The Grenadier Guards was raised in Bruges as a bodyguard to King Charles II while he was in exile, and moved to England after the Restoration of the Monarchy. The band traces its history back to a warrant signed by the King in 1685 authorising its formation, and can therefore claim to have been ‘born’ in the same year as Bach and Handel. The band originally consisted of Hautbois, an early form of oboe, with other instruments being added over the years as they were invented, the last being the saxophones in the latter part of the 19th Century.
The band went to Paris in 1815 as part of the victory celebrations after the Battle of Waterloo and it is believed that three musicians from the regiment had earlier accompanied King William III on a visit to the Netherlands. In 1872 the band sailed to Boston in the United States to be part of an International Peace Jubilee, the first of numerous visits to the continent and one that was sanctioned only after a debate in Parliament.
The Bandmaster at the time was Dan Godfrey, appointed to the position in 1856 at the age of just 25, one of a dynasty who dominated the Guards bands for the latter part of the century. He served in that role for 40 years and was a great favourite of Queen Victoria, who personally granted him a commission as part of Her Golden Jubilee honours in 1887, making him the first commissioned bandmaster.
Lieutenant Godfrey was succeeded by Captain Albert Williams, a cultured musician who obtained his Doctor of Music degree from Oxford University while with the Grenadiers and he was, in turn, followed by Lieutenant Colonel George Miller. During Miller’s time the band made hundreds of 78rpm records in a wide variety of styles which are a great testament to the quality of the band during the 1920s and 30s.
During the First World War the Guards bands did much to help recruitment and morale at home and took turns for three-month tours to France and Belgium to play for the Guardsmen at the front. The Band of the Grenadier Guards embarked on 22nd October 1915 to join the Guards Division at Sailly-la-Bourse, earning the distinction of being the only Guards band to receive the 1914-1915 Star. Two and even three performances were given daily and visits were paid to the troops in rest billets and in the cleaning stations.
Amongst the musicians to serve in the band was Colour Sergeant Karl Schauenberg, a German who joined the band in the 1960s and who had been awarded an Iron Cross during his time with the Hitler Youth in the Second World War. It is said that he wore this medal when on parade, hidden under his sash! It is now displayed in the Guards Museum in London.
Between 1970 and 1976 the band was directed by Major Peter Parkes who went on to enjoy an equally successful career in the brass band world including a long period as conductor of the Black Dyke Mills Band, winning numerous prizes and making him the most successful brass band conductor of his era.