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Thomas Bidgood, 'Sons of the Brave' and
Philip R. Morris

In 1880, a painting by Philip R. Morris ARA (1838-1902), depicting the unusual subject of red-uniformed boys of the Royal Military Asylum and entitled 'Sons of the Brave', was exhibited at the Royal Academy. The canvas portrayed an impressive scene. Boys of the RMA band of the Chelsea Institution were shown emerging from the portico of the main building. Members of the band in their scarlet-jacket uniforms led by their Drum Major were gathered at the main entrance of the Asylum surrounded by a number of widows dressed in black and clutching the hands of their children. In the foreground of the canvas, a uniformed boy is to be seen gently ushering a girl with a hoop out of the path of the advancing band.
   In its 30 October 1880 issue, the Graphic Magazine reproduced a black and white copy of 'Sons of the Brave', explaining that they were the orphan boys of soldiers of the Royal Military Asylum, Chelsea, from the painting by Philip R. Morris being exhibited at the Royal Academy. The painting was much admired and the Graphic report brought more visitors than might otherwise have attended.
   Philip Richard Morris was born in Devonshire and began painting while doing manual work. At the age
At the age of 17 he entered the Royal Academy School and enjoyed some success as a portrait painter in oils. Although he exhibited at the RA and various London galleries, his portraits excel in Victorian sentimentality.[1] His 'Sons of the Brave' canvas, while showing traces of maudlin sentiment, certainly struck a chord with the public.
   The earliest known use of the 'Sons of the Brave' phrase has been traced to The Massachusetts 'Song of Liberty' published in Boston in the autumn of 1768 and occurs in the first verse:

Come swallow your bumpers, ye Tories, and roar,
That the Sons of fair Freedom are hamper'd once more;
But know that no Cut-throats our spirits can tame,
Nor a host of Oppressors shall smother the flame.
In Freedom we're born, and, like Sons of the brave,
Will never surrender, But swear to defend her,
And scorn to survive, if unable to save.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the phrase that became the epithet closely associated with the Duke of York's Royal Military School, originated in revolutionary America. The same phrase appears in the second verse of Robert Hannahill's 'Wallace's Lament', set to the tune 'Maids of Arrochar' published in 1843.

Farewell, ye dear partners of peril! Farewell!
Tho' buried ye lie in one wide bloody grave,
Your deeds shall ennoble the place where ye fell,
And your names be enroll'd with the sons ofthe brave.
But I, a poor outcast, in exile must wander,
Perhaps, like a traitor, ignobly must die!
On thy wrongs, 0 my country! indignant I ponder.
Ah! wo to the hour when thy Wallace must fly!

It is easy to understand how the phrase came to be attached to the young boys, all sons of soldiers, in the care of the RMA. In the same way that the Asylum was known as the Duke of York's School long before 1892, when the institution was renamed the Duke of York's Royal Military School, the 'sons of the brave' label might have been in common use well before the Morris painting was exhibited. Because there is no written record of the phrase being in use before 1843, one has to assume that it was originated by the author of 'Wallace's Lament', Robert Hannahill. Once applied to the boys of the Chelsea School, however, it became fixed in the public mind and so closely associated with the Duke of York's School that it is no surprise that it would be adopted as a motif for use in the School's emblem.
   In 1898, Thomas Bidgood (1858-1925) composed the now well-known march 'Sons of the Brave', which was published the following year by Boosey and Hawkes Publishers.[2] The march became an instant success and proved hugely popular among military bands and the public alike. The public's immediate acceptance of the march established Bidgood as a popular composer of marches. Others followed:'Knight Errant' (1901); 'The Lads in Navy Blue', 'Merry Soldiers' and 'Silent Heroes' (1909); 'The British Legion' and 'A Call to Arms' (1912); 'My Old Kentucky Home' and 'On to Victory' (1917), and 'Vimy Ridge' (1921). During his productive life, Bidgood composed a wide range of music, dances and orchestral works, including the intermezzo 'Honoraria' and 'A Motor Ride'.
   Having asked Major-General John Battersby, the commandant of the Duke of York's School, for permission to dedicate his march to the School, the composer's name became strongly linked to the School for the rest of his life. The School Chronicle of December 1899 recorded that:

A spirited march entitled 'Sons of the Brave' dedicated to the boys of the Duke of York's Royal Military School has just been published, lately composed by Thomas Bidgood, Bandmaster of the 4th VB Essex Regiment. It is right, tuneful and well adapted to the march, in fact it has often enlivened the battalion on its way through streets, and even the cab horses like it. The frontispiece is an admirably executed representation of Mr Phil Morris' picture and is alone well worth the money. Note, Bandmaster Thomas Bidgood was an ex-Dukie.

The note that Bidgood had been a pupil of the Duke of York's school has misled biographers ever since. Not only is he credited with being a former pupil, but he made the list of ex-Dukies who became bandmasters or directors of music.
   It is of course speculation that biographers and anthologists have taken the Chronicle report as accurate and firmly credited Bidgood with being a pupil of the Duke of York's School. The following quotation is typical of notes that appeared on dust
covers of vinyl records. The excerpt quoted below is from the 'March Music Notes' written by Norman E. Smith in 1986 and published by Program Note Press of Lake Charles, Louisiana: 'He (Bidgood) learned to play violin and clarinet, playing the latter in the band of the Duke of York's Military School [italics added], and he also sang in the St. John Church Choir.' [3] A family researcher, Simon Shreeve, in correspondence in 1998 with the Bursar of the Duke of York's School, LieutenantColonel W. Spreadbury,[4] reported that 'Mr. Spreadbury was emphatic that in the School's 200-year history there had only been one pupil named Bidgood.' Perhaps so, but this was not proof that Bidgood had not been at the School, either at Dover or in the Chelsea establishment.[5] Thomas Bidgood could have been, for instance, a member of the School staff or, possibly, a teacher-student in training when the RMA served as a 'Normal School' for training of army schoolmaster sergeants. In any case, either as a member of the staff or as a student schoolteacher, Bidgood's name might have appeared on the census returns for 1881, 1891 or even 1901.
   A close examination of the RMA admissions registers, census returns and other sources has revealed with some accuracy the details of Thomas Bidgood's early life. The new information also leaves open the intriguing question of how the composer chose 'Sons of the Brave' as the name of one of the most well-known marches in the British military march repertoire.
   Reviewing first the admissions ledgers,[6] Bidgood's year of birth is reliably accepted as 1858.[7] At that time, students were admitted between the ages of 5 and 11 years. Bidgood should therefore have been in the Asylum in 1863 at the earliest and 1869 at the latest and ready for discharge in 1874-5. Bidgood would have been at the RMA in 1863 at the earliest and would have been listed in the 1871 census. A check of the register for that period and a separate check of the 1871 census shows no evidence that any Bidgood was at the RMA as a boy, student or member of the staff.
   Further, a prerequisite for admission to the Asylum was that the father of the applicant was either a serving soldier or an orphan of a regular soldier who had a minimum of four years' military service. Linda Rhodes (see note) has provided a reliable biographical note on Thomas Bidgood, on which the following is based.

Thomas Bidgood, born 7 October 1858 in Woolwich, Kent, was the son of William John Bidgood, a master plumber, and his wife Jane, nee Williams. In his youth, Thomas Bidgood sang in the choir of St John's Church. He studied the violin under the tutelage of Signor Erba at the London Academy of Music. As a boy, he attended concerts given by the band of the Royal Artillery, as a result of which he studied various wind instruments. He joined the band of the 9th Kent Artillery Volunteers in which he played the althorn and E flat bass.[8] Later, he became bandmaster of the Beckton Band of the Gas, Light and Coke Company. (He was an employee of the Becton Gasworks.) Later still, he served as the bandmaster of several bands in east London.[9]

Although there is clearly no direct connection between Bidgood and the School, circumstantial evidence that he had a close relationship with the School is strong. His naming his first march 'Sons of the Brave' with permission of the Commandant is confirmation of his contact with the School. He might well have known of the Institution through the many Dukies who entered the London market, which was always ready to accept accomplished musicians. He must also have known of, even seen and been inspired by, the Morris painting. It is unlikely that he first composed the march then searched around for a suitable title.
   Bidgood's march, following on the heels of the Morris painting, was not the end.
Indeed, the march more than the painting projected the epithet on to the public consciousness. The melody became so popular that Lord Roberts on entering Pretoria at the head of 44,000 troops in June 1900 is said to have had the massed bands of the regiments play 'Sons of the Brave' at the raising of the Union Jack and subsequent march past of the troops. [10] There is no written or published evidence, however, that 'massed bands' of the British force entering Pretoria did play the march. [11] 'Sons of the Brave' inspired other creations. In 1901, G. H. Andrews wrote the words of the hymn 'Sons of the Brave' for the centenary of the Duke of York's School. These were set to music by J. H. Maunder and became the School hymn, which has been sung ever since.
   In Australia, Bidgood's march became an all-time favourite and was so popular that in 1914 it was adopted as the signature tune of the (Australian) National Service Brigade. A few years earlier, Stan Leigh, an employee of Palin's Music Store, Sydney, wrote words to Bidgood's 'Sons of the Brave' march. The time frame for the song would be 1900-2 because it was in the repertoire of Curtis D' Alton (1857-1911) a music hall entertainer who specialised in patriotic songs: 'England Home and Victory', 'The Lads of Merry England', 'The Last of the Boys', 'Sons of England' and 'Sons of the Brave'. [12] The Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson [13] (1882-1961) recorded the song for HMV in 1932. For anyone familiar with the 'Sons of the Brave' march, the verse and chorus of the Australian version will easily fall into place:

When the bugle sounds the clarion call
From the countryside they're rallying all,
Ready to dare and serve what'er befall.
Sons of the brave, the nation's pride,
Side by side the boys are swinging along
With a cheery smile and rollicking song;
To the battle's van they'll soon belong
Glorious victory to decide.

We're marching, marching, marching away
Step by step and side by side
On the road that leads to victory;
Sons of the brave and the nation's pride.

Sad hearts are left and homes bereft
Of love and life and laughter;
They go to claim a hero's name
In freedom's call to conquer.
And who will say within you stay their heritage's glory;
Oh, in golden words their name engrave
All hail the bravest of the brave.

On the homeward road they're marching along
Not a voice is heard in rollicking song
For to the battlefield their thoughts belong.
Sons of the brave, the nation's pride,
When the roll is called there's many a name
Never answers though they call it again
Honour is death for them: a hero's name;
Sons of the brave the nation's pride.

An interesting coda to this remarkable story of the Morris painting and Bidgood's march is the Oboe Sonata No. 2 by composer John Gardner. The work was commissioned by and dedicated to George Caird, who performed it on a BBC Radio 3 programme in 1987, since when it has become a classic in the modern oboe repertoire. The Sonata is in four movements and the second movement makes reference to phrases from Bidgood's 'Sons of the Brave' march, which was a favourite of Gardner from his own time as a bandmaster.
   Thomas Bidgood died on 1 March 1925 at 162 Harringay Road, Tottenham, London. The death certificate dated 3 March 1935 stated the cause of death to be due to 'Gas poisoning. Suicide while of unsound mind.' It was a sad end for one of the British Army's most original and prolific march composers.
Artist at work: Dissecting Philip R. Morris
by Peter Goble
Three versions of the Sons of the Brave painting by Philip R. Morris are known to exist, but there might be more. One is on the premises of the property formerly occupied by the Royal Military Asylum, King's Road, Chelsea, a stone's throw from the Royal Pensioners Hospital. The other two are in the possession of the Duke of York's Royal Military School, Dover (the school moved in 1908). One, a nine feet by six feet portrait painting, hangs in the School's dining room. The other, a smaller, landscape version is hung in the school's administration building.
   The two versions, portrait and landscape, show distinct differences of composition. Close examination of the two suggests that the landscape painting is the earlier, inferior composition of the two, which leads one to speculate that Morris painted it as a writer might produce a draft text of a major work. The existence of the two paintings in the same place and the opportunity to inspect them at close quarters provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the artist.
   Anyone faced with a blank canvas, whether an amateur or professional artist, is confronted by the question: 'How am I going to fill this space?' From my own experience of carving sculptures from solid blocks of wood, I can understand the feeling of any artist who asks that question. Ideas fill the mind and, to a certain extent, can become all-consuming. Michelangelo, who worked on the same block of marble into which three earlier sculptors had sunk their chisels, spent years sketching plans to finish his David masterpiece. Philip R. Morris was beset by the same problem in planning his major work, the nine feet by six feet portrait canvas of 'Sons of the Brave'.
   Morris entered the Royal Academy School of Art in 1855 and had his work exhibited at age 21, the same year in which he was elected ARA. He was an accomplished but otherwise undistinguished artist, able to make a reasonable living from his art. At the Academy, he was taught and mastered the skill of painting with a good eye for colour, depth and composition. This is shown in much of his work, which was for a long time technically competent, but prosaic and conventional. His skill with colour and perception is evident in his rural summer scenes, two examples of which are shown here. Then he conceived the idea of painting 'Sons of the Brave', a magnificent achievement which firmly established his place and reputation among nineteenth-century artists.
Rural summer scenes by Philip R. Morris
Copyright unknown
In planning his masterwork, Morris must have made many visits to the Royal Military Asylum, Chelsea, to sketch the main building and the boys with their brass instruments and side drums, and to establish a palette. That is, artists select the colours with care and make notes on the selection for future use. A reddish range of shades to reddish yellow brick palette could be, for example, raw sienna, burnt sienna, crimson alizarin, French ultramarine, Payne's Grey, warm sepia and cadmium yellow. The artist would know or decide on what surface to paint, the size and type of canvas, its weave and the type of gesso used to prepare it. Several 'flesh tone' exercises would be done. Morris would probably have made several portraits of the boy musicians and visitors who attended the school each Sunday morning.
   Despite a diligent search for his sketch material, nothing has been found. However, the smaller, landscape version exists and that is the remarkable record that gives clues as to how Morris developed his ideas for his masterful portrait.
   That is, the artist must have produced the landscape version first. This was his 'tester' with which to set the position and animation of the musicians and onlookers. It also resulted in his final choice of palette and selection of colours and tints. Look at the landscape canvas below. On this version, the smallest stroke of red will stand out, which means that on a canvas dominated by scarlet, the one figure commanding the viewer's attention is the Chelsea pensioner on the right-hand side of the painting. This is tempered to some degree by the pensioner to the left of the left-hand column. Yet there is much for the observant eye to see.
   Setting the shadows by the drum major in the centre, the sun is at half-past five. In contrast, the sailor-suited boy is without a shadow, while the pensioner at the rear by the window appears to be in sunlight. These minor details might have been obscured by a glaze added at the last stages of the work and before the final varnish was added. Another indicator of dash and haste is that several of the female figures in black are not finished to the standard of other images. Further, there are anomalies in the crowd scenes in the V formations that require explanation for the uninformed.
   The first V appears on the left, formed by the woman in black with a child, down to the sailor boy and up to the girl holding the muff. The point of the second V is the drum major up to his left and right of the band. The third V is formed by the elderly woman with a umbrella up to the left ofthe right-hand column, then up past the pensioner. This array of Vs is like shark's teeth that give a subconscious message to the viewer, which is: 'Get out of the way. Keep clear. Don't enter the picture.' It is the prime goal of any artist to persuade the viewer to enter the picture, to become part of it.
   To this end, the artist must reconcile these defensive poses and positions, which Morris evidently did with the changes he made. Equally important-and a master stroke in our view-was his
Landscape version of the Sons of the Brave canvas in possession of the Duke of York's Royal Military School
decision to change from a landscape to a portrait canvas.The effect was striking. It was to heighten the prominence of the main entrance, which added strength and stability to the establishment. Now view the two paintings side by side and compare the differences in tone, texture and composition. Comparing the two canvasses, side by side, the differences are outstanding, excellent even.
   The composition of the landscape version is one of moderation verging on the pedestrian. The scene is static and the mass of women in black dominate the painting. The front line of cornet players has advanced down the steps and the drum major stands poised on the gravel roadway. Note, too, not just that the colour and tint of the band uniforms clash with the pensioner, but that the brickwork of the building and foreground are yellowish and autumnal.

Landascape copy of Sons of the Brave canvas
in possession of the
Duke of York's Royal Military school

Sons of the Brave Canvas by Philip R. Morris ARA
Copyright Leeds Museum and Galleries
(City Art Gallery)

Morris brings the portrait painting to life by inviting the viewer into the scene. Pigeons in flight, top and lower left, add movement, as does the girl with the hoop in the foreground being ushered by the young soldier from the path of the advancing band. There is no longer a clash of colour between the uniforms of the musicians and the pensioner. The girl at the left column has replaced the boy in the sailor suit, and the group of women in the foreground right, one holding a child, are in motion, moving out of the way of the band. Two trombone players replace cornet players at the left of the first rank. The high, robust columns help frame the canvas. There is more.
The reds are muted, the pensioner is faded and not so bright. A Union Jack appears in the background, a reminder, perhaps, of the British heritage on display.
   The band is marching forward, no doubt playing a well-known rousing march. The young soldier (with what seem over-sized gloves), moves the audience to a place of refuge, and the viewer feels a need to enter the painting and join the listeners, but with a perfect point of vantage. All that is happening is within one's sphere of vision.
In his 'Sons of the Brave' portrait, Morris produced a masterpiece that put all his previous work in the shade. His painting was remarkable for more than its technical excellence, for it was a pioneering work more than two years in the making. In 1878, the military band movement as we know it today was in its infancy and no canvasses of military bands then existed. 'Sons of the Brave' was a first.
   Morris was without question the first artist to capture the essence of a large military band formation. That the one he chanced to portray in such excellent detail was of the orphaned children of soldiers in the uniform of their fathers was a bonus that helped capture the public imagination.
The only nineteenth-century painter whose work bears comparison with Morris's 'Sons of the Brave' was Lady Elizabeth Butler (1846-1933), who specialized in painting military subjects. Interestingly, her only attempt to paint military musicians was a small work (about the size of the landscape version of 'Sons of the Brave') portraying the 12 surviving boy fifers and drummers of the 57th Foot (the Middlesex Regiment) during the Battle of Albuera in the Peninsular War in 1811.
   In any case, there is no doubt that Morris led the way in portraying a military band formation, which became a model for other artists to follow including, possibly, Lady Butler. Given the reasoning here set out, can anyone doubt that the landscape version of 'Sons of the Brave' was the 'tester' for the larger canvas? I would conjecture that Morris presented the landscape version to the Duke of York's School following completion and exhibition of his portrait version. (For the record, the Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery), which owns the Morris portrait painting, loaned it to the school for hanging in 1927.)
1 Morris's painting titled 'Friends' showing two girls in colourful smocks walking along a country lane proceeded by a white duck leading her ducklings is typical of the style of painting Morris produced for wealthy patrons.
2 According to Eileen Bidgood, widow of Harry Bidgood, interviewed by S. P. Newcomb in 1973, Harry played the melody repeatedly on a piano while his father concentrated on the chords and chromatics of the march.
3 Copyright Norman E. Smith, 1986.
4 In 1998, the Bursar was Lt-Col W (Bill) Spreadbury, himself an ex-Dukie, who had a wide knowledge of the School and its history.
5 The School was moved to new premises in Dover, Kent in 1909.
6 Male admissions to the RMA, 19 Aug. 1803-20 Aug. 1880, The National Archives (TNA), WO 143/18.
7 Established by Linda Rhodes, local studies librarian of the Barking and Dagenham Local Studies Centre.
8 According to Jan L. M. van Dinteren, a researcher specializing in military music, the composer of 'Sons of the Brave' played the clarinet in the 9th Kent Artillery Volunteers. In his 'March music notes' (published by Program Notes Press, Louisiana), N. E. Smith reports that Bidgood was the Bandmaster of the 9th Kent Artillery Volunteers, which cannot be correct as band masters are appointed under the auspices of Kneller Hall.
9 Acknowledgement is here given to Andrew Lamb, an authority on European light music who operates an extensive web site on the subject at website is the source of Thomas Bidgood's listed compositions.
10 The occupation of Pretoria is frequently referred to as the 'Relief of Pretoria'. In fact, Lord Roberts invested the city, which at the time was in the hands of the Boer Commander, General Botha, and demanded its surrender. The entire Boer Army slipped out of the city overnight and established a new defence line east of Roberts' Army.
11 The head researcher of the Anglo-Boer War Museum, Pretoria, was unable to locate in the Museum's extensive collection any newspaper reports of the music played during Roberts' take-over ceremony of the City.
12 Quoted by Michael Kilgrarriff in his Sing One of the Old Songs: A Guide to Popular Songs, 1860-1920 (Oxford, 1998).
13 It is estimated that Dawson, a contemporary of John Charles Thomas, Lawrence Tibbett and Nelson Eddy, made over 3,000 records for HMV during his long career. All told, HMV sold more than 25 million copies.
Published in the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research
Winter 2006, Volume Eighty-Four No. 340

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