Toward the end of last year I posted a couple of times about my great grandparents – Sidney Levi Wildman and Alice Davis – outlining short overviews of their lives. Since that time I have continued to dig into their lives in terms of determining a few questions. One of which centred on the profession of Sidney Levi Wildman.
The census returns note that he was a ‘musician’, and such was the rarity of coming across this type of job that I wanted to find out more. However, basic internet research didn’t reveal anything. I believed that this job was the cause of the family continually moving about the country, with children born in Gloucestershire, Devon, and Kent. And so I looked at music halls in these towns to see if I could find a glimpse of something.
However, it turns out it was much more straight-forward than all of that!
Whilst researching into Sidney and Alice’s children I came across a royal marines record: this noted that many of their children (those born in the early 1900s) were born in royal marine locations. This suggests that Sidney Levi remained in the armed forces longer than his initial enlistment back in the army back in the 1880s. So, there was no need to scour information for music halls to try to understand what Sidney was during in the early 1900s: the answer was there all along.
With this new focus in mind I started looking into royal marines bands and came across the Royal Naval School of Music, which, lo and behold, was (and remains) based in Deal, Kent. This was the very same location that Sidney and Alice lived during the first decade of the 20th Century. All of sudden I have answers to the question marks that were posed in the previous posed.
The history of the royal marine bands stretches back to the 18th Century: in 1767, Royal Marines Divisional Bands were formed in Chatham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Deal. It has been suggested that there were military bands far before the date of 1767, possibly stretching back to ‘the days of Drake and Hawkins’ when ‘the drummer’s rhythm would advertise the changing watches or beat the men to quarters’.
In 1903 the Royal Naval School of Music was founded in Portsmouth; and although it was only moved to Deal in 1930 it is clear that the Kent town had an active role to play in terms of musical bands. The demands of those playing in these bands is quite rigorous: they ‘are required to provide every imaginable musical ensemble including orchestras and dance bands’, and must ‘attain an acceptable standard on both a string and a wind instrument’. Furthermore, they must also train for a military role within the marines, with examples provided of the various roles and tasks over the past century:
These duties have been conducted from the beaches of Gallipoli to the transmitting stations on board Second World War warships. From guarding prisoners of war during the Falklands conflict to casualty decontamination in the scorching heat of the Iraqi desert. From casualty handling in the flight-deck of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Primary Casualty Receiving Facility during both Gulf wars to guarding sensitive communications installations high in the Cypriot Mountains.
All of this allows us to place Sidney more clearly within his profession in the early years of the 20th Century. Also, there is a further line of research that I hope to pursue based on Sidney’s preferred musical instrument. An uncle suggested to to my parents that Sidney Levi Wildman’s instrument of choice was the piccolo.
The piccolo is a half-sized flute, and its connection to military bands appears to have developed over centuries. One given example is how the Swiss piccolo was used in connection with marching drums, seen today at the Carnival of Basel in Switzerland. It appears, on the face of it, quite a simple instrument; it is one that I will attempt to play myself in the near future. I wonder if any of that musical know-how has found its way from my great-grandfather down to me.
So, although I have yet to unearth any further research specifically relating to Sidney, I am now able to place him in clearer surroundings. It provides some opportunities for me to develop research in the months ahead.