by Norm Mullins
August 26, 1990
- CANADA, THE ATLANTIC, AND GREAT BRITAIN
Saturday, August 26, 1950, forty years ago to a day, Peterborough, England: my diary says I walked downtown in the morning to see the public market, bought some peaches and pears at 5 pence per pound, and went to a football game in the afternoon. That evening: “Two absolutely sold out houses for our final night at the Embassy Theatre. There were lots of autograph hunters.”
For thirty-nine boys and their bandmaster that summed up, somewhat prosaically, 156 days of travel in Canada, England, Scotland, the Republic of Eire, Holland and France, during which they visited 51 cities, played 208 concerts, 23 street parades, and 4 radio programs.
Today as many as possible of the “Class of 1950” have come together with families and friends to recall that single most important event in our lives and to remember, too, the man who drew us together, dragged us about, and drove us to achievements beyond our own expectations.
It all began in March of that year when Mr. D, as we called him, decided to make his first postwar tour. From then on our lives were filled with Monday and Thursday practices, the Vancouver Music Festival, large and small fund raising concerts in North Vancouver, at the Kitsilano Chamber of Commerce, a Rotary Convention, and the Legion Hall in Mission, church concerts at Canadian Memorial, Ryerson, St. George’s United, and, typically cold, wet and dreary, the Easter morning Sunrise Service at English Bay, all culminating in our Farewell Concert at Kitsilano High School. Our parents, apart from their own financial sacrifices for us, were busy raising money with rummage sales, teas, and raffles to help pay for this long trip.
Saturday, May 13th, we convened at the CPR Station on the waterfront and after playing a couple of marches and a hymn, said our farewells to families and friends whom we would not see again until mid October. For the younger boys – some only 14 years of age – and their worried parents this was a heart wrenching scene and even for the older, more blasé ones, there was more than one lump in the throat.
For the next ten days we practiced and played our way across this very large country. Between overnight stops for concerts at Revelstoke, Calgary, Swift Current, Regina, Brandon (in place of Winnipeg which was suffering its worst ever flood), Port Arthur, Sudbury, and Toronto, Mr. D. arranged us in our Pullman car seats and drilled us in our music. This was a formidable task because we had many bookings to play in parks in Britain and Holland, twice a day, six days a week – 12 full two-hour folders of music. In addition, Mr. D. had made up an entirely different program for Canada and condensed versions for theatres overseas.
On Tuesday, May 23rd, at Quebec City, we boarded the Cunard liner R.M.S Samaria, for a ten day crossing of the Atlantic. Twice and sometimes three times a day we practiced and three times played concerts aboard the ship until early on Friday, June 2nd, we arrived at Tilbury Docks in the Thames Estuary and travelled by bus through the beautiful, green countryside of Kent to our London hotel. There we experienced our first sensation of fame when we were surrounded by newsreel and bulb-flashing photographers recording for fleeting posterity our arrival on British soil.
Starting at Weymouth on the Channel coast, for the next ten days, we dashed about England. At beautiful Bournemouth one of our trombonists, Walter Goral who is here today, got the shock of his young life when Mr. D. told him that for three days he was going to have to lead the band because there was a Musicians’ strike underway and Delamont, as a member of the Union, could not work. On to Eastbourne, North to Blackpool and South again to Exeter and Torquay the streets of which, to our surprise, were lined with palm trees.
We observed more than a little of the terror and destruction suffered by Britons in the war which, after all, was only five years past. In Exeter we saw the shell-holed flag of the Cruiser H.M.S. Exeter which had fought the pocket battleship Graf Spee and what we thought was a “parking lot” of red gravel and soil which had been a block of brick houses demolished in a reprisal raid by German aircraft. In London, we saw the miracle of St. Paul’s Cathedral standing virtually untouched in a wasteland of bombed out buildings.
For hard working, hungry boys, we endured food, especially candy rationing, sausages that tasted like turkey stuffing, and kippers for breakfast, in our view the most barbaric eating experience one can have inflicted upon him.
After an interlude in Holland, we returned to Britain and took up our round of appearances in Glasgow, Edinburgh (where a week later our place was taken by the United States Air Force Band), and Aberdeen, Wembley Stadium in London (where we played to a crowd of 80,000 people attending motorcycle races), Golders Green’s popular vaudeville theatre, Blackpool again, the cotton-mill town of Bolton in Lancashire, South to Bath, on to Peterborough, Manchester, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, back to London for a horse show at Harringay Arena, and, finally, a return to Manchester until September 16th when we left for Ireland.
Our introduction to the Emerald Isle was not good. We had to cross the Irish Sea in a 60 mile per hour gale which left everyone on the ship near death from seasickness. Once on land, stomachs and morale improved and we came to enjoy Dublin Town and the block-long crowds that lined up to buy tickets for our performances. We shared a little in the fading history of British rule in Ireland by going into the middle of O’Connell Street and climbing to the top of the Nelson Column which a few years later was blown to bits by the Irish Republican Army.
On Saturday, September 23rd, we played our last concert in Dublin and in Europe. At this point, Mr. D. gave us an unexpected three days holiday. Nineteen went to Paris and the others scattered to revisit newly made friends or to take in the sights of London.
The following Thursday, we were reunited and set off once more for Tilbury, the Samaria, the Atlantic and Canada. Arrival back in this country did not mean the end of our work which continued unabated although somewhat different in form. To get as much home exposure as possible, every time our train stopped for more than a couple of minutes we would rush onto the platform, play a number or two, and jump back on board as the train pulled out of the station. In this way we saw those wide spots in the railway: Three Rivers, Chapleau, White River, Schreiber, Brandon again, and Broadview. We stopped over for concerts in Saskatoon and Edmonton and hit the boards again at Calgary, Banff, Field, and Revelstoke where there was already snow on the ground.
Sunday, October 15th, we awakened early and eagerly for our last day on the road and restoration with our families. Only as Burrard Inlet came into view were the first twinges of regret felt. There was yet to be our homecoming Concert and one more church concert a week later but never again would all thirty-nine of us and our bandmaster meet in one place to work or play or even to reminisce. For that we have only our memories.
- ARTHUR W. DELAMONT
C is open, D is first and third, E is first and second. What is that? It is the valve fingering for the C Scale played on a trumpet, an alto horn, a baritone and a bass and it is the first lesson I was taught by Arthur W. Delamont more than fifty years ago.
Who was this man who had such an influence on our lives? His basic historical facts are easier to comprehend than are the reasons for the influence he had on the characters and careers of thousands of young boys and, for a time, girls who came within the range of his baton.
Arthur Delamont was born 98 years ago in Hereford, England. He and his family were active members of the Salvation Army and young Arthur first learned to play a cornet in one of its bands. Throughout his life he was a devoted Christian and never smoked, drank or swore although we all observed occasions when his frustrations with us would have driven any lesser man to drink and when he shouted things that had the sound and fury of blasphemy without quite contravening his religious convictions.
In 1910, the Delamont family moved to Canada. Tragedy overtook them when, on a trip to Britain for an international Salvation Army convention in 1914, their ship, the Empress of Ireland, was sunk in the St. Lawrence River and Mr. D.’s brother Leonard was lost.
Apart from an avid interest in motorcycle racing, Arthur’s life turned more and more to music. He began to play with a dance hall band and faced his first crisis: the Army said stay with us and the hymns or take the sinful route with the fox-trotters but not both. Arthur chose the wider range offered by his spirit than the narrower one demanded by his faith and his destiny was struck.
In the early 1920s, Mr. D. migrated to Vancouver. He played in the pit orchestra at the Pantages Theatre (later renamed the Beacon), as lead trumpet in the Vancouver Symphony, the Stanley Park Malkin Bowl Sunday evening concerts, and, as radio grew in popularity, with virtually every musical group hired to do shows in that medium.
In 1928, he decided to apply his talents to the young people of Vancouver. He organized and led bands in Grandview, Point Grey Junior High School, General Gordon School, North Vancouver, West Vancouver (where Bobby Gimby of “CANADA” fame learned to play the trumpet), and, pooling the best of all these, the Kitsilano Boys Band. During the War he established the 111th Squadron Air Cadet Band with players “conscripted” from all his bands around the City.
His success with the Kitsilano Boys Band can be described only as “incredible.” Year after year it was the top of its class at the Vancouver Music Festival and at an international contest at the Canadian Pacific Exposition in 1935 it achieved an impossible 199 out of 200 points. In 1933, it beat the best of America’s bands at the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1934, 1936 and 1939, Mr. D. took his boys to Britain where they competed with senior, near-professional, military and industry-supported bands – and won. In the West of England in 1934 they took first place against 20 other bands gaining a prize never before removed from Britain. In 1936 at the Crystal Palace, they outclassed 22 British bands. After 1950, Mr. D. made five more triumphant tours of Britain and Europe.
Mr. D. was honored for his contributions to youth by being named Vancouver’s Citizen of the Year in 1946 and in 1979 received national recognition when he was awarded the Order of Canada.
It was difficult for us to believe that Mr. D. had a human side to him but he was married and had two children. Mrs. Lily Delamont was house mother to us all on our trips and her kindness and devotion unquestionably calmed and soothed her husband in his worst hours as it drew our undying affection for her. Vera, their daughter, participated for years in the band’s work and spends much of her time perpetuating her father’s memory. Gordon, their son, will be remembered for having authored the best children’s music training books in North America.
Success is not won easily and Arthur Delamont’s boys can attest to that. While hundreds enjoyed great achievements under his direction, thousands gave up and went their own ways without him. Call him “bandmaster” if you will but “taskmaster” is a more appropriate title. At practices, he would go over and over the difficult parts and pieces; he shouted; he blared his trumpet at the slightest mistakes; he stopped using costly batons because so many got broken from being thrown across the room. The most agonizing experience was to be singled out to play alone the impossible bars we could not master while the others looked on in disgust at our incompetence until their turns came.
Concerts were dreaded but inevitable. Rehearsals became more hideous as the fateful day neared. At the theatre, no matter how hard we tried to organize the seats on the stage, Mr. D. threw about chairs, music stands and people until he was satisfied and only then could the concert begin. During playing, he would grimace and glare at those who missed notes and once in a while, horror of horrors, stop the music, apologize to the audience, and start again at the beginning.
Mr. D. never let us quite master any piece of music. After weeks of preparation and the presentation of a concert, at the next band practice he would go over once more the parts we had played badly and then produce a whole new folder of music and the demands would start again.
Desire for punishment is not what motivated us to endure the pain and embarrassment we suffered. Rather it was a determination to show the Old Man that we were not going to be cowed or defeated by him. But then, as our playing began to give promise of professionalism, we stayed because the music itself got to us and, more importantly, a sense developed of belonging to a team of fifty or more individuals joining in one single, beautiful choir of elegant sound brightening our lives and the world around us.
Arthur Delamont was not a scholar of music or its composers or sources. He persisted in pronouncing Weber’s name as “Webber”. He likely knew that the 1812 Overture had something to do with Napoleon and Russia but he wasted no time edifying us. Even when we began playing a new wartime march called “British Eighth”, he didn’t know or tell us that it referred to the victorious allied army in North Africa. Mr. D.’s sole and abiding interest was playing the music not talking about it.
The question remains: did he make us better than we were or did he succeed because we were already more determined than those kids who didn’t stay around to suffer the “slings and arrows” of an outraged bandleader? Most of us believe that but for Arthur Delamont we would not have been as ready to face life’s challenges. When something seems impossibly hard, consciously or not, we remember that Mr. D. never let us quit and we don’t quit now and when the grim face of defeat confronts us, we recite C is open; D is first and third and, remembering our mentor, steel ourselves to the task.
Many of Mr. D.’s boys have gone from this world since 1928. Owen Morse from our 1950 tour group is among the missing. Tony Verrell, a man with a spontaneous and inexhaustible sense of humour, became a priest in this very Parish of Maple Ridge and his death is still deeply mourned. Roy Dawson died with his bride of one day in a grinding car accident. George Fisher, man Friday to every logistical need of Mr. D., has passed away as have trombonist Charlie Bowman and horn player Bramwell Stride. The only boy to suffer a serious accident during a band tour, Rick Patterson, unfortunately died of his injuries in Vienna. [See Note 1] Many others in the years since 1928 have likewise left this world.
Mr. D. too has gone. He played his last concert at a basketball game the night before his passing and he made his last obeisance to his faith by serving as chaplain in a Masonic Lodge function where he suffered the heart attack which removed him from us. His God owed him eternal life in heaven but part of him will live on forever in us and those to whom we pass on that determination he instilled in us for perfection always a little beyond our grasp but nevertheless worth the anguish of the struggle.
In the crypt in St. Paul’s Cathedral which many of us visited is the tomb of the great architect Christopher Wren which bears the Latin inscription:
Si monumentum requiris circumspice
(If you would see his monument, look about you.)
Arthur Delamont built no castles or cathedrals, no spans or skyscrapers, but he built MEN and if you would see Arthur Delamont’s monument – a living monument – look about you.
III. NINE DAYS IN HOLLAND
Of all the great events of the summer of 1950, the most exasperating, exciting and memorable one began on Saturday, June 24th. The day before, we had arrived back in London, recorded a BBC program for later broadcast, and packed music, instruments and personal effects for the morrow’s move to the Netherlands. We had to be at Liverpool Street Railway Station virtually at dawn. Mr. D. was in a particularly foul mood. To save the cost of tipping porters, he had us load forty sets of instruments and suitcases and boxes and boxes of music into the baggage car. Shouting all the while, he drove us into the train to Harwich where the hollering took up again as we transferred everything from railway to ship.
After a respite as we crossed the North Sea on the Dutch ferry Koningen Emma, the racket began again on our arrival at the Hook of Holland as we moved our tons of luggage into a small passenger train which had no baggage car and necessitated our filling the aisles and seating space with our effects.
Everyone was irate and Mr. D. came to realize how upset we were. It was getting late in the day and he assured us that when we got to the town where we were to spend our first night on the Continent, there would be no practicing and no concert, we would have supper, go to bed, and get a good night’s rest to ready us for the ensuing week of work. Slightly mollified, we turned to watch the flat, flat scenery of the bulb-growing lands of Holland.
As the sun was setting, our train pulled into the town of Hillegom. To our surprise, the streets around the station were full of people and a European Oompah, Oompah band was booming out a welcome. We assumed someone important must be on our train and realized it was us only when a swarm of Boy Scouts descended on our car, seized all our dunnage, and formed up behind the local band to lead us on a parade past the applauding crowd.
This was the first train to stop at Hillegom since before the War and, more significantly, the first opportunity for the people of that town to express their appreciation for their liberation by the Canadian Army from long cruel years of occupation.
We were uncertain where we were being led until we arrived in front of a building called the Flora. Outside the streets were full but inside, the hall was jammed to the walls with people anxiously awaiting our CONCERT! While down deep this seemed like a double-cross, we were so thrilled by our reception we would have played anywhere, anytime and play we did. The audience was wild about our music and we were showered with gifts: a huge bouquet of flowers for Mrs. Delamont, and handkerchiefs with hand-painted windmills, miniature wooden shoes, strawberry-flavored soft drinks and rich, creamy Dutch pastries for all of us.
Highlight of the evening was the presentation of a flag in the colors of the town of Hillegom. Ladies of the village had worked for weeks to sew this gift of green and gold silk to bestow upon us as a symbol of gratitude for the freedom brought to them by Canadian troops. Emblazoned across the pennant were the words, “Hillegom (Holland) Dankt Kanada” – Hillegom, Holland, Thanks Canada! None of us, of course, was old enough to have been in the War but we were never more proud of our country than on that night in that lovely little town among those warmhearted, grateful people.
And then to sleep on clouds of eiderdown in beds in the homes of our local family hosts.
The next day, back to earth and back to work, we commenced our travels to Scheveningen on the North Sea, Zandvoort the racing car capital of Holland, Eindhoven the home of Phillips Electronics, the rural and seaside resort island of Texel, Bergen op Zoom, the national broadcasting station at Hilversum where we recorded a half hour program, beautiful Amersfoort, ancient and war-torn Middleburg, and finally Oosterbeek. Here we were to take part in a music festival and competition with senior bands from all over Europe.
The Festival hall was a huge tent set in the middle of one of the great farmland fields into which gliders and paratroops had been dropped during the Battle of Arnhem and we were as conscious of that history as we were concerned about how well we would stack up against the best bands of a dozen nations vying for prizes that summer in Oosterbeek.
Mr. D. decided we should enter the marching competition. The Kitsilano Boys Band is a concert band not a marching assembly. Yes, we tramped along every year in the PNE Parade or stood out on the street in front of Mansion House playing for the Lord Mayor of London but we had no experience walking in alignment, wheeling at corners, or countermarching at the end of a street. Nothing daunted, Mr. D. convened us on a crescent road in Arnhem. After lining us up this way and that and giving a signal to the drummer to strike a beat, he started us off.
Now we had had so much music to learn that summer, it was impossible to have memorized any of our programs but there was one march, Washington Post, that we played so often we all knew it by heart. Here was the ideal opportunity to take advantage of that fact: we could forget about trying to read the music and concentrate fully on the inadequacies of our marching. But that was not the Delamont way. Out came a brand new piece of music none of us had ever seen before and which we had never rehearsed. Now we had to learn to march and play at the same time.
Mr. D. never came closer to what we lawyers call “a shortened expectation of life” than on that day. The boys were wild with rage which was not improved by Mr. D. running through the ranks shouting and slapping people on the head for being out of step or out of harmony. That fury continued through the next hour until we went to the testing ground and marched with such precision and played with such brilliance we took first prize.
- INTRODUCTION TO ABIDE WITH ME
Along with the marches, overtures and novelty numbers, Mr. D. invariably always included a hymn in every program and during our engagement in Aberdeen the one he chose was Abide With Me. By coincidence, that week McKenzie King died and, with his usual sense of showmanship, Mr. D. announced to the audience that in honor of the memory of this famous Canadian we would play – what else – Abide with Me. As you will see and hear, the arrangement is wonderfully smooth and moving and, part way through our presentation at Aberdeen, one of the trumpeters, little Brian Bolam, barely 14 years old, stood up to play the solo.
I looked out into the audience and saw someone rise from his seat. I thought this was too early to leave. And then another person and another got up and pretty soon the whole audience was standing and, more remarkable, on many faces tears began to stream. They take their religion seriously in Scotland. Now you will hear this famous hymn again but this time the solo will be played by Fire Chief Brian Bolam.
- INTRODUCTION TO THE LOST CHORD
Arthur Delamont was an accomplished trumpet player in his own right. Into his old age he continued to practice scales, chords, and long, sustained notes to improve his tone. To illustrate his talents, he worked into our repertoire several pieces one of which is The Lost Chord.
The presentation of the piece is this: the band plays the first few strains; Mr. D. turns to face the audience and plays the solo; as that nears its end, the volume of the background music increases and increases until, at the last, the trumpeters leave their seats and line up across the stage on each side of Mr. D., smallest on the inside, tallest on the outside; at a given point all the trumpets come up simultaneously and the whole band pours out a triumphant chorus. This was the greatest show stopper of them all.
Sad as it was, Mr. D.’s funeral was unusual in that it was also a band concert. Kits Band alumni players got together to pay homage and towards the end of the service they played The Lost Chord. At the front of the church Mr. D. lay in his casket and on top of the bier his trumpet was displayed. When the band came to the solo, Brian Bolam took up Mr. D.’s instrument and for what we thought was the final time we heard this great number played from the horn of the leader who had dominated our lives for so long. Relive with us now those moments as the band plays The Lost Chord and Brian recreates the Master’s Voice on Mr. D.’s own trumpet.
by Norman D. Mullins, Q. C.
John Rands has corrected one item in Norm’s memoirs: John writes: “Norm mentions Rick Patterson’s death in his excellent article. Rick died on the 1962 trip in Paris, France.”
ABOVE: 2000, Norm on the right.