Drumhead court-martial

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The drumhead court-martial of the Finnish 15th Brigade in July 1944

A drumhead court-martial is a court-martial held in the field to hear urgent charges of offences committed in action. The term is said to originate from the use of a drumhead as an improvised writing table,[1][2] as an altar for religious services, [3][4] or a traditional gathering point for a regiment for orders or decisions.[5]

The earliest recorded usage is in an English memoir of the Peninsular War (1807).[6] The term sometimes has connotations of summary justice, with an implied lack of judicial impartiality, as noted in the transcripts of the trial at Nuremberg of Josef Bühler.[7] According to Sir Arthur Wynne Morgan Bryant, such courts-martial have ordered lashings or hangings to punish soldiers (and their officers) who were cowardly, disobedient – or, conversely, acted rashly; and especially as a discouragement to drunkenness.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Definition from Brewer's Dictionary
  2. ^ An example of an illustration from the Thirty Years War showing a drum used as a table at military executions
  3. ^ parade and drumhead service
  4. ^ Drumhead Service at Culzean Castle
  5. ^ Her Majesty the Queen presents the RAF with the new colour at a Drumhead service, RAF Fairford. (Photo: Cpl Scott Robertson RAF)[dead link]
  6. ^ 'Court martial, n. 1.b. drumhead court-martial', Oxford English Dictionary Online (2009), citing Sir Charles Shaw, Personal memoirs and correspondence, comprising a narrative of the war ... in Portugal and Spain (1837), II, 449.
  7. ^ Transcript at the Nizkor project
  8. ^ Years of Victory (1802-1812), Arthur Bryant, 1944