Photo by John Hawkins ©2001
On two successive evenings each year in June a magnificent pageant of military music, precision drill and colour takes place on Horse Guards Parade in the heart of London when the Massed Bands of the Household Division carry out the Ceremony of Beating Retreat.
It is an unforgettable evening as 300 musicians, drummers and pipers perform this age-old ceremony. The Retreat has origins in the early days of chivalry when beating or sounding retreat pulled a halt to the days fighting, a return to camp and the mounting of the guard for the night. Today, Beating Retreat, has become a major event in the Armys ceremonial calendar, delivering an evening of spirited marches as well as poignant and evocative hymns and anthems of special significances to our fighting forces everywhere.
The salute is taken by Her Majesty The Queen or another member of The Royal Family.
The participants of Household Division Beating Retreat are drawn from the bands of the two Household Cavalry Regiments and the five Foot Guards Regiments which make up the Household Division.
The Massed Bands of The Royal Marines have also been Beating Retreat on Horse Guards Parade approximately every three years since 1960 to celebrate the birthday of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Captain General Royal Marines.
The Royal Marines Musical Spectacular takes place every other year and the next occasion will be in the summer of 2014 when the Royal Marines will be celebrating their 350th anniversary.
Origins of Beating Retreat
One of the first references to the custom of Retreat is in the 'Rules and Ordynaunces for the Warre' dated 1554, where it is called 'Watch Setting'. In 1727 Humphrey Bland's 'Treatise of Military Discipline' stated: 'Half an hour before the gates are to be shut, generally at the setting of the sun, the Drummers of the Port Guard are to go upon the ramparts and beat a Retreat to give notice to those without that the gates are to be shut.'
There appeared to be some confusion between Retreat and another custom of 'Tattoo' which was a beating of drums within the billeting areas to order the troops to their quarters. Twenty years later, whilst in Flanders during the war of the Austrian succession, The Duke of Cumberland made the first clear distinction between Retreat and Tattoo, when he ordered 'The Retreat is to be daily at Sunset and the Tattoo is to be beat at a later hour as ordered by the Commandants of individual encampments'.
The original call of Retreat was beaten by drums alone, and it was some years before fifers were added to play tunes. The bugle came later still and the present ceremony of having a band parade is a modern innovation to add spectacle. The ceremony of Beating Retreat in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines rose to importance in the 1930s when the then Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir William Fisher KCB, CVO, chose it as an impressive spectacle to perform when his Fleet visited foreign ports. The Massed Bands of the Fleet were added to the Corps of Drums and the ceremony was concluded with the bugle call Sunset as the White Ensign was lowered.
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Please note: This is not an official website. Please check official sources for up to date information about military events. The HQ London District official webpage is at: http://www.army.mod.uk/structure/28212.aspx
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