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Drum Major Stuart Sutton
Late Coldstream Guards and the Honourable Artillery Company

by Jamie Wallis
Honorary Secretary
The Guards Division Corps of Drums Association

Stuart Sutton was born on 27th October 1935 in Hornsey, North London, the younger brother to his sister Jane.  He went to school at St Mary’s, Clapham, South London. Following Stuart’s suggestion that he might join the Army Cadets, he was persuaded by his mother to actually join the Coldstream Guards as a boy soldier.  She thought it would keep him out of trouble, and she could also let his room. Stuart was the 4th generation to serve in the regiment.  On his 15th birthday in 1950 he signed on as a Drummer Boy.  Three days later he arrived at Pirbright to commence his initial training. It was decided that his lean frame would not support the addition of a side drum so he was given a piccolo to learn, an instrument he was to play continuously for the next 71 years.

On completion of his training, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion’s Corps of Drums in London.  In February 1952 he took part in King George VI’s State Funeral.  About this time, Stuart was selected to be part of the choir that provided the backing for Vera Lynn’s version of Auf Wiedersehen.  It reached the number one spot in both the American and British charts.  He was paid the princely sum of £1, although Vera received considerably more.

Around this time both the Korean War, and the first Suez crisis were active.  Stuart was posted to the 1st Battalion and sent to El Ballah in Egypt for two years. In June 1953, whilst stationed in Egypt, he took part in what must have been the earliest Coronation Parade for Elizabeth II.  The actual parade was held at 05.00 am to avoid the noon-day sun and took place during a sandstorm. 

In 1955 Stuart was posted to Germany and was promoted to Lance Corporal.  During this time, he was involved in the 100 miles in four days Nijmegen Route March.  In 1958 he was promoted to sergeant and re-joined the 2nd Battalion.  A year later was sent to Kenya for a tour.  He was given the opportunity to serve in the King’s African Rifles as an instructor, which was a two-year roving brief.  This involved training the countries’ Bands and Drums, for which he was well suited.  In 1962 he returned to the UK and was posted to Chelsea Barracks to prepare for yet another Trooping the Colour.  After the 1963 Trooping the Colour, having served in the Coldstream Guards for 13 years, he made the decision to leave the Regular Army.

Later on in 1963 he joined the Honourable Artillery Company Corps of Drums as a Drummer and was thus able to continue playing his flute.  In January 1965 he took part in the State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, stating that it was a long march around the streets of London, with arms reversed.  In 1973 Stuart was promoted Drum Major.  Having held the post for a few years he continued serving in the Corps of Drums until March 1994, a total of 31 years.  During his time with the Drums, he travelled to Boston (twice) Canada, Cyprus, Germany, France, Malta, Netherlands and Pirbright (many times). 

From 1994, Stuart continued to play his flute and at the time of his death he was still an active member of 4 Corps of Drums, as well as Hon Treasurer to all of them.  He was a great advocate of the Corps of Drums movement, as a writer and arranger of military music, and a great instructor to scores of Drummers.  He was also called upon to help train Drummers in the regular Army. This included Drummers from the Grenadier Guards, the Welsh Guards, the Royal Anglian Regiment, and young Air Training Corps cadets.

During his combined service (Regular and TA) he took part in every major musical pageant/tattoo in Great Britain, from the Royal Tournament to the Edinburgh Tattoo, and a number of football cup finals.  He also paraded for every Repatriation convoy that passed through the town of Royal Wootton Bassett.  In November 2019 he attended his 72nd Remembrance Sunday Parade, only missing one in 1962 due to influenza.  In recent years he also took up the ukulele, playing with a small group of other players calling themselves ‘The Barbury Plonkers’.

In retirement from the Army, having qualified as an Associate of the Institute of Financial Accountants, Stuart worked for the Army and Navy Group, which later became a member of the House of Fraser.  When he retired in 2000, he boasted that during his 33 years of loyal service he only had two days off sick.  Apart from his love of playing military music he was a great walker.  His target for each year was to walk more than 2,000 miles, as well as raising money for various charities.  This included the coast-to-coast walk across England from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay a total of 109 miles.  On his 70th birthday, in October 2005 he did the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, a gruelling 25-mile hike over the highest peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.  Twenty-four and a half miles, to be completed in 12 hours. He did it again two days later, this time making sure he received his official certificate.  His best walking record was 3,033 miles completed in 2012.

Stuart died at home on 3rd July 2021 at the age of 86. On 4th August 2021 a combined Corps of Drums, 25 strong, played at Stuart’s funeral and later on at his wake.  Stuart will be a great loss to the many people he kindly helped through his life’s journey.  He can now lay his flute down after a job well done.  To quote the former HAC Drum Major Greg Tunesi, BEM, when ending Stuart’s eulogy: ‘A truly special friend, an outstanding flute player and a loyal and totally committed soldier, ‘Second to None’ sums up Stu perfectly’.

With additional input from Greg Tunesi, BEM

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