Town’s military figures honoured with a bang

Peter Forbes at Movilla High School, Newtownards
Peter Forbes at Movilla High School, Newtownards

A musical tribute to a town’s military past will take place this weekend – exactly 100 years after one of its most famous figures was born.

A Lambeg drum, painted with images of a trio of bygone warriors from the Newtownards area, will be unveiled on Saturday to coincide with what would have been Robert Blair Mayne’s 100th birthday.

Mayne was one of the founders of the SAS, and his image is emblazoned on the drum, which belongs to Movilla High School.

It additionally bears the image of fellow SAS man Billy Hull.

Originally from Belfast, he settled in the town in the 1930s and his great-grand-daughter is a pupil at the school.

Lastly it also has the image of Thomas Trueman painted on it – a decorated World War One soldier who hailed from the town.

Teacher Peter Forbes believes that the roughly 350-pupil school is now one of only three in the Province with an official Lambeg drum.

It was painted during the summer, but it now ready to be unveiled to the wider public in all its glory.

“The kids have all seen it. But I didn’t know this about Lambeg drums – you have to have an official unveiling,” he said. “We’ve tried to make it as big as possible; we wanted to involve families and the community around us.

“We just wanted as many people as possible to see it because the Lambeg drum in this area is important to folk.”

It will happen after an exhibition on Saturday at the school on the Donaghadee Road, running from 10am to 3pm, with medals of former soldiers from the town on display.

The unveiling of the drum will be at 7pm, also in the school, and 200-300 are expected for the event featuring Ulster-Scots music (though entry will be on a first come, first served basis).

Playing the Lambeg itself will be pupil Keith Gregg, 13.

Whilst a talented drummer, he is small in stature said Mr Forbes, adding: “All you see with Keith is two legs, a massive drum and two arms going”.

In 2013 the school had raised £1,000 to purchase a replica of an early scrapbook drawn up by SAS men, offering an account of the early years of the group, and which was donated to the town’s library.

When it comes to the effect this focus on the town’s military ancestors has their pupils, 44-year-old maths teacher Mr Forbes said:“With our kids, it’s generated an interest in their family history.

“We have kids who, as part of their art projects, are doing ‘trench art’ – trying to make things out of old bits of weapons, shells, bullets.”

As to this latest act of tribute, he said: “I consider it an honour to be able to do this to carry on the memory of these three gentlemen.”