Perth 2004

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The Ceremony

of

Beating The Retreat

 

The drummers call, sounding of the bugle and lowering of flags

are relics of ancient military customs whereby, at dusk, a drummer beats a tattoo recalling the soldiers to their quarters. There are many variations in procedures down the years and sometimes a corps of drums, or pipes and drums, marched through the main street or around the walls of the town or garrison. It was a curfew for soldiers and sometimes townsfolk as well.

It is recorded that when our troops were serving in Flanders during the reign of King William III, the innkeepers were obliged to turn off the beer at retreat and that the origin of the word 'tattoo' stems from the dutch "doe den tap toe" (turn off the beer).

The word "taptoe" is still used in the Netherlands today.

In those days sentences of death or mutilation for stealing were common and soldiers did not escape the savagery of the judicial system. For instance, the Duke of Cumberland in 1745 ordered that "Soldiers who take their arms out of the bell tents after Retreat to suffer death".

As law, order and enlightment superseded barbarity and regiments acquired other musical instruments, the beating of retreat gradually became a spectacle, an entertainment for the townsfolk and an aid to recruiting, and there is no doubt that the great military tattoos sprang from this source. Probably the first of these was ordered by HRH The Duke of Connaught for Her Majesty Queen Victoria at the Royal Pavilion, Aldershot, in 1894 when massed military and pipe bands played before Her Majesty for an hour.

The sounding of Retreat in barracks nowadays has a happier connotation. It generally marks the end of the soldier's working day when he is free to go forth - also the beer is turned on, not off. Nevertheless, the drummer's call, airs on the bagpipes, the lowering of flags and posting of sentries are a part of a soldier's daily routine to this day.


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