Beating Retreat

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Beating Retreat is a military ceremony dating back to 16th century England and was first used to recall nearby patrolling units to their castle.

History[edit]

Originally it was known as watch setting and was initiated at sunset by the firing of a single round from the evening gun.

An order from the army of James II (England), otherwise James VII of Scotland dated to 18 June 1690 had his drums beating an order for his troops to retreat and a later order, from William III in 1694 read "The Drum Major and Drummers of the Regiment which gives a Captain of the Main Guard are to beat the Retreat through the large street, or as may be ordered. They are to be answered by all the Drummers of the guards, and by four Drummers of each Regiment in their respective Quarters". However, either or both orders may refer to the ceremonial tattoo.

The Massed Bands of the Household Division perform in the fireworks finale at Beating Retreat 2013.


For the first time ever, a foreign band was allowed to play at the Beating Retreat on 5 June 2008.[1] This band was that of the first Battalion Royal Malay Regiment, who had been helping to guard London, by mounting guards at the palaces.[1] Amongst their performance pieces were arrangements of number of well known pieces from Film.

The Household Division Beating Retreat[edit]

These days, most armed forces in the Commonwealth perform some ceremonial form of the retreat and it is often used as a proving test for new band members as well as a practice for difficult drill moves such as the Spin Wheel. The ceremonies generally involve the marching of a band, the firing of cannon and other decorative presentations. In many cases a castle is used as a prop or a backdrop for the parade (as in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo).

The London version takes place on Horse Guards Parade. Each year, on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings preceding Trooping the Colour, the Massed Bands, Pipes and Drums and Corps of Drums of the Household Division, supported by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and visiting military bands from other services around the world perform a sunset concert involving precision drill, horses, cannons and fireworks in time with the music. Historically, on at least one evening, a senior member of the British Royal Family has attended and taken the salute.

The 2014 event will take place at 20:30hrs on 11th and 12th June.

The concert raises money for the Army Benevolent Fund and the Household Division Charitable Funds, which provide improved welfare and opportunities to Household Division serving soldiers and veterans.

  • Note: Refer to See Also for list of Foot Guards Bands.


The Massed Bands of Her Majesty's Royal Marines[edit]

The Massed Bands of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, numbering some two hundred, perform their Beating Retreat ceremony every three years at London's Horse Guards Parade in celebration of the birthday of their Captain General, the His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. Because of its popularity, it is generally over three nights.

This pageant of military music, and precision drill dates back to the 16th century[citation needed].

The most recent event was in June 2012 in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The Royal Marines ceremony should not be confused with that of the Army which takes place every year, also in June. 4 to 5 bands belonging to the Royal Marines Band Service compose the Massed Bands for the ceremony proper.

Australia[edit]

The Australian Defence Force traditional ceremony of Beating Retreat was handed down from the British Army. The first ceremony including performance of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" was held at the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1968. Although this inaugural performance was a relatively low-key affair, the ceremony has since become an annual event at RMC and is well supported by the service community and the general public. The modern ceremony is thought to have its origins in the 16th century and combines three customs.

The first custom was originally performed by drummers only, marching on the ramparts to warn the soldiers that evening guard duties would soon commence. It also signalled soldiers outside the fortifications and labourers in the fields that the gates were about to be closed and they should retire within the walls for the night.

The second custom was practised on battlefields in past times when the fighting ceased at sunset. Following the Beating Retreat, many of the old regiments would say a prayer or sing a hymn in honour of their fallen, and the evening guard would fire three musket volleys "to put flight to the evil spirits of the enemy dead".

The final custom derives from the practice of lodging the Regimental Colour in the Colour Ensign's quarter when the evening guard was mounted. In modern times, that custom was replaced by the lowering of the national flag.

2007 ceremony[edit]

The 2007 ceremony was conducted on the nights of 27 & 28 September. It was attended by Chief of the Defence Force ACM Angus Houston and Chief of the Army LTGEN Peter Leahy.

The ceremony included parade ground marching, changing of the sentries, trooping of the Regimental Colour, inspection of the guards, firing of the evening gun, guards advance and volley firing (with the service issue Steyr AUG), evening hymn, retreat and lowering of the Australian flag, the pipers lament and marching off of the Regimental Colour.

Music was performed by an ensemble of the Royal Military College Band and the Australian Army Band Tasmania, and included "All That Jazz" from the musical Chicago, Michael Bublé's "Spider-Man Theme", Christina Aguilera's "Candyman", the Celtic instrumental "Toss the Feathers" and instrumental versions of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" and two Elvis Presley songs (in a "Tribute to the King").

The ceremony culminated with the "1812 Overture" accompanied by a battery of 105 mm Hamel light field guns, and a 5-minute fireworks display.

India[edit]

In India it officially denotes the end of Republic Day festivities. It is conducted on the evening of 29th January, the third day after the Republic Day. It is performed by the bands of the three wings of the military, the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force. The venue is Raisina Hills and an adjacent square, Vijay Chowk, flanked by the north and south block of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President's Palace) towards the end of Rajpath.

The Chief Guest of the function is the President of India who arrives escorted by the President's Bodyguards (PBG), a cavalry unit. When the President begins to arrive, a Fanfare is sounded by the trumpeters of the Brigade of the Guards on their natural trumpets, and then the PBG commander asks the unit to give the National Salute, which is followed by the playing of the Indian National Anthem, Jana Gana Mana, by the Massed Bands, and at the same time by the unfurling of the Flag of India on the flagpole right at the Vijay Chowk.

The ceremony was started in the early 1950s when Major Roberts of the Indian Army developed the ceremony of display by the massed bands in which Military Bands, Pipes and Drums Bands, Buglers and Trumpeters from various Army Regiments besides bands Navy and Air Force take part.[2]

Ceremony[edit]

Vijay Chowk (Victory Square) at Rajpath, with Secretariat Buildings in the background, New Delhi, the venue of the Beat Retreat ceremony

The ceremony starts by the massed bands of the three services marching in unison, playing popular marching tunes like Colonel Bogey March, Sons of the Brave and Qadam Qadam Badaye Ja. The Fanfare by buglers then is followed by the bands of the Indian Army marching forward in quick time, then breaking into slow time, then by the 'compound march' involving movements to form intricate and beautiful patterns. The massed military bands, again, breaks into quick time and goes back to the farthest end of Raisina Hills. Then the Pipes and Drums of the Indian Army play traditional Scottish tunes and Indian tunes like "Gurkha Brigade", Neer's "Sagar Samraat" and "Chaandni" . This band also does a compound march and formation numbers. The last bands to perform are the combined bands of the Navy and the Air Force. This part of the ceremony ends with their compound march. One such beating retreat ceremony by the Armed Forces bands was during the 1982 Asian Games New Delhi closing ceremony for which the credit goes to retired Indian Army's Music Director Late Harold Joseph, Indian Navy's Jerome Rogrigues and Indian Navy's M S Neer, one of the greatest musician, conductor, composer and instrumentalist of the Indian Armed Forces bands, who had led the massed bands at the ASIAD 82 closing ceremony.

The three band contingents march forward and take position close to the President's seat. The drummers, mostly from the pipe bands, give a solo performance, known as the Drummer's Call. A regular feature of this pageant is the last tune played before the Retreat, when the National Flag is lowered. It is the famous Christian Hymn written by Henry Francis Lyte, Abide With Me set to music by W. M. Monk and one of Mahatma Gandhi's personal hymns, and has remained part of the ceremony over the years when many other foreign tunes were phased out to make way for Indian tunes, especially during the 2011 ceremony.[3] The chimes made by the tubular bells, placed quite at a distance, creates a mesmerising ambiance.

This is followed by the bugle call for Retreat by the buglers, and all the flags are slowly brought down. The band master then marches to the President and requests permission to take the bands away, and informs that the closing ceremony is now complete. The bands march back playing a popular martial tune and the official march of the Armed Forces, Saare Jahan Se Achcha. As soon as the bands cross Raisina Hills a spectacular illumination display is set up on the North and South Blocks of the Parliament building. As the PBG's horse mounted troops arrive back in after the bands leave, the band stops as another band is stationed to play the National Anthem again as the President receives the final National Salute for the day by the PBG, before the President and the PBG depart with the bands leading the way[3][4] by then now dispersed on Rajpath leading to the Presidential residence and the Secretariat Buildings.

India/Pakistan[edit]

The Wagah border closing 'lowering of the flags' ceremony or The Beating Retreat ceremony is a daily military practice that the security forces of India (Border Security Force) and Pakistan (Pakistan Rangers) have jointly followed since 1959.[5]

The ceremony has been filmed and broadcast by Michael Palin for one of his television around-the-world travel programs; he described it as a display of "carefully choreographed contempt."[6]

See also[edit]

List of Foot Guards Bands:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Guard changes for May 2008" (pdf). Retrieved 2008-06-07. [dead link]
  2. ^ "Curtain Raiser – Beating Retreat Ceremony 2011". Ministry of Defence. 28 January 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Beating Retreat weaves soul-stirring musical evening". The Times of India. 29 January 2011. 
  4. ^ "Martial music rings down the curtain". The Times of India. 30 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Khaleeli, Homa (1 November 2010). "Goodbye to the ceremony of silly walks between India and Pakistan". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2011. 
  6. ^ Frank Jacobs (July 3, 2012). "Peacocks at Sunset". Opinionator: Borderlines. The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 

External links[edit]