Bramwell Coles was the son of Salvation Army officers, who were stationed at Cambridge corps (UK), when he was born. At only five years of age his mother passed away, but she had already made a deep impression on him of her love of God. Soon after, the family moved to London and he attended Chalk Farm corps, becoming a member of the Senior Band as a teenager. He became well known for his prowess as an E-flat alto saxophone player (the band having a sextet of saxophonists in those days).
Music soon became his passion, with his boyhood hero being John Philip Sousa, the great American march writer. He tirelessly studied and practised writing harmony and counterpoint so it is not surprising, perhaps, that in 1909 he won first prize in a march-writing competition for his march, ‘Chalk Farm’, being heavily influenced by Sousa’s work. Richard Slater commented on the piece, saying ‘…the prize goes to one who deserves it.