Tributes have been paid to a popular Salvation Army band leader who has died aged 96.

John Colbert held a number of roles with the Salvation Army including bandsman, young people’s band leader, deputy songster (choir) leader, songster, corps secretary and assistant scout leader. 

John, died peacefully on Monday, April 15, just five days short of his 97th Birthday. 

He performed both in Blackburn and Doncaster during his life and his family had links with the organisation hailing back to the 1800s.

When the Salvation Army opened in Blackburn in 1878, four years before the local Salvation Army band was formed, it met with strong resistance from the ‘Skeleton Army’ who opposed and disrupted The Salvation Army's marches against alcohol.

One of those members protesting locally was John’s maternal grandad Richard Woods. 

The story goes that one evening Richard attended a Salvation Army meeting and everything changed overnight for him, the Woods and subsequently the Colbert family. 

As a direct result, after his birth on April 20, 1927, John was dedicated (Christened) by his parents Ruth and Walter on May 15, 1927, and so started a lifelong link with the Army with both John and his elder brother Clifford eventually playing cornet and euphonium respectively in the Blackburn band in later life. 

At the age of seven, John was playing in the Blackburn Young People's Band. 

At 18 he was Assistant Scout Leader, at 21 YP Band Leader, and having transferred to Doncaster for work around 1954, he was commissioned as deputy songster (choir) leader aged 29.

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Music and the Army were in John’s blood and he often led meetings when the band were visiting various parts of the country. 

In Doncaster, his work took him around South Yorkshire and beyond as an Electrical Engineer Surveyor. 

It is where he and wife Ellen started their own family.  His firstborn was Paul and four years later Wendy came into the world and the whole family would attend the Army. 

However, both John and his wife Ellen missed the hills of Lancashire, the Ribble Valley and the friends and family they had left behind. 

John moved back to Blackburn just before retirement which saw him becoming Corps Secretary in 1995 and he was involved in the refurbishment of the Blackburn Salvation Army hall.

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John was also an apprentice aged around 16 during World War II and was one of just a handful of men keeping the trams running in Blackburn during that period when he worked for Blackburn Transport.

He was also the last surviving member of the Blackburn Salvation Army Band which played during the war period. 

John lived out the last eight years of his life in Birchmere Care Home in Solihull having moved there when his wife Ellen was taken into care and subsequently died. 

The night before his death, a stream of carers went into his room over the hours to say their own goodbyes to a ‘true gentleman who they had all got to know personally and help care for’.

With his son Paul holding his hand, his last memories would have been of the Salvation Army songs ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’.

Having planned his own funeral many years ago at his request, the Salvation Army put together a band of approximately 20 players to accompany the songs at the funeral and to also play music. 

He has also asked for a Salvation Army March ‘Emblem of the Army’ to be played by this band as the coffin left en route to Pleasington Cemetery and Crematorium. 

His wish was to be cremated in Blackburn with his ashes interred in the family grave in Great Harwood.

John’s funeral took place on Wednesday.

With contributions from Paul Colbert