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Drum corps competition in Amsterdam

Drum corps competition in Amsterdam

In the 1940s the Amsterdam area could boast of several drum and bugle corps.

In the 1940s the Amsterdam area could boast of several drum and bugle corps. The organizations were led by local musicians and taught marching by military veterans.

The young women of the St. John’s Fife and Drum Corps looked sharp in blue and gold uniforms while the co-educational Polish National Alliance (P.N.A.) Drum and Bugle Corps took the field wearing maroon and white.

The two musical organizations came from adjacent Polish neighborhoods. Park Hill was home to the St. John’s Corps, named for the Catholic Church then located there. Originally, the group was known as the Seventh Ward Fife and Drum Corps.

The P.N.A. Hall is at Reid and Church Streets and most of its members were drawn from the parish of St. Stanislaus Church. One of the P.N.A. buglers, Frank Ratka, went on to a career as business manager for symphony orchestras in Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma City and Atlanta.

Another martial music group of the 1940s was the all-female Fort Johnson Fife and Drum Corps, who wore bright red uniforms.

The groups competed against each other and corps from out of town at Sanford Field, now Veterans Field on Locust Avenue. The Tioga Cadets from Johnstown were tough competitors who wore dressy black uniforms. Troy had a corps that dressed in green, the Mighty Callahan.

The St. John’s and P.N.A. drum corps played at parades out of town including New York City. The St. John’s corps sometimes traveled to Fort Smith near Peekskill where Company G of the National Guard from Amsterdam was stationed.

Marge Vertucci Habla was filling in as a flag bearer with the Fort Johnson Fife and Drum Corps during one Memorial Day parade in the 1940s. Habla and majorette Grace Bender had received conflicting marching orders.

Habla took a turn and starting marching toward the Old Fort, with soldiers saluting along the way. However, the music was getting fainter. Behind Habla, Bender had not taken the turn and was leading the instruments in a different direction.


Percy Cudmore, one of my uncles, was born in Torrington, England in 1905 and lived in Amsterdam most of his life, except for time spent in Philadelphia and service with the U.S. Army in World War II in Italy and elsewhere. He worked at Keller Plumbing and Heating and Amsterdam Memorial Hospital. He died in 1975.

Percy was a great bowler who passed on his love of the sport to one of his sons, Roger Cudmore, who now lives in North Greenbush.

“It was a common practice to wear a tie and long-sleeved shirt to bowl in those days,” Roger said in commenting on a picture of his father holding a bowling ball and wearing a tie in 1939.

Roger added, “My recollection of going with my Dad to (Tony Griffin’s) Wil-Ton Lanes in Amsterdam in the fifties was that the ‘tie thing’ must have become old hat as I don’t remember the bowlers wearing ties. I do remember that each team wore bowling shirts with their name on the front and the sponsor’s name on the back.”

Women bowlers also dressed appropriately. Roger produced a bowling team photo of his mom, Pansy Keller Cudmore, and her twin sister, Daisy Keller Sager, with three other women. Roger said, “The women are all wearing dresses, which of course match!”

Roger has rolled many perfect games, but said his father apparently never scored 300 in one game as such scores were rare in those days. “I think his high score was 289 which meant that he got the first ten of the twelve strikes needed for a perfect game,” Roger said.

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