Royal Marines musician brings birthday cheer

A Royal Marines musician has been using his talent to bring some cheer to people whose birthday celebrations have been cancelled due to the coronavirus.

Band Colour Sergeant Gordon Carter, based at HMS Raleigh, first surprised Kim Robinson, a lady living in his hometown of Torpoint on her 60th birthday, by playing Happy Birthday on his saxophone, from her front garden.

A few days later he joined forces with the Royal Navy Submarine School to record a message for World War Two veteran Harry Melling, who was celebrating his 100th birthday in his care home.

Harry is believed to be the oldest surviving submariner and plans had been made to mark his birthday with a big party for family, friends and fellow residents.

Kim lives very close to me, so when I saw an appeal on social media for some help to make her birthday special I responded immediately. With Harry I was asked to perform for him by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity. Playing Happy Birthday is something easy for me to do and I thought it would be really nice to put a smile on some peoples’ faces, during this difficult time.

BCSgt Carter

BCSgt Carter joined the Royal Marines Band Service in 1982 and has had a varied career. He is currently a member of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Plymouth, but he has also been part of the Staff Band of the Royal Marines at Deal, in Kent, and the Commando Training Centre Band at Lympstone. He has also served as an instructor at the Royal Marines School of Music.

In 1997 he deployed with HMS Illustrious for the Ocean Wave deployment and took part in the Hong Kong handover ceremony. He later returned to HMS Illustrious as the volunteer band instructor. His role included a number of other duties, such as acting as the helmsman on the bridge. 

BCSgt Carter joked: “I still claim to be the finest aircraft carrier driving, saxophonist in the world.”

During the Second Gulf War BCSgt Carter was deployed on the hospital ship, RFA Argus, in the Royal Marines Band Service secondary role, employed as a casualty handler in intensive care.

He said: “The Second Gulf War was life-changing for me, seeing so many people severely injured. I’ve also been to Ethiopia and saw people that are really poor. That also made me have a re-think of my own life and I realised how lucky I am.”

Being part of the Royal Marines Band Service has allowed BCSgt to achieve a school-boy ambition. 

He said:  “When I was about 11 I went on a trip to the Albert Hall with my school band and I thought then that one day I’d like to play a solo on that stage. Years later I got my chance playing in the Mountbatten Festival of Music, when I performed the Pink Panther.

“I remember at the time looking up to the alcove where I had first stood as that school-boy. I’ve played regular solos since then and it’s a great feeling to be playing individually.”

As well as his duties with the Royal Marines Band, BCSgt Carter also teaches music to young people in schools for a Plymouth-based charity Plymouth Music Accord. So far one of his students has gone on to study at Oxford, two have joined the Royal Marines Band Service and a few others have gone to university to become music teachers themselves.

In recognition of his long and dedicated service BCSgt Carter was presented with the Meritorious Service Medal in 2010. He said: “The Band Service is truly exceptional. I became friends with a World War Two musician, who has sadly now passed away, but he said although we were far better musicians that in his day, the ethos of the Band Service had not changed. It’s great to be able to play music and bring joy to a lot of people.”