1st/15th Royal NSW Lancers Band – A Brief History

The Royal New South Wales Lancers is the oldest Cavalry regiment in New South Wales. It was established as part of the N.S.W. Cavalry Reserves on 3 January 1885 and Troops were formed in towns throughout the Colony. On joining the regiment, one had to purchase your uniform, provide your horse and accoutrements. The equipment issued being Arms (Swords and Rifles), Bridles and Saddle Cloths.

The Troops were identified by a locality name. One of these at West Maitland on the Hunter River was known as the Maitland or hunter River Troop. In 1888 an unofficial band was formed and operated with that Troop. The following year, the Reserves were reorganised as the NSW Cavalry Regiment and the NSW Mounted Rifles, and both were allocated bands. The Brass Band associated with the Hunter Troop became the NSW Cavalry Band, Mr F. Fitness being the initial bandmaster.

The Band was mounted on Greys, which were purchased by the officers and used for training purposes when not required for Band use. It was unusual in those days for horses to be maintained by a Regiment.

The Band establishment was initially 20 and one kettle drummer. Recruitment of 24 was permitted to provide for what was called casualties. An initial clothing allowance of £2 per Bandsman was paid with the uniforms being issued on 4 June 1891. The instruments from Potter and Co. London cost £297/5/3. The G.O.C. N.S.W. Military Forces authorised a payment of £100 from the No. 2 Band Fund, the balance being provided by members of the Regiment. A consequence of this financial shortfall resulted in the Band becoming involved in fundraising ventures to ensure its survival.

The Government in 1891 authorised an annual Band Subsidy of £50. This was later increased to 250. In 1903, when the Regiment passed to Commonwealth control, it was reduced to 150. It was further reduced to £75 in 1914. In Australia the financial year commences on 1 July and the Budget is introduced in mid-August. World War I had started, and Australia was committed to the war before the 1914/15 Budget was introduced.

The Band wore the same uniform as the Regiment. N.S.W. Brown, with the tunic being fitted with a Red Platoon, on their breeches a white stripe, whereas the Regiment wore a red stripe. The Regiment wore cock’s plumes on their slouch hat, which had a Puggaree of red with a white fold. A white pouch belt with silver mounted black pouch was worn over the shoulder, plus a red and yellow girdle. Collar badges were also worn.

In 1903, on becoming the 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment (New South Wales Lancers), the uniform was changed to that authorised for the Australian Light Horse, plus the white stripe on the breeches. Nickel shoulder titles (1st ALH NSW Lancers) were also worn. Bandsmen pay was subject to an annual appropriation in 1894, the pay was full day 1/24th, half day 1/48th and evening Band practice 1/96th efficiency rate of the annual rate. The Efficiency standard was gazetted the next year, being 2 of every 3 full days, 9 of 12 half days and 6 of 8 practices.

In 1894 the Regiment was renamed the New South Wales Lancers and the following marches were authorised: Walk – The Dragoon Guardsman, Trot – The Cavalier, Gallop – Bonnie Dundee.

The Dragoon Guardsman and The Cavalier were always played when the NSWL passed a saluting base and all were played at Inspections, Tattoos and when the NSWL gave a mounted display. The last occasion they were possibly played together was the last mounted parade of the 4th Cavalry Brigade in 1935.

On 25 August 1895, the Peace and War Establishments were reviewed, and the Band in the Peace Establishment was 1 Band Sergeant and 19 Bandsmen. In the War Establishment the Bandsmen were to be stretcher bearers 4 per squadron.

1897 was an eventful year. It was decided that the Band would transfer to Parramatta, where the R.H.Q. was to be located. The Barracks, designed by Lt. Dawes, 46th South Devonshire Regiment were built in 1819 under instructions of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. The Barracks were renamed the Lancer Barracks and are listed in the National historical Buildings Register. The RNSWL is still located there.

Before the Band moved, Regimental officers helped the Bandsmen who were able to transfer in finding employment in the Parramatta district, plus the design and construction of their homes. On moving to Parramatta, a new Bandmaster, Mr W. Watters, was appointed, new Bandsmen were recruited from the 3rd Infantry Regiment and the Parramatta Town Band.

Plans were in hand for the NSWL to send a Troop with the NSW Contingent to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in the United Kingdom. A Promenade Concert was held at the Sydney Town Hall to aid expenses, the Colonial Governor attending. The Band came from West Maitland 157 kms from Sydney, the Australian Artillery – N.S.W. Regiment Band, now the 2nd Military District Band, Australian Regular Army, the Naval Brigade Band, now the Royal Australian Navy Support Command Band, HMAS Penguin, and N.S.W. Police Band combined for several items. This was the introduction of the Band into involvement with the major events in N.S.W.

The next day the Band led a parade through Sydney of the N.S.W. Contingent to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations to their embarkation. The NSWL Troop paid their own fares. Thus began the continuing relationship between the NSWL and the other Bands.

Early in 1898 the Band moved to Parramatta and some new instruments were purchased. These included two tympani for use on the Drum horse. On arrival at Parramatta, the Band was increased to 25 and this was confirmed in the revised P.E. of 6 July 1900, which also provided for 2 Trumpeters per Squadron.

The Band was heavily involved in the Commonwealth of Australia inauguration ceremonies in 1901. It led a section of the parade through Sydney, culminating at Centennial Park where the inauguration ceremony took place. The three N.S.W. Light Horse Regiments provided the Governor-General’s escort.

The following evening, the NSWL Band with 21 other Bands, including 7 British, one Canadian, Indian and one New Zealand Band, participated in the Commonwealth Inauguration Tattoo. Later in the evening paraffin lamps were used to illuminate the march cards. The attendance was 30,000, the largest at any gathering in Australia until that date. Details of the music played are contained in The Band of the 1st Australian Horse, previously published – which also participated in both events.

A squadron of the NSWL went to England for training in 1899, and the Band led the Squadron through Sydney before departure. On their return journey most of the Squadron disembarked in Capetown to serve in the South African War 1899 – 1902. Many officers and men were to serve in South Africa, either in the NSWL or the subsequent Commonwealth Units after Federation on 1 January 1901. Several Trumpeters went to South Africa. The Band did not, although individual members may have.

In 1900 a half-squadron was formed at Newcastle 83 kms from Sydney and Mr E.W. Tryell, Wallsend, NSW wrote the N.S.W. Lancers March, which was dedicated to the initial officers of the Newcastle Half-Squadron. This March and the N.S.W Lancers Waltz by Mrs C. Dalton were played at each Regimental Ball. There was a Regimental Ball at each of the four Squadrons and Newcastle until 1914. Copies of these two pieces of music are on display at the Regimental Museum, Linden House, Lancers Barracks, Parramatta.

After World War I, Regimental Balls were resumed on an irregular basis until 1937 when they were held annually until 1939.

The Colonial units in Australia passed to Commonwealth control after Federation and in 1903 the NSWL became the 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment, retaining the territorial title New South Wales Lancers. However, the P.E. and W.E. contained no provision for a Band and the Band Subsidy was reduced to £100.

On 16 May 1906 the Band combined with the 3rd ALH (Australian Horse) Band to play at the Dedication Service of the South African War Memorial Tablet at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. The Bands subsequently led a parade of Veterans through Sydney.

In the Band for the first time was Frederick James (Jim) Heapy (1881 – 1945). Jim had previously served in South Africa as a Trumpeter. He was a member of the Band for 32 years after playing several instruments, playing the 1st Trombone, 2nd Trombone, Bass Trombone, finishing on Eb Tuba. He retired as Band Sergeant, the only other N.C.O. in the Band apart from the Bandmaster A.E. Taylor.

He started a family tradition. He persuaded his brother William (Bill) to join, his son Ernest Neil (Dadda) Heapy (1909 – 1979), his nephew Edward (Eddie). Bill’s son followed. Dadda joined as a learner in 1926 and played without pay until he enlisted in 1934. His instruments were Tenor and Bass Trombone. The Band was the first Army Reserve Band to attend the then Army School of Music, Balcombe, Victoria, where the Director of Music stated that E.N. Heapy was one of the best Bass Trombone players he had heard. Major V. Newman was not the only Bandmaster to compliment Dadda on his playing.

The Band returned to the Army School of Music in 1961, 63, 65, 68, 74, 76 and 1982. Subsequently the Army School of Music was transferred and combined as part of the integration of the Australian defence Forces as the Australian Defence School of Music, Simpson Barracks, Watsonia, Victoria.

Jim’s grandson Neil Frederick (Heap) Heapy (1935 -) joined the Band in 1953 after National Service, when W.O. O’Donnell was Bandmaster. Like his grandfather and father, Heapy also played the Trombone until 1968, when he joined the Australian Army Band Corps as a Regular Musician, where he served in the Royal Australian Engineers Band and Eastern Command Band, now the 2nd Military District Band.

Jim, Dadda and Heap were all awarded the Efficiency Medal.

In 1921 the NSWL Band commenced its annual participation in the Anzac Day march through Sydney on 25 April to remember the Gallipoli campaign, recommencing an association with ex-servicemen and Sydney it had started 15 years before.

The United States Navy sent a fleet on a world circumnavigation in 1908. The fleet arrived in Sydney at the conclusion of the annual Light Horse training exercises, which were extended by one day so that the ALH could form part of the Grand parade in which the American sailors also took part.

On 12 March 1913 the Canberra Commencement Ceremony took place. The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade were present, and the ceremony concluded with a march past of the Brigade, the Salute being taken by the Governor-General Lord Denman. The Brigade comprised the 7th ALH (New South Wales Lancers), 9th ALH (NSW Mounted Rifles) and 11th ALH (Australian Horse) Regiments, in Review order at the Walk. The Regiments were renumbered in 1912. The Brigade was led by the NSWL Band.

The Australian part time forces were recruited for Home Defence, and on the outbreak of WWI large numbers of the NSWL joined the Australian Light Horse Regiments of the 1st Australian Imperial Force. The 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment based in NSW included NSWL and the Australia Horse Bandsmen in its dismounted band of 19, the Band Sergeant being J.H. Calthorpe of the AH. The instruments were bought with donations by the regimental members, country supporters and a Ladies Group in Sydney. The Ladies Group also contributed to two infantry battalion bands.

The War was to have an impact upon the Band, and it became dismounted in January 1915. The Band no doubt contributed to recruiting and other war effort campaigns in Parramatta and Sydney. It is not possible to identify the events in which the Band played.

In 1918 and 1921 there was further renumbering of the ALH Regiments. The NSWL reverted to the 1st ALH and in 1921, the NSWL Band became the 4th Cavalry Brigade Band, although it remained at Lancer Barracks and was administered by the 1st ALH. It continued to be known as the Lancers Band. Field Marshal Lord Allenby visited Australia in 1926 and arrived in Sydney on 20 January 1926. He was met at the Sydney Central Railway Station by a guard of honour by the NSWL and the Band, which included Officers and men who had served with or under the Field Marshal in South Africa and Palestine. The next day at Parramatta a War Memorial tablet was dedicated at St John’s Cathedral to members of the ALH who fell in World War I. The Band led the NSWL to the Cathedral and played at the service.

New Guidons were consecrated at the 4th Cavalry Brigade Camp on 2 April 1928. The Band and the 1st ALH (NSWL), 7th ALH (NSW Mounted Rifles), 7th ALH (Australian Horse), and 21st ALH (Illawarra) were present. At the conclusion of the Parade, there being sufficient space, the Regiments passed in Review at the Walk, the Trot and the Gallop, with the Band providing the music.

The Band entered the Palings Shield in 1929. Palings were a music house in Sydney. The shield was for competition by Brass Bands, and the Band won the competition. It entered the competition again in 1932, 1935 and 1936, gaining a prize on every occasion.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1933. Although the NSWL and the Band were present, they received little mention. Major De Groot rode a horse and joined the procession. He then attempted to cut the ribbon and deny the Governor of N.S.W. the opportunity of declaring the Bridge open. The NSWL and the Band were pleased to discover and emphasised that De Groot was not using an ALH saddle. This served to dispel the allegation that De Groot was a member of the ALH contingent at the Ceremony.

1935 was an important year for on 5 March the Band led the NSWL through Parramatta for the 50th anniversary Church Parade. It later took part in the Royal Review held to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of H.M. King George V. On 30 June, the King granted the title of Royal New South Wales Lancers, and the RNSWL affiliated with the Kings Royal Dragoon Guards, now the Queens Dragoon Guards.

The Band was involved with the Tattoo held as part of the Jubilee Celebrations.

Late in the year Lt. A.E. Taylor, Bandmaster, retired after 44 years’ service in the Band and was the last original member who joined in 1891 to leave the Band. He continued as an Honorary Instructor until shortly before his death in 1941. The Band at this time wore the current Australian Army uniform plus the accoutrements referred to earlier.

The next year the Band was invited to Canberra to play for the Formal Opening of Parliament following the accession of H.M. King George VI. After the formal opening, photographs of the Band were taken on the steps of Parliament House, including on with the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Joseph Lyons. Mr Lyons invited the Band to play in Kings Hall, inside Parliament House.

Captain A.E. Taylor, senior officer present, declined on the basis that as the Band was both non-political and non-sectarian, he could not permit the Band to enter Parliament House. However, it can claim to be the first Band that played at the New Parliament House, for it played on its site in 1913 on Canberra Commencement Day.

A Sequi-Centenary Review was held in Centennial Park on 26 January 1938 in which the RNSWL and Band participated. A Tattoo was held as part of these celebrations at Cumberland Oval, Parramatta on 27 October. The Band was accompanied by the kings School Cadet Corps Band and the Australian Broadcasting Commission Military Band. 7000 attended the Tattoo.

With the outbreak of World War II, the RNSWL remained a Home Defence unit, although it was on full time service. Many officers and men volunteered for the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF). In 1942 the Citizens military Force, of which the RNSWL formed part, was incorporated with the 2nd AIF and became an armoured Regiment, serving in the South West Pacific and Borneo.

The Band remained in New South Wales as the 4 Cavalry Brigade Band until 1942. The RNSWL was disbanded in January 1946.

The RNSWL and its Band were re-established in 1948 when the Australian Reserve was created to replace the former CMF. The Establishment was 28 and former members of the Band rejoined, WO Dale being appointed Bandmaster. The Band wore the standard Army uniform with a black beret. The black beret replaced the slouch hat in 1944, when the RNSWL was an armoured unit.

In 1951 the RNSWL and Band returned to Canberra for the 50th anniversary of Federation. Shortly after, the Band began to suffer from declining numbers as the pre-war members retired, but it was resuscitated by recruitment from an Army Reserve Infantry Band. On 24 November 1957, new Guidons were presented at Cumberland Oval, Winter Uniforms were the Order of the Day. The temperature at 11 a.m. when the rehearsal took place was 100 degrees F. When the presentation took place in the afternoon it was 106 degrees. In an attempt to keep the instruments cool, cold water was poured into them and drained out through the water key. That did not prevent the slides on the trombones and the valves in some other instruments from sticking.

To add insult to injury, on the way back to the Barracks the younger members were refused entry to the Returned Servicemens Club for cool refreshments on the basis that they were not returned ex-servicemen who had served overseas. That was the criteria for membership of these Clubs. Today wiser counsels prevail.

On 18 October 1959 the Band led the RNSWL to receive the Freedom of Entry to the City of Parramatta, and still leads the RNSWL when the Right of Entry is exercised.

In December 1968 the Band commenced an annual Beat the Retreat Ceremony at Parramatta, which continued until 1972.

As part of the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Discovery of Australia by Captain James Cook, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, officially declared open the restored Old Governor’s Residence at Parramatta. The music for that occasion was provided by the RNSWL Band.In December 1971, the Band returned to the Old Governor’s Residence. The Band under WO2, T.G.F. Nichols, 28 strong restored the practice of giving concerts in the garden. The last Band to play 120 years before had been the 58th Regiment (Rutlands), now the Anglican Regiment, in 1850 prior to returning to England.

The Band played at the opening of the R.S.L. Club, Castle Hill, near Parramatta by the State Governor on 28 September 1974, and the Bandsmen were not refused refreshments on this occasion.

The Band also took part in the H.M. Queen Elizabeth Silver Jubilee parade through Sydney on 3 December 1977. It also performed the Beat the Retreat ceremony in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House in 1980.

The centenary year of the Regiment in 1985 meant the Band had a busy year, the Centenary parade at Cumberland Oval, at which a Clydesdale, complete with the Tympani as a Drumhorse, paraded with the Band. The tympani, long held in the Regimental Museum, were reskinned and their sound, stilled since 1915, was heard once more. The Band also led the Regiment to Sydney Town Hall, where the Royal New South Wales Lancers were given the Freedom of Entry to the City of Sydney. It then led the Regiment in the Exercise of that Right. Several times since then it has led the Regiment as it Exercised that Right.

The following year was a disaster for the Band. A fire in the Bandroom, resulted in the complete loss of its instruments and Library. From this adversity the Band drew strength and reorganised obtaining new instruments and continued its support to the RNSWL and its local community in the Sydney area.

It was this spirit which enabled the Band to participate fully in the Australian Bi-Centennial celebrations in 1988.

In 1991, the Band celebrated 100 years of military music.

It has been reorganised and undergone several changes of name. It was one of the first mounted Bands in Australia. When it became dismounted in 1915 it was the last military mounted Band.

It was disbanded, restored and then underwent a major fire. Despite these misfortunes, it looks confidently towards playing throughout its second century. 

Lt Col P. V. Vernon, History of the Royal New South Wales Lancer, 1885-1985, historical records NSW Bands Assn, past and present Bandmasters and Bandsmen.

S.H. Pyne, member of The International Military Music Society.