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Kenneth J. Alford, Composer
Kenneth Alford, pseudonym of Major Fredrick Joseph Ricketts, was born in London on February 21, 1881. By the time he was fourteen he had lost both of his parents. Yearning for a career in military music, he lied about his age to join the Royal Irish Regiment in 1895.
He remained in the Army until 1927, when he was commissioned into the Royal Marines as a Director of Music. After a total of almost fifty years of service to the Crown, he retired in 1944 in rather poor health and died in the following year on May 15, 1945.
Rickett’s pseudonym was derived from his eldest son, Kenneth; his middle name, Joseph; and his mother’s maiden name, Alford.
During his long military career, he wrote many marches that remain famous to this day. He is renowned as Britain’s “March King” yet unlike John Philip Sousa, who composed at least a hundred and thirty examples, his reputation rests on just eighteen marches. He also wrote a handful of xylophone solos plus a few other non-march pieces and was responsible for many arrangements. But he was his own man. No-one would mistake one of his marches for one of Sousa.
The 18 Marches of Kenneth J. Alford
In July of 1911 the Battalion and Band of the 93rd Highlanders were in Edinburgh, Scotland to undertake guard duties at the Palace of Holyroodhouse during the coronation year visit to the Scottish capital of H.M. King George V and H.M. Queen Mary. These same royal duties of the band prompted Alford to write the march “Holyrood” which was published in 1912 by Hawkes and Son of London and the first to bear the familiar nom de plume of F.J. Ricketts, Kenneth J. Alford.
THE VEDETTE (1912)
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a Vedette is “a mounted sentry placed in advance of the outposts of an army to observe the movements of the enemy” and is mentioned in an 1868 official publication “Regulation and Orders for the Army”
COLONEL BOGEY (1914)
One of the most probable explanations for the creation of this march was that Alford was a keen walker and regularly took his walks on the golf course at Fort George in North-East Scotland nine miles from Inverness. During this time, Alford was serving with the 93rd Highlanders preparing for the call to arms in mainland Europe. In May of 1958, Alford’s Widow wrote a note to the Publishers of the march in question: “While playing golf on the Fort George course, one of the members whistled the first two notes (B flat and G) instead of calling ‘Fore!’, and with impish spontaneity was answered by Alford with the next few notes. There was little sauntering—Moray Firth’s stiff breezes encouraged a good crisp stride. These little scraps of whistling appeared to ‘catch on’ with the players, and from that beginning the Quick March was built up.”
THE GREAT LITTLE ARMY (1916)
This march was written in the middle of World War I and exemplifies the qualities of those who eventually brought victory on the Western Front in France. Those who bore the brunt of all that the enemy could throw against them, and originally hated by the enemy as “The Contemptible Little Army”
ON THE QUARTER DECK (1917) and THE MIDDY (1917)
Both of these marches, with their nautical flavor, were written to commemorate the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
VOICE OF THE GUNS (1917)
This march was written to reflect the situation on the Western Front.
THE VANISHED ARMY (1919)
This march was sub-titled “They Never Die” and was written as a final musical salute to the fighting troops of the First World War. Alford dedicated “The Vanished Army” to the first 100,000 soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice during WWI.
THE MAD MAJOR (1921)
Major Graham Seton-Hutchinson’s exploits with the machine gun corps during the First World War earned him the D.S.O. and the M.C. as well as the title “The Mad Major.”
CAVALRY OF THE CLOUDS (1923)
Dedicated to the then fledgling Royal Air Force.
THE THIN RED LINE (1925)
The “Thin Red Line” was the regimental nickname of the 93rd Highlanders and was gained in the Crimean campaign of 1854 through the 93rd’s heroic stand against the charging Russian cavalry at Balaklava. The Times war correspondent reported to his paper that nothing stood between the Russian cavalry mass and the defenseless base but “the thin red streak tipped with a line of steel” of the 93rd. In the course of time this accolade became shortened to “The Thin Red Line.”
DUNEDIN (1928) and OLD PANAMA (1929)
Both of these marches commemorate the 93rd Highlanders’ visit to New Zealand.
H.M. JOLLIES (1929)
Alford wrote this march two years after his entry into the Royal Marines. The Bugle calls reference each of the three divisions of the corps. The nautical feeling of this march is made evident through Alford’s use of snippets of “The Sailor’s Hornpipe.”
STANDARD OF ST. GEORGE (1930)
This march was actually featured in the concert programs of the Band of the Royal Marines Depot, Deal, before it was published. The writing of this march is unique in that it does not start with an introduction; the strong first section bursts forth with a telling fanfare figure, below which is a tremendous bass foundation of sustained power for the whole of 32 bars.
BY LAND AND SEA (1941)
This march was modeled on Alford’s entry into a competition in 1934 for an official slow march for the Royal Marines. The title is the anglicized version of the Royal marines motto “Per Mare Per Terram” and was written for the Plymouth Division, R.M. which includes a portion of the regimental quick march “A Life on the Ocean Wave” and the Royal Marines Bugle Calls. By Land and Sea is a magnificent example of the art of military ceremonial music.
ARMY OF THE NILE (1941)
Army of the Nile was written as a tribute to General Sir Archibald Wavell’s inspiring victories in the Western Desert Campaign in 1941 which marked the turning point in the many reverses Britain had experienced in the early years of the Second World War.
EAGLE SQUADRON (1942)
This, the last march Alford wrote, was a tribute to the American Airmen, who voluntarily gave their services to the Royal Air Force during the difficult days when Britain and the Commonwealth stood alone. Featured in this march are cleverly woven snatches of “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Rule Britannia,” and the Royal Air Force March.
http://www.magic.ca/~lanced/kja-mrch.htm [List of Marches—this website is no longer available]