- O'Connell, J.F., Warrant Officer One Bugler, RM
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As Buglers the branch is comparatively new, (circa 1850) but as Drummers it goes back to the birth of the Corps. The drum as a martial instrument dates back to the dawn of history. The drum provided music for armies on the march and to relay orders on the field of battle. It is mentioned in the Bible and in many Greek and Roman writings.
Drummers were originally not centralised in a regiment, but were borne on the strength of individual companies. On the 28th of October 1664, on the formation of the Admiral’s Regiment, (the Duke of York and Albany’s Regiment of Foot) the orders laid down by Order in Council read:
“One Colonel, one Lieutenant Colonel and one Sergeant Major, and to be divided into six companies. Each company to consist of Two Hundred Souldjers; and to have One Captain, One Lieutenant, One Ensigne, One Drume, Fowre Serjeants and Fowre Corporalls “.
These six Drums were the predecessors of the Buglers Branch.
Up to the introduction of the bugle, around 1850, all routine and tactical orders were passed by the beat of the drum, including the ceremony of Beating Retreat.
In the early days each company had its own Colour and Drum, thus providing its own visual and audible rallying point in close battle. This is the reason why the Regiment’s Drums are second only to its Colours as a visible embodiment of the honour of the Regiments. This is also the origin of the distinction between Band and Drums. The band is a much later innovation and was recruited from civilian musicians. The drummer was a soldier and was always in the thick of the fray. He was able to transfer to the ranks and shoulder a musket when required.
In addition, drummers were always taught the fife. This was easily portable and enabled the drummers of the regiment to be brigaded to form a drum and fife band when required, as is still done in the Brigade of Guards. All of the various Marine Regiments which were raised and disbanded between 1664 and 1748 had similar establishments of one or two drummers per company. The fife was formerly called the Swiss Flute. This name was given to it after the battle of Marignano in the year 1515, on which occasion the fife was first employed in war by the Swiss troops. It was introduced in England as early as 1557 and was used, with the drum, for martial music by the British Guards by command of the Duke of Cumberland in 1747. It was later adopted by other English regiments of infantry, including the Marines.
Brass instruments began to be used instead of fifes in 1817, the Key-Bugle being one of the first. The fife, however, did not disappear since the requirement for Royal Marines buglers to be proficient on drum, bugle and fife continued up until the second World War, although the fife was still being taught in RM Fastney as late as 1968: Other exceptions were buglers drafted to HMS Rooke in Gibraltar and HMS Africanda in South Africa, where they were issued with fifes up to the 1960s.
The present Corps, which was established on the 3rd of April 1755, was complemented for two drummers per company and, with minor changes, this continued until the Independent Company organisation gave way to the Divisional Organisation in 1884.
The exact date of the transition from Drummer to Bugler is obscure but the order in council of 18th February 1854 shows a complement of three drummers per company while the order in council of 28th February 1855 shows three drummers and buglers. The composite title of Drummers and Buglers continues until Order in Council of 3rd of August 1867 in which they are referred to as Buglers. Therefore, there is a choice between 1855 and 1867 when the title first appeared as a rank in its own right, as the date for the present Buglers Branch coming into existence. A Bugler in the Royal Marines wears a drum as his badge of rank, as he was first and foremost a drummer, and the drum is the correct badge for an Infantry Regiment. As is their tradition, Buglers of a Light Infantry Regiment wear a bugle as their badge of rank, and although the Royal Marine Light Infantry did not generally conform to the dress of Light Infantry Regiments, the Buglers of the RMLI wore a green bugle cord.