Six-month trial led to 50-year career in military bands for Bransgore man
A MILITARY bandsman who was given a six-month trial having never played an instrument before in his life has finally retired after 50 years of music.
Henry Hookings, from Bransgore, enlisted as a 15-year-old in the Royal Green Jackets and since then he has toured the world, played for royalty, and faced active service in the Gulf War.
His story began when, as a teenager, he would watch as every day the regiments’ band would play in the parade square at the Rifle Depot in Winchester.
He told the A&T: “I thought they were wonderful. One day the bandmaster came up to me and asked me if I played anything.
“I said, ‘no’ – but he still took me into a room and while he played a few notes on the piano I had to sing them.
“Then I had to tap out a few rhythms and he told me, ‘Well you’re not tone deaf so we will give you a sixth-month trial'.”
That was the start of Mr Hookings' long and distinguished career which saw him playing for the Queen five times and also for Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
As a saxophonist it also saw him travel all over the world, appearing in military tattoos and festivals and playing at the Royal Albert Hall.
He said: “The band gave me the chance to travel a lot more than if I had just been an ordinary soldier. It has taken me all over Europe, Canada, and the USA.
“It has been absolutely marvellous. I feel very privileged. It’s funny to think that it has lasted so long seeing as I was only given a six-month trial at first.”
Alongside playing in the band, Mr Hookings was also a regular soldier seeing active service in the 1991 Gulf War.
He said: “In World War 2 musicians were stretcher bearers and then became medics.
"In the military you are always a soldier first and whatever trade – be it musician, solicitor, teacher – second.”
Mr Hookings also worked as a medic during the troubles in Northern Ireland where he drove ambulances.
He also experienced tragedy when several soldiers he knew well were murdered in the 1982 IRA atrocity at Regents Park.
A bomb planted at the bandstand exploded killing seven men.
Mr Hookings said: “Some of them I had known since my junior days, as teenagers. It was an awful thing to happen.”
After spending 25 years with the Royal Green Jackets, which involved guard duty at Buckingham Palace, Mr Hookings left the military.
But he then joined the Waterloo Army Reserves Band. It was at this time he and wife, Caroline, moved to Bransgore from Harrogate.
He came out of retirement after a few years to join the Army Air Corp where he served for nine years as a Warrant Officer.
After leaving that regiment he once again started playing with the Waterloo Army Reserves band until he recently retired after a total of 50 years' service to music.
He said: “You have to retire from the army at 65 so I had no choice. It is a bit sad but I am still continuing to play with the RJSoulcoasters band and the New Forest Dance Band.
“Before the lockdowns, the New Forest Dance Band performed at care homes all over the area – something I am looking forward to doing again.”
Retiring from the military band will give Mr Hookings, who runs New Forest Stove Installations, the chance to enjoy his passion for paragliding which he often does off Barton clifftop.