Military Musicians of Kneller Hall

"Where the army found its voice"


When we heard that Kneller Hall, the home of Army music for 160 years, was under threat of closure, Legasee sprang into action. Bringing veteran military musicians back to the place they began their careers to film them relive their memories was a unique opportunity and honour.

Bugles in Bosnia, Tubas in China and French Horns in Germany – through our interviews we heard stories of musicianship, camaraderie and bravery. From international tours and Top of the Pops to surviving bomb attacks and supporting victims of war, the stories told were as varied as they were inspirational.

Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund allowed us to involve the local community, with volunteers helping with research and working with the Veterans. Two local schools – Chase Bridge Primary and Twickenham Secondary partnered with us, bringing year 3, 5 and 9 pupils into the museum for fantastic days of activities including learning to read music, marching in formation and interviewing veterans. As a result of the collaboration, we created KS2 and KS3 learning materials available to UK schools.

The resulting videos can be seen on our website, or at the permanent installation at the Museum of Army Music.

"The Legasee team has been superb.  Its members were engaging and highly professional in their approach."

Major Phillip Shannon,
Director of Music Irish Guards

History of Kneller Hall

The Royal Military School of Music trains musicians to play in the British Army’s bands. It was founded by the then Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, the Duke of Cambridge who wanted to standardise army music after watching an embarrassing performance by the British Army’s musicians at a parade marking Queen Victoria’s birthday. The parade took place in Turkey in 1854 at the time of the Crimean War, where approximately twenty

bands were set to perform the national anthem simultaneously. It was, however, the first time the bands had performed together, and as they had all been trained to play differently, the resulting performance was a cacophony and highlighted the need for a standardisation of military music in the British Army.

“ Kneller Hall is absolutely a fabric of the country because without the military the country doesn’t have the freedoms that it absolutely has at the moment. If Kneller Hall wasn’t as famous as it was I wouldn’t be sitting here - the biggest attraction for me was joining the army and going to Kneller Hall and [being able to] live in the beautiful suburb of Twickenham for a very long time in my life. I had the best training in the greatest music conservatoire known to man.”

Bugler - Louis Davies,
Corps of Army Music

As a result, the Duke of Cambridge formed the Royal Military School of Music (RMSM) in 1857 to ensure all musicians in the British Army receive the same training and learn to play their instruments to an exceptional standard.

In the early years of the school, there were upwards of 300 pupils per year, but these days that number has significantly reduced with 40 new musicians per year who go on to play in 20 regimental bands. Over 20,000 musicians have studied at Kneller Hall but earlier this year [2019] the Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced a review of its assets, and as a result  Kneller Hall will be sold off. From 2020 both the RMSM and the Museum of Army Music will need to find a new home, marking the end of more than 150 years of history.

You can hear about the experiences of some of it’s trainees through by viewing our interviews.

"I think [the Legasee project] is essential - nowadays we there are so many traditional that we lose and we don’t have a record of what was done or said, and especially now that 160 years of Kneller Hall is going to close, whether that’s right, wrong or indifferent, it needs to be recorded in some way so this is the perfect opportunity to record the stories of people’s experiences.”

Trombonist - Stuart Hall
Grenadier Guards

The Museum

Working with the Curator of the museum we were able to identify items within the museum archive which were digitised and used to refresh the existing cabinet displays.

A key outcome to the project was the creation of an easily dismantled interpretation stand designed to include TV screens featuring extracts from many of the oral history testimonies we recorded. In addition to visiting locals schools and libraries, this was designed so that it can become a key feature for the new museum in 2020.  and used for loans to other museums in the meantime.

“It’s great that we have been able to digitise these items from our archive. This will enable us to create more interesting displays both in our exhibition and on our website.”

Esther Mann,
Curator CAMUS

To test the interpretation whilst creating awareness within the local community, we took the exhibition to Whitton Library in February 2019. The response from local people was very encouraging and the talk given by our lead Trustee was well received.

“I think it is a fantastic project and we loved having the exhibition situated in the library.. it has been really well received by our visitors.”

Kim Hacker,
Community libraries Manager Twickenham,
Whitton area and Ham

The Bugle Calls

The bugle has been played for centuries. Records suggest it was first played by the Ancient Egyptians at religious ceremonies, circumcisions, burials and sunset ceremonies.

 First adopted by the military for its ability to make clear sounds which can be heard across a long distance, its uses became increasingly significant over time. The bugle calls are a series of short pieces of music designed to instruct soldiers in their daily and special duties. A small handful have taken on different meanings in modern times and are recognisable as part of services and ceremonies.

Legasee worked with WO2 Ralph Brill, the Band Sergeant Major of the Band of the Irish Guards to record  90 high-quality recordings of Field Calls for Mounted Corps and Infantry in camp and quarters.

“For me ‘The Last Post’ is one of the most difficult things to do. Its not so much the music it’s the emotion that is attached to it, how it effects people. If you think of ‘The Last Post’ people are remembering somebody or something and generally its somebody that has either given their life for their country. I think as a performer or somebody who has to deliver the Last Post you have to make sure it’s absolutely perfect. It’s something that you can’t get wrong. You cannot… you have to prepare meticulously.”

WO Ralph Brill