Liz Lane Commission – Holding the Hill

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Published on: August 24, 2021


Holding the Hill by Liz Lane

Holding the Hill, by Liz Lane, is written to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Imjin River, Korea, 22 – 25 April 1951, specifically the role taken by the Gloucestershire Regiment (Glosters) and in particular soldiers from the Forest of Dean. They were a close group of soldiers, many of whom on national service, had not heard of Korea and were expecting their posting to be something of a fun adventure. Throughout the music and with various melodies, I have portrayed this close sense of comradeship, whilst never leaving behind the horror of what was involved. It is impossible to do musical justice to the realities of what went on – merely to represent and honour what happened from a personal compositional perspective.

The music is in three movements and a musical reflection on some of the international and human stories of the battle; I am grateful to the many kind people who shared with me their knowledge and expertise. The first movement, Hill 235, represents the role of the Forest of Dean Glosters in action and the aftermath. The second, Hymn to the Cross is inspired by the famous Carne Cross, carved by Colonel Carne whilst imprisoned, and a fluke accident in battle with a watch which was left damaged and engraved with the sign of the cross. The third, Legacy, reflects on the soldiers’ homecoming and the legacy left by the battle.

Narration is also incorporated into the music; a poem especially written by my friend and colleague Jennifer Henderson and by Private David Gardiner 22345661 [1930-2010], who was one of the Forest of Dean Glosters and fought in action.

The first movement, Hill 235 (the hill where much of the battle took place, now known as Gloster Hill), broadly represents something of the battle itself, depicted by a musical mirage heard four times to represent the four days, followed by the unspeakably long and arduous trek to a prisoner of war camp. Chinese bugle calls were one of the resounding sounds of the battle, especially a cacophony echoed at night. This is musically reflected by heterophonic trumpets, higher woodwind and percussion, dotted around the venue. Despite assistance from various kind military music experts, it was not possible to find proof of the original bugle calls and these are therefore my own representation, slightly related to those heard in a YouTube feature [1:40] which discusses the recent revival of Chinese military bugle calls. Another aspect of the battle represented is the ordering of Drum Major Buss (pictured on the front cover) to counteract these Chinese bugle calls by playing as many British army bugle calls as he could muster, and in particular the Long Reveille; an echo of this can also be heard. Much of this movement is also built on the intervals 2, 3 and 5 (‘Hill 235’).

The second movement is a hymn based around the famous Carne cross, carved by Colonel Carne whilst in prisoner of war camp and the story of author Lynne Lambert’s uncle Private David Albert Gardiner 22345661 [1930- 2010].

During my uncle’s time in captivity, he held on to his precious watch for spiritual strength. It had been given to him by his aunt the day he left and he only wore it once – which just happened to be on the first day of battle. It smashed against the rocks as he was escaping from Castle Hill as he dived to avoid a line of bullets. The same line of bullets killed his Company Major. The impact as he crashed to the ground left a cross shape broken into the glass of the watch. He was so ill in camp from beri-beri that for a long time he could only move around on his hands and knees. He took the cross as a sign and it gave him strength to survive. [Lynne Lambert, email to the composer, 10 May].

The music juxtaposes the monotony and bleakness of life in the camp. There is also use of question and answer which represents something of the questioning and ideological indoctrination to which the prisoners were subjected. It was my dad, Bernard Lane who remembered that during his own time in national service, they were told that should they ever be captured, it is likely that one of the techniques used would be to replace a question given by the authorities with another question in the recording – whilst relating that to the first answer so that there was a twist in the concept and meaning, making it out to be something quite different. In some places I have represented this musically.

The last movement, Legacy, brings us up to date with the 70th anniversary whilst still connecting the music to the past.  It is underpinned structurally by a charity run undertaken by Maurice Brisland in memory of his Great-Uncle, Sergeant Sidney John Brisland 89375 [1925-1956]. Maurice ran a certain number of miles for five days over the exact weekend of the 70th anniversary in 2021, representing four days of battle with the fifth day signifying the soldiers’ time spent in captivity. This last movement is therefore in five sections, with the number of bars denoting the number of miles. Musical reflections on the legacy include the regimental march of the Glosters, the traditional folk tune The Kinnegad Slashers, representing the legacy of this battle (often known as the ‘forgotten battle’), and the South Korean national folk song Arirang, reflecting the appreciation of the sacrifices made on their behalf, by the people of South Korea.

Liz Lane, June 2021

Poems for narration:

Hold on where you are:
now, in the present moment,
the past has slipped away
downhill behind you.
Hold on where you stand firm,
here at the peak of history,
the sum of every generation
the Earth has ever known.

Hold on to who you are:
living breath within you,
gloriously fashioned
of intricate design.
Hold on, standing alone,
unique among the rest,
interconnected in uniform
with every fellow comrade.

Hold on to your humanity,
you who bear scars of conflict,
you whose service is protection
of the powerless and oppressed.
Hold on, you who strive for justice,
and witness only the raw
barbaric cruelty,
the inhumanity of war.

Hold on to hope, the gift
of every waking day:
a promise of freedom
and peace in all the world.
Hold on to freedom
no longer bartered in blood,
when freedom is the birthright
of every life on Earth.

Jennifer Henderson [b. 1929]


Through the Night

The forced march to death and despair
In single file for so many miles
Each night as the light was fading
With wounded men on stretchers we went
No food until next morning
The body so tired and bent
Up the mountains and down the valleys
Through the rivers, relentlessly on
We slept in the open or an old house
Down in the caves wet and cold
Travelling and dreaming of our families
And of good food and a bed
But soon that is forgotten
As another poor soldier is dead

Private David Gardiner 22345661 [1930- 2010]



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