Friday, October 28, 2022

Q&A with Brian Short



Brian Short is the author of the book The Band That Went to War: The Royal Marines Band in the Falklands War. He served for many years in the Royal Marines, and was a musician in the Royal Marines Band Service during the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982. He lives in Southeast England.


Q: What inspired you to write The Band That Went to War?


A: My initial inspiration for the book came from attending the last pre-Covid band reunion in Plymouth, and the realisation that seven of the band that had been involved in the Falklands war had now passed away and the close-knit group was diminishing.


It seemed to me that we had played a small but important part in the war and that needed recording before it was too late. Having raised the question with my band mates and received a positive response, the second question as to just who would write it was met with around 30 pointed fingers; the fingers were loaded and all pointed at me!  


Q: How much additional research did you need to do to write the book, beyond your own experiences?


A: I kept a diary during the war and also took a film camera, which 40 years on was a useful starting place to refresh my memory. I was lucky in that most of the surviving band members also chimed in with memories and photographs, some having very definite views on what should be included, and perhaps more importantly what should be left out.


My main reference book was The Great White Whale Goes to War, which was written by a Royal Navy Officer aboard the ship Canberra at the time. It helpfully included dates and locations recorded in the ship’s log contemporaneously, so I could be confident in their accuracy. Perhaps surprisingly there was also some input from “the enemy.”


Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about the Royal Marines Band?


A: I suppose firstly it depends on which side of the Atlantic you live, and secondly how much exposure to these fine military musicians you have had. Regarded around the world as one of the finest military bands, whether in a formal marching setting or an impressive sit-down concert, the general public know very little about their military role.


Thinking of them as somehow “toy soldiers” playing at high profile and Royal events, the Royal Marines musicians also receive military and weapon training, not to the same high degree of their Green Beret commando brethren, but certainly enough to pick up a weapon in times of crisis.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I hope the reader can get some idea what this group of musicians went through in this small war and how they contributed all their skill sets towards the success of the mission. I hope it also comes through that musical intellect, humanity, and even humour has a place in a war and also even in a book about that war some years later.


My first draft of the book seemed sterile and was not in “my voice,” so I was compelled to rewrite it and include something of my personality and sense of humour. To date, the reviews and feedback from people indicate this was the right thing to do and does not undermine or compromise some of the more serious moments in the book.      


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My next project will tell the amazing and true story of how in the 18th century a lady called Hannah Snell disguised herself as a man and joined the British Marines. Her back story and military career, including how she fought and was wounded in several actions, I find utterly fascinating.


In this age of strong women that we take for granted, to think that back in the 1700s Hannah Snell took on the Royal Marines challenge and travelled the world under arms is a story that needs telling!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In the book the reader will find that once hostilities were over, myself and the band became armed guards to thousands of Argentine prisoners of war on our ship. For various reasons, music and humour being two to mention, we got to know our “guests” quite well and an understanding developed.


When we arrived in Argentina I was presented with what must be the most unusual war souvenir, namely a “signed thank you card from the enemy.” As a result of the book most of the signatories have been found by an Argentine historian and there is a talk of a reunion at some point.


In promoting the book I have been giving online and in person presentations to various UK and international groups and associations. I enjoy these, especially doing them in person to a live audience, so if anyone has an idea as to other suitable outlets I would be happy to hear them.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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