Corps of Drums of the British Army
In recent times, as the members of the Corps of Drums are primarily fully trained Infantry soldiers, The Regiments ceremonial role has decreased due to the obvious battlefield roles taking priority. Adding to this, the amalgamations and disbandment’s of whole regiments has impacted the quantity of Bands and Corps of Drums.
The British Army maintains a corps of drums in each infantry battalion except for Scottish, Irish, and Rifle Regiments (The Rifles and the Royal Gurkha Rifles) which have pipes and drums and Bugles respectively. Each battalion of a regiment will maintain a corps of drums which may be ‘massed’ together on certain occasions. All corps-of-drums soldiers are called drummers (shortened to ‘Dmr’) regardless of the instrument they play, similarly to use of the term “sapper” for soldiers of the Royal Engineers.
Unlike army musicians who form bands and will usually be limited to auxiliary duties in wartime, drummers in a Corps of Drums are principally fully trained infantry soldiers, with recruitment coming after standard infantry training. A Corps of Drums will deploy with the rest of the battalion, and will often form specialist platoons such as assault pioneers, supporting fire or force protection.
Historically, the drum was used to convey orders during a battle, so the Corps of Drums has always a fully integrated feature of an infantry battalion. Later on, when the bugle was adopted to convey orders, drummers were given bugles in addition, but maintained their drums and flutes, except in rifles regiments where the lighter instrument was more conducive to the skirmishing form of warfare.
The main instrument is the Side drum. These were originally of a rope-tension design with wide wooden hoops, a wooden shell and an animal-skin head. In the British Army, this model has been continuously upgraded, with the inclusion of snares, more modern metal rod-tension and plastic heads. The current British Army 97s-pattern side drum also has nylon hoops.
The side drum was increasingly decorated throughout the 19th century, until it bore the fully embellished regimental colours of the battalion, including its battle honours. As such a regiment’s drums are often afforded respect.
The second instrument was originally the fife, replaced in the modern British Army by the five key flute. A wide variety of flutes and pitches is used. The fife and later the flute have been favoured as a warlike instrument due to shrill pitch and thus the ability to be heard above the noise of battle. Many tunes such as The British Grenadiers are traditionally played by military flutes.
The bugle replaced the drum mid-way through the 19th century as the most common means of communication on the battlefield. These duties were carried out by the battalion’s corps of drums, whose drummers now each carry a bugle.