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Brand: James Tanner

Instruments of Battle

by James Tanner

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Instruments of Battle : The Fighting Drummers and Buglers of the British Army from the Late 17th Century to the Present Day

Instruments of Battle examines in detail the development and role of the British Army's fighting drummers and buglers, from the time of the foundation of the army up to the present day. While their principal weapon of war was the drum and bugle (and the fife), these men and boys were not musicians as such but fighting soldiers who took their place in the front line. The origins of the drum and bugle in the Classical Period and the later influence of Islamic armies are examined, leading to the arrival of the drum and fife in early Tudor England.

The story proper picks up post-English Civil War and the drum's period of supremacy through much of the eighteenth century army; certain myths as to its use are dispelled. The bugle rapidly superseded the drum for field use in the nineteenth century until developments on the battlefield consigned these instruments largely to barrack-life and the parade-ground. But there are surprising examples of the use of the bugle in the field through both World Wars and the story is brought up to most recent times and relegation to an almost exclusively ceremonial role.

This is all set against a background of campaigns, battles, changing tactical methods and the difficult processes of command and control on the battlefield. Interwoven is relevant comparison with other armies, particularly American and French. The wider roles of drummers, especially, as battlefield heralds, as adjuncts to recruiting and dispensers of punishment are considered, as well as the other roles they and buglers assumed, out of practicability, on the modern battlefield.

Stories of the drummers and buglers themselves provide social context to their place in the army.

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