MMF’s Soo Bishop and Sara Grint were honoured perform with the Royal British Legion’s Central Band commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D Day Landings, joining 250 veterans aboard the MV Boudicca. Here’s Sara’s account of the moving events.
Thoughts from touring on MV Boudicca with the WW2 veterans in honour of D-Day 75.
What an honour, privilege and amazing experience to be playing for the WW2 veterans on board the MV Boudicca. Our role as part of the Central Band of the Royal British Legion was to play as we sailed in and out of ports, provide music over lunch at Bayeux and give concerts in the evening.
Once all the veterans were on board at Dover, we were joined by Rod Stewart singing “Sailing” which was rather a thrill. We then continued playing as we left port accompanied by various ships and people waving on the shore line.
Obviously the climax of the week for the veterans was the service at Southsea Common on Wednesday and we were amazed as they began leaving the ship before 7am to make sure they were all there in time. We stayed on board to rehearse with the singers and dancers in preparation for the last night’s concert and watch the TV coverage on a big screen. Leaving Portsmouth that evening has to be the highlight of the trip for me. As we played our regular sets of marches, the ship sailed out of harbour with a full naval escort and fly past. The shore line was full of people waving and someone had erected a huge white sign simply saying “Thank you”. Later that evening we played for a moving “Sunset” service in honour of so many service men who had lost their lives at sea.
Thursday for the band members was the main highlight as we travelled to Bayeux in a coach convoy with a police escort. The motorways were closed in both direction and, as we neared the town of Bayeux, the bridges were lined with military personnel all saluting as we drove under. We watched the service at the cemetery and had a first-hand sight of all the out of view preparations to make sure these kind of events run smoothly for all guests. Once the veterans were in the marquee, the music began and we were honoured when Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, passed by and had a chat to the conductor, Captain David Cole.
Friday for me was a day off! Hooray. Soo, as a trumpet player, was in the Swing Band so she was hard at work rehearsing for the afternoon concert. Friday evening we were all able to relax and watch the on board entertainment from the D-Day Darlings. In the evening our conductor, David Cole, announced that he had been awarded the OBE as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours! We were all totally thrilled.
Saturday started with a crazy sponsored walk by the band members in aid of Multiple Sclerosis! Ten times round the deck in full uniform in a Force 7 gale!!! Goodness knows what the veterans and their carers thought of that. Despite the somewhat choppy waters, we all managed it and followed it with a rehearsal, another performance of marches as we left Le Havre and two “Prom” style concerts in the evening with the on board singers, dancers and D-Day Darlings. An absolutely fitting way to end.
I left the Boudicca the following day feeling humbled to have met so many extraordinary people and hear about their war time experiences. “We were just doing our job” seemed to be their expression on their role in the War and, as they thanked the band for “just doing our job”, I couldn’t help but think at least no-one is bombing me whilst I’m playing the oboe!