still with the band and still occasionally arrives late, but what a difference in his playing. He has recently completed his studies at the Royal Academy of Music and is now L.R.A.M. and A.R.C.M.

In 1969 the Majorettes were formed and appeared for the first time in April  1969, under their leader and Drum Major Janet Parsons. This group of hard-working little girls added colour and extra movement to the fast increasing list of engagements. In 1975 it was decided to introduce a full woodwind section, but not enough boys wanted to play clarinets, so we introduced girls into the ranks, which swelled the numbers and improved the sound.

Our latest addition to the group is the ‘Colour Guard’, which gives more variety to our precision routines and adds more colour.

Looking back over the years, I can say with all sincerity that we are achieving what we set out to do, and that is to give the children a good sense of moral values, and teach them music and theory, so that these skills can be used in later life. Indeed, we have proved this by the number of ex-boys who have joined the services, and those who haven’t are using their ability in other directions, in the musical and commercial world.


*This story is reproduced with John Willson’s approval. It is important to remember that it was written about 1980, as reflected in the prices of uniforms. I hope that someone will continue the story and bring the history up to date. My pictures were taken in some quite exciting times 1978-80, with appearances at Buckingham Palace and in the Royal Albert Hall in London, so there will be further additions to this story.  RH

A brochure cover of c.1980
Hadleigh Marching Militaire
Marching at Hadleigh Castle c.1978
© Robert Hallmann
Hadleigh Marching Militaire c.1978
© Robert Hallmann
Hadleigh Marching Militaire counter marching
© Robert Hallmann
Drum Majorettes adding colour
© Robert Hallmann
A Pride of Majorettes (front row left: Debbie Willson, centre: Band Mascot Michelle Willson
© Robert Hallmann
Hadleigh Marching Militaire Fanfare Team
© Robert Hallmann
From left: Chris Slack, Dicky Cerson (son of Norman Cerson, Band Chairman), Colin Rigby, Chris ......? and Paul Manners on tuba
© Robert Hallmann
The Colour Guard strut their stuff, alas in black-and-white. Front: Susan Giles
© Robert Hallmann
Hadleigh Marching Militaire Colour Guard
© Robert Hallmann
J.L.A. Willson in the 1980 publication
Hadleigh Marching Militaire

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  • My daughter was in colour guard in the band’s final years, and my mum taught Trumpet during the 60s! She had wonderful stories about the trips and engagements. They all had a wonderful time as they went abroad, had a giant bus and they were all friends! It was disappointing to see the numbers go down as the band dissolved later on. There was a lack of unity, bullying between senior members and management which caused some people to leave.

    I often wonder why the band was not passed onto Hayley who has done a wonderful job with Essex Marching Corps. They performed during the Olympics and did our country proud! Well my parents have fond memories, and though it is sad the band has vanished, it is a part of Hadleigh’s history!

    By Susan (15/08/2022)
  • I was an early member of this band circa 1967. I played clarinet and there were just two of us!- at the back.
    I recall an early gig in Basildon town centre and I believe it was John Flack, the trombonist who was late! He would forget to bring his lip if someone didn’t remind him! Brilliant player though!
    John W was exactly the right chap to build this band and he was adventurous. One day he called me at home and said would I mind playing sousaphone instead of clarinet? he’d bought one and needed a tall boy to carry it.
    Well my first gig on it was a very, very, very long march at the Spalding bulb festival. No idea what year though but probably 1969. I got the hang of it but never gave up the clarinet and sax.
    I was spotted soon after that by the owner of the Roadhouse Old Vienna restaurant in Leigh and he booked me to play the ‘phone in his Oompah band – of three! Accordion, drum and me! That was a long-lasting gig; wearing Lederhosen!!

    I have a copy of a 45 rpm record that was made of the early HBB band playing :
    Fanfare: Tipperary; Magnificent Men; Ob La Di; Sarie Marais; Drums; Back Home.
    Probably recorded 1969/70. Full picture of the band on front cover. Keith….? was drum major.

    We went on a first overseas trip to Ostend / in about 1970/71 I think.
    On the first (Saturday) morning, after a rehearsal almost the entire band got into pedal cars and raced along the seafront. An error of judgement caused three of them to collide and Mrs (Jenny) Willson ended up with a broken arm and ankle! Everyone wanted to look after her!

    I was a St John first-aider at the time and I spent a good couple of hours securing her leg and arm; mending several of the band well enough to play the gig in the afternoon.
    Anyone that was there will remember the occasion well, including the seasickness on the ferry home.

    Such fond memories of the HBB which I only left when I went to live in London after starting work in the city. I never left London after that. I can truly say that belonging to an organisation of that kind was an incredibly valuable contribution for later life.

    {Ed: HBB = Hadleigh Boys Band}

    By Roger Flaxman (23/01/2022)
  • I was with John Willson and Mick Ross when the band was started, we followed on from our days in the Salvation Army Scout group. I have some fantastic memories from our days in the band.

    The uniform was so itchy I had to wear pyjamas underneath. 

    By Chris McCormick (11/09/2016)
  • I have fantastic memories of my time with the majorettes, Angela Downing lived just around the corner. I often wonder where all the girls are that we’re in the troupe. Also vaguely remember John Willson (I was only 11 ish at the time)

    By Vivienne (05/11/2013)
  • I remember John Willson also being involved with Karting 1970, it’s how I met him. Can’t recall how he managed to convince me to join the band but had a fantastic time. We went to Dover/Folkestone Miltary festival, Spalding flower festival, also France and Germany. Fond memories for so many reasons.

    By Dave Herbert (11/04/2012)
  • I am the majorette in the 4th photo down (after the brochure cover) at Hadleigh Castle, front left with medals on red troupe. I was then Sue Rogers and was in the band for approx. 10 years. I also performed at Westminster Abbey with the dance troupe; with great memories of travelling all over England and Europe with the band, happy days!

    By Susan May, née Rogers (15/02/2012)
  • John Willson has gone on to be heavily involved with the Rayleigh Town Archery Club. He has successfully been nominated to be a torch bearer for the 2012 Olympic games in recognition for all the hard work he has done with junior archers and musicians over the years – well done John!!

    By Vanessa (11/10/2011)
  • Two members of my family Simon and Christine Russell were in this group in the early 70s;  I have a pic somewhere with their uniform on, I’ll look it up.

    By Jo (12/09/2011)
  • I remember the two Wilson girls. I taught at Hadleigh Junior School (which they attended) from 1978 until 1996. Their father used to march the Militaire at Hadleigh Junior School fetes when Michelle was the mascot.

    By Jane Sealy (02/06/2011)

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