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Banding together in times of war

The traditional Anzac Day performance brought back many memories for a trio of Deniliquin Municipal Band members

May 2, 2014 3:52am

Russ Fisher, Bill Gordon and Les Fly enjoy a laugh on Anzac Day. The trio have been playing Anzac Day with the Deniliquin Municipal Band since the 1940s.


In September 1945, after World War II had ended, Russ Fisher and Les Fly were among the Deniliquin Municipal Band members who played for soldiers returning home from the war.

There were several trips to Barham to welcome home the troop trains and a late night performance at the Deniliquin Railway Station to welcome back the hometown soldiers.

On the other side of the country, Bill Gordon was still serving in the army, where he was also a bugler.

Almost 60 years later, all three men were performing as part of the local band at Friday’s Anzac Day service in Deniliquin.

‘‘The band kept going right through the war,’’ Russ said.

‘‘I was 13 when I joined, in September 1945. Ron Wharton and I started at the same time and I started on cornet – I’ve been on the cornet ever since.

‘‘I had only been a member a short time when the soldiers started arriving home.

‘‘There was a swell of patriotism in playing for the soldiers as they got home, and you could tell they were pretty thrilled to be home.’’

Les originally tried to join the band when he was 13, but due to a lack of instruments available it was two years later in 1943 that he actually got his wish.

His clearest memory of the band during war time was the celebrations when the war was officially declared over.

‘‘The day the war ended, on August 15, and the word had got around, bandmaster Clarrie Diash decided to take us all out. He used to put us on the back of a flat bed truck, as many as he could fit.

‘‘On this day he rounded up as many of us as he could and we played music up and down the streets.’’

Bill, the oldest Deniliquin Municipal Band member, was still stationed at an island off Darwin when Russ and Les were playing for the soldiers’ return home. He had returned from New Guinea months early, but was assigned to one last duty.

He was 22 when he arrived back to Deniliquin and rejoined the Deniliquin Municipal Band, 10 years after originally becoming a member.

‘‘I joined the band in 1936,’’ he said.

‘‘I started on the cornet too, which came in handy and I became a bugler in the army.

‘‘I was given the privilege of performing The Last Post at least three times in New Guinea.’’

All three men say the camaraderie within the band, and the talented band members, are reason enough to stay involved.

They each attribute the success and enjoyment people have in the band to current bandmaster Ian Bathgate.

‘‘We’ve got a great bandmaster and we’re blessed with the band we have.

It will be hard to find a bandmaster like him again, particularly one so musically versatile,’’ Russ said.

‘‘He’s a tower of strength,’’ Bill added.

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