WW2 Veteran honours top Royal Marines musician

A 95-year-old veteran of the Arctic Convoys has presented an award to the most improved member of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Plymouth.

Eric Greenleaf, a former Royal Marines Musician, was invited to the Band Complex at HMS Raleigh to personally present the prize to 24-year-old Musician Aaron Cousins, who is from Whistable.

The Band has developed a close bond with Eric, who lives on the Barbican, and were honoured last year when he kindly donated a prize as a tribute to the musicians of his own generation and to mark his links with the band today. 

This is the second time the prize has been presented.  

Eric is a source of inspiration to all of us.

Major Jason Burcham RM

To decide the recipient each member of the Band votes on who they believe is the most improved musician.

Major Jason Burcham, the Plymouth Band’s Director of Music, said:  “Eric is a source of inspiration to all of us. 

“He personifies the contribution and sacrifices made by his generation, and brings that part of the Royal Marines Band Service history to life.

“His generosity in sponsoring this award is just another way of maintaining links between our respective generations and has more credence because it is awarded by the Band’s membership.”

Eric is in regular contact with the Band and has attended numerous concerts and other events as their guest.

In 2013 the Band arranged for him to be presented with his Arctic Star Medal by the Second Sea Lord during a passing-out-parade at HMS Raleigh.

As part of his visit this time the Band played a piece of music written by a former Royal Marines Director of Music depicting the loss of HMS Trinidad during an Arctic Convoy in the Second World War, an incident that Eric witnessed.

Congratulating the Band on their performance, Eric said:  “Bravo, cheers mates.  I’ve not been well lately, but this had me feel much better.”

When he first arrived at the Royal Naval School of Music in 1935 at the age of 14 years and eight months, Eric could only play the harmonica.  

During his time at the school he was taught to play the clarinet and the viola and went on to complete 26 years as a Royal Marines Musician, leaving the Service in 1960. 

Eric served throughout the Second World War. 

He completed 15 Arctic Convoys on board ships tasked to protect merchant shipping delivering vital supplies to the Soviet Union.  

Early in the war Eric was sunk after leaving Ceylon on an Australian ship, having played at an Admiral’s reception ashore. 

He spent nine hours in the water clinging to a piece of deck and a fellow band member who was covered in oil and couldn’t swim. 

After his rescue Eric rejoined HMS Cumberland in Buenos Aires. 

The ship, along with three other Royal Navy warships, engaged the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate before her Captain famously scuttled the German vessel in Montevideo Harbour. 

As the war against Germany was ending Eric was drafted to HMS Newfoundland in the fight against Japan.  Five years later he saw further action in the Korean War.