The original ceremony of Beating Retreat is obscure, but like most military ceremonial it springs from practical necessities of war. If we talk about "Retreat" in war today, it suggests a beaten force on the run. This was not always so, and "Retreat" once meant breaking off battle when there was no longer anything to be gained. For example, as night approached both sides might order a "Retreat" to bring their troops within an encampment and would then post sentries and piquet's for the night.

 

The drum was the normal method of giving signals on the battle field and in camp and the custom developed of having a drummer beat the signal to Retreat each evening as dusk approached. This could be used to warn outlying troops to return to camp, or set the watch for the night.

 

Early records are slender and conflicting, for different customs were followed in different campaigns. The first mention is in "Rules and Ordynaunces for the Warrre", dated 1504, where it is called "Watch Stetting". In 1598 it is mentioned by Robert Barrett in his "Theorike and Practise of Moderne Warres", when the drum major of the Regiment had to "Advertise" by beat of drum those required for the watch. In 1727 it was laid down that, "half an hour before the setting of the sun the drummers of the port guards are to go upon the ramparts and Beat Retreat to give notice to those without that the gates are to be shut. The drummers will not take more than a quarter of an hour to beat retreat"."Retreat" still has a military use and Queens Regulations lay down that guards are to turn out to Retreat for inspection by the guard commanders. Retreat was often beaten by the whole Corps of Drums as part of barracks routine even after World War 1, but in barracks it is usually sounded on the bugle when the barrack guard is mounted and flags lowered."Beating Retreat" by the Corps of Drums is now only performed on special occasions, or by Bands and Corps of Drums as a public display. However, the actual "Beating Retreat" can be performed only by a Corps of drums.

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What is Beating Retreat?

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