On May 20, 1930 -- at the beginning of the hungry 30s, an advertisement in the Beacon- Herald called for boys 10 to 18 years of age to complete a boys' band in Stratford. The band began as a commercial proposition, started by two young men who sold band instruments for Mason and Risch, a piano store at 97 Ontario St. The band was to be known as the Mason and Risch Boys Band. Founders of the band were Alfred Watts, the first band leader. Other band leaders were James Malone, Marshall Brett, Ernest House, Paul Cross, Percy Gibbons, Cliff Kelly and Jack Whiteside.
The original objective of the band had been was to become proficient enough to play in public by 1931. Not only did the band go public in the summer of 1931, but they it placed third after Vancouver and York Township at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. By 1932, they had permanent band rooms at 90 Ontario St. and the lady’s auxiliary raised $27 to buy a drum. A horn cost $50, and a euphonium was donated. Band strength stayed around 50 members, but there was a learners' group of about 25 beginners who had to pass a test before they could play with the main band and receive uniforms.
The band played at political rallies, civic events, garden parties, family reunions, tattoos, parades, music festivals, public meetings, the Canadian National Exhibition, sports events, concerts. The boys got 25 cents spending money when they played an out-of-town tattoo.
In 1941, during the Second World War, the Stratford Boys' Band became the official band of the Royal Netherlands Army, whose members were stationed in Stratford for training purposes. Seventy-six former members of the band saw active service during the war and three of the boys were killed. A special tribute was paid to them at the cenotaph in 1970 during a reunion of the Boys' Band celebrating its 40th year. Marshall Brett was general forman of the Mosquito Bomber contract during the war at Kroehlers, where they made several thousand main spars from Sitka Spruce and yellow birch veneers. His father, Edward T. Brett, had been a cabinetmaker in Stratford's furniture factories and Marsh had inherited his father's skills.
Marshall Brett died at the age of 54 in 1949. Earlier in his career he had been a Stratford fireman for 18 years, but smoke inhalation had forced an early retirement. Hundreds attended his funeral. Fifty-five former members of the Boys' Band who had served under him proceeded the cortege to the cemetery, where they played his favorite hymns and marches under the direction of Clarence Brodhagen. Hundreds of Stratford boys and later girls were trained by the Boys’ Band in more than 40 years. By Stanford Dingman