Musician and model maker bond over warships

Ex-Royal Marine Vince Harris, foreground, was a rich source of first-hand information for Graham Beeson’s model of HMS Liverpool.

The diorama of Peninsula Club resident Vince Harris, 92 times smaller than life size, on HMS Liverpool.

A story about model warships in Hibiscus Matters’ February 5 issue created a connection between model maker Graham Beeson of Gulf Harbour and ex-Royal Marine Vince Harris, who lives at the Peninsula Club retirement village.

Hibiscus Matters put the pair in touch after Vince read the story and told the paper that he had spent several years on two of the warships featured – HMS Vanguard and HMS Liverpool – as a Royal Marine bandsman.

As a result, an exhibition of the model ships was to be held at Peninsula Club, but this was not possible due to Covid-19 restrictions. Instead, Graham and fellow model maker Brian Henman brought their models of Vanguard and Liverpool to Vince’s home so he could have a closer look and share ‘a tot of rum’ with them.

Vince, a bassoon player, joined the Royal Marines as a band boy at the age of 14 in 1945, and progressed through the ranks to bandmaster. He says all battleships and cruisers had their own band.

In 1950 he joined Liverpool, which at the time was the flagship of the Mediterranean fleet. For two years he sailed the Mediterranean – Vince’s photos are of suntanned men on the deck, looking relaxed. The band played at trade fairs and exhibitions, dinner parties and receptions in the ports they visited, marching as well as doing sit down concerts.

“Band members see a lot more of the places that the ship visits,” Vince says.

HMS Liverpool returned to the UK and was scrapped a few years later, in 1956.

Now promoted to corporal, Vince joined Vanguard in 1954 where he was band sergeant as well as drum major.

The ship sailed around Scandinavia, including to Norway’s most northerly seaport. At the end of that year it went into reserve and was scrapped in 1958.

In peacetime, Vince said he was acutely aware of the ships’ history and the men who had gone before – including bandsmen.

In fact, he says, musicians played a critical role in the war effort, helping to guide naval gunfire. When Vince was on the warships, he sat around the plot table used for this purpose in wartime.

“In two World Wars, it was small groups of musicians who were in charge of the accuracy of naval gunfire,” Vince says. “The Navy command considered that musicians, with their deft fingers, would be the best people to operate the dials of the a hand driven computer which had information fed into it about range, course, speed of the target, wind and the earth’s rotation. This was crucial to plotting the details needed to train the guns.”

He said bandsman also lost their lives under fire, as they were often located in the bowels of a ship.

Later, Vince taught bandmaster courses in the UK and moved to New Zealand in 1971 when he was appointed Director of Music of the Royal NZ Navy – a position he held for five years.

He says you grow fond of a ship after spending years on board, and seeing scale models of them, which he describes as ‘superb’, brought back a lot of fond memories.

Graham added a tiny figure of Vince to his model of Liverpool, based on Vince’s advice about the bandsmen congregating on deck in a particular spot, just to get out in the fresh air.

Graham says he is enjoying picking Vince’s brains and hopes to borrow photos. He is working on making a full band to place on the deck wearing the correct uniform and with their instruments.

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