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persuaded young David’s parents that he must be given a formal music education. An interview with Sir Walford Davies, Musical Director of the BBC, was arranged, which proved to be the key to a long and distinguished career. Sir Walford strongly recommended him to Dr Ernest Bullock, organist at Westminster Abbey, and it was thus that, at the age of nine, Willcocks found himself a chorister at the Westminster Choir School. He continued his education at Clifton College to which he was awarded a Music Scholarship, where he came under the brilliant but demanding tutelage of Douglas Fox. Up to that time his musical career had involved only ecclesiastical music, but Fox introduced him to a vast repertoire of secular classical composers. In 1939, Willcocks was awarded a Music Scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, but the war clouds threatened, and in early 1940 he was conscripted – joining the Northamptonshire Regiment as a Private soldier.
Having reached the exalted rank of Lance-Corporal he was selected for officer training. After spending four months at an OCTU in Wales, he was commissioned into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and posted to the 5th Battalion, which at that time was based in Welwyn Garden City as part of a counter-attack force with the task of dislodging a German landing. Sir John Carew-Pole was commanding the Battalion, and almost immediately appointed Willcocks as his Intelligence Officer, an appointment that he was destined to hold for almost five years under four commanding officers. His career as an officer nearly came to an untimely end when one night, after a dance, he was caught by the Military Police taking a group of WRNS back to their quarters in the company jeep. The unauthorised use of military vehicles and petrol was at that time regarded as a most heinous crime which merited an automatic court martial. It was only thanks to the influence of Sir John that Willcocks survived with a Severe Reprimand handed out by the GOC Southern Command – a disciplinary blot that did not greatly worry a war time subaltern.
The Battalion landed at Arramanches on 24th June, and three days later, he found himself lying in a shallow ditch under the 88mm gun of a Panther tank, its tracks not two feet from his face, while four PIATS scored repeated hits on its flanks. He was beside his newly appointed Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Atherton, when the latter was killed three days later in another tank action. Lieutenant Colonel James, his successor, was given the unenviable task on the evening of 10th July of capturing and holding a feature overlooking the River Orne known as Hill 112. The Germans regarded it as the key to the battle for Caen and had therefore planned its defence in great detail. Earlier that day, the three battalions of 129 Brigade had failed to achieve success. The Cornwalls, with the help of overwhelming artillery support captured the objective, a small wood on the summit, by about 9.00 pm, but as night fell German tanks moved into and around the wood treating its occupants in their shallow shell scrapes to a near continuous fusillade of high explosive and machine-gun fire. As dawn broke the Cornwalls faced the first of twelve concerted counter attacks by tanks and infantry, during one of which Lieutenant Colonel James was killed, only a few feet from where Willcocks was standing. Although only a Lieutenant, he immediately took over control of the battle until contact could be made with the last surviving field officer, Major Fry. His coolness and complete disregard to danger was an inspiration to those around him, and his subsequent immediate Military Cross was well merited.
At lighter moments, when out of the line, the Battalion laid on concerts at which much talent was shown. Willcocks of course always took a major part in these events, one of his party tricks being his ability to play the piano with his back to the keyboard.
On demob, in the Autumn of 1945, he returned to King’s College where one of his first actions was to enrol in a special post war degree course to read History and Economics, at the same time completing his studies towards a MusB. He attained First Class Honours in both sets of exams. Two years later he met his future wife, Rachel Blyth, whom he was auditioning for a solo part in the Cambridge Philhar- monic Society’s performance of the St Matthew Passion. Rachel did not get the part, but married him that November!
There followed the appointment as Organist at Salisbury Cathedral from 1948 to 1950, followed by that of Organist at Worcester Cathedral from 1950-1957. Those were very happy years for the young couple. His original mentor at King’s College, Boris Ord was then the Director of Music, but was suffering from a severe degener- ative disease, and in 1958 Willcocks took over from him, remaining in that appointment for the next sixteen years. Probably as a result of his outstanding achievement at King’s College, he was appointed to the pinnacle of his profession in 1974, being appointed Director of the Royal College of Music. The following ten years were the most demanding of his life. With a permanent teaching staff of some hundred of the finest musicians in the Country, and up to six hundred students spread across all the disciplines of music, the RCM was generally considered to be the seat of excellence in the world of music tuition. Apart from his enormous musical input, Willcocks was also determined to update the somewhat archaic physical premises of the College; he set about providing modern catering facilities, enlarging the library and, in close partnership with The Prince of Wales whose great grandfather had originally founded the RCM, building a new opera house. His immense work was publicly recognised in 1977 when he was conferred with a Knighthood by The Queen.
On his retirement he and Lady Willcocks returned to Cambridge, the scene of so many happy memories for both of them. Far from withdrawing from the music scene, he continued to the end of his life helping and encouraging aspiring youngsters, conducting, playing the organ and composing. He died at peace with the world after a long and full life.
Hugo White and Jonathan Coode was proud to represent the DCLI at the magnificent memorial concert held at King’s College, Cambridge, where, as one would expect, some of the most beautiful music ever written was performed in honour of this great man.
He is survived by his widow, Lady Willcocks to whom he was married for 68 years, and by two daughters, Sarah and Anne, and by a son, Jonathan (sadly, his youngest son James died in 1990) to whom we extend our sincere sympathy.
WALDEN Robert Sidney Walden of
2 Canada Close, Snettisham, Norfolk
died on 31st May 2019 at the age of
ninety six. Borne at Segeford, Norfolk,
he left school at fourteen and enlisted
in the Norfolk Regiment. In December
1943, after the surrender of the Africa
Korps at Tunis, he was transferred to
the 2nd Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s
Light Infantry which, after the severe
fighting through North Africa, was in
the process of being brought back to
full strength. He landed at Naples on
14th February 1944, disembarking
over the bottom of an overturned
Italian cruiser. The Battalion was initially deployed on Monte Ornito; the weather was vile, heavy rain alternating with snow; the rough sangars which constituted the front line gave limited protection from fire, but more none the bitter cold.
Between 11th and 13th May 1944 the 2nd DCLI was involved in the crossing of the Rapido River, a vital operation in support of the final capture of Monte Cassino by units of the II Polish Corps. As always, the Germans defended the river with their customary courage and skill, and the official history describes the action as ‘the most fiercely contested battle of the campaign”. DCLI casualties were very heavy. Amongst these were Robert Walden who had half his right foot blown off by a dreaded schue mine.
After the war he worked as a butcher’s assistant, postman and diary worker until his retirement in 1989.
He married first Lilian Patmore who died in 1982, then married Susan Marilynne Bradley who survives him.
We extend our sympathy to her and to Janice and Susan, daughters of his first marriage.

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