Story: Brass and pipe bands

Page 2. Military bands, 1900 onwards

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Before 1910 New Zealand’s military bands were attached to volunteer force units. There were few regulations about the structure of bands, but garrison bands were allowed five men per volunteer company in the garrison. In 1910 the newly created Territorial Force absorbed the Volunteers. Territorial unit bands were restricted to 25 members each, all of whom had to be of military age.

Some New Zealand military bands were brass bands, while others also included woodwind instruments. Marches were an important part of the military-band repertoire. Bands also performed music, including hymns and anthems, for ceremonial occasions. In addition military bands always played popular tunes to entertain the troops and the general public.

Not grim enough

Colonel William Malone of the Wellington Regiment was outraged when the regimental band struck up a popular tune as their troop ship sailed out of Wellington Harbour on 16 October 1914. He believed that the regiment should carry out its tasks ‘grimly and quietly’ and that ‘to any right thinking soldier the striking up of our band with ... “everybody’s doing it” or some other blatant air was shocking.’1

War and peace, 1914–45

In the First World War each New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) regiment, including the Māori contingent, formed a band. Several units also had pipe bands. The NZEF bases had their own bands. New Zealand regiments initially followed the British tradition of bandsmen doubling as stretcher bearers. High stretcher-bearer casualties and the difficulty of replacing musicians meant that in the later war years bandsmen were given duties away from the front line.

At home territorial force bands continued operating, despite losing members to the NZEF. Territorial bands were kept busy performing at farewell parades and patriotic functions.

The NZEF bands were broken up after the war, with many musicians returning to territorial bands. The Royal New Zealand Air Force formed a band in 1935, giving their first public performance at a 1937 coronation parade. A Royal Marine band provided the music for the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy.

During the Second World War each army brigade formed a band. The 22nd and 23rd battalions and the artillery also had pipe bands. Brigade bands doubled as dance bands, playing the popular swing music of the 1940s.

The RNZAF band toured New Zealand, playing concerts to boost morale and raise funds. In 1944 they toured the Pacific entertaining New Zealand and US forces.

A changing repertoire

The New Zealand Army Band was founded as a traditional brass band. In 2013 it continued to be recognised as one of the world’s best marching bands. A rhythm section and vocalists were added in the 1970s, and the repertoire expanded into the genres of swing, jazz, rock and popular music. Reflecting the strong Māori involvement in New Zealand’s defence forces, the band also incorporated versions of the wero (challenge) and haka into their performances.

Surviving cutbacks – 1945 onwards

After the war there was little defence money for military bands, but some continued on a voluntary basis. The RNZAF band, disestablished in 1945, was re-formed in 1951 as a Territorial unit. In 1964 the number of army bands was reduced to seven, but the New Zealand Army Band was established to provide music of a professional standard.

In 2012 the New Zealand Defence Force disestablished seven of its 10 military bands for financial reasons. Three official military bands remained:

  • the Royal New Zealand Navy Band, a 29-strong brass/wind band; the Navy also has a Pipe and Drums Club
  • the New Zealand Army Band, a 35-strong brass band, including a rhythm section and vocalists
  • the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band (formerly known as the Central Band of the RNZAF), a 65-strong full symphonic band.

A number of the former territorial bands continued as volunteer self-funded bands. These included the 7th Battalion Band and the Royal New Zealand Artillery Band, New Zealand’s oldest military band.

  1. Quoted in John Crawford, ed., No better death: the great war diaries of William G. Malone. Auckland: Reed, 2005, p. 59. Back
How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Brass and pipe bands - Military bands, 1900 onwards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 September 2023)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 22 Oct 2014