A fifer is a non-combatant military occupation of a foot soldier who originally played the fife during combat. The practice was instituted during the period of Early Modern warfare to sound signals during changes in formation, such as the line, and were also members of the regiment's military band during marches.
These soldiers, often boys too young to fight or sons of NCO's, were used to help infantry battalions to keep marching pace from the right of the formation in coordination with the drummers positioned at the centre, and relayed orders in the form of sequences of musical signals. The fife was particularly useful because of its high pitched sound, which could be heard over the sounds of battle.
The usual allocation of fifers in a battalion during the Early Modern warfare period varied from five to eight. The regimental bands, particularly of the high prestige units such as the guards had as many as 32 (in the Preobrazhensky regiment) or more fifers.
Some fifers, as part of the fife-and-drum corps that accompanied Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet, were present at important national historical events, such as the reading of the Governor's Commission on 2 February 1788 at Sydney Cove.
- Nafziger, George, The Russian Army 1800-1815, Rafm Co.Inc., Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, 1983
- http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/music/military/ Military music
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