Echoes of the past: Birth of British Legion Youth Band

The band outside the British Legion hall in Bradford Road during the summer of 1966
The band outside the British Legion hall in Bradford Road during the summer of 1966

Back in the 1960s, youth culture was something new, with the new music scene young people wanted their own style and to create their own individuality.

But, along side these cultural changes some things did stay the same. In fact not all young people were prepared to have the new longer hair styles, if it meant missing out being in the newly formed British Legion youth band.

The band was formed in September 1965 and at the time was described as only the second of its kind in the country. The British Legion during the early 1960s was looking at ways it could broaden its activities to include young people.

It was Fred Holt and a Mr Horton who took on the task of forming a boys’ band, in hardly any time at all young lads were almost queuing at the door wanting to join. The number of new members quickly mounted up and surprisingly the membership in the early days of recruiting was forty. The completed band had a playing membership of thirty-six with the age range spanning from eight to nineteen.

Raising money for instruments, an association of parents joined to form a parents group. The band uniform was royal blue with gold trimmings, the idea was to keep it smart but simple in appearance.

The new band rehearsed on Sunday’s under the watchful eye of newly appointed bandmaster Fred Holt and assistant bandmaster Garry Boothroyd. The band made its first competitive appearance at Dewsbury where it won two prizes. This included a gold wrist watch for the solo bugler 15 year old Stuart McKenzie. He was one of the founding members who could already play having previously been a member of the Brighouse St. John Ambulance band and the Ravensthorpe St. John Ambulance band.

At another very early contest 12 year old Barry Keast was runner up in what was his first contest to Geoffrey English in the drum major class.

The original idea behind allowing the British Legion to have bands was to ensure that future generations knew precisely why the British Legion existed.

Returning to our featured photograph which shows the band in all its splendour posed outside the British Legion hall in Bradford Road during the summer of 1966.

That was just over 50 years ago when many young lads were trying to defy their parents by having longer and longer hair. Or playing out the world cup in streets up and down Brighouse with no more than a couple of ganzies as goal posts. But, these young lads were literally queuing up to have, well not quite short back and sides, but short smart haircuts which to be in this band was an intricate part of the individual members’ deportment.