Col John Birch's Regiment of Foote

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Drums played a major part in the 17th century army. Marching beats, drill beats and all battlefield orders were delivered by the beat of the drum. During the chaos and noise of battle, the human voice would not carry as far as the sound of the big field drum. The soldier, even in the thick of battle, was well prepared, as the meaning of the different beats had been literally 'drummed' into him time and time again in training.

The drummers were usually experienced soldiers, not the drummer boys of later years, and held a rank of corporal or sergeant. A huge responsibility was put upon the drummers to deliver the orders correctly and efficiently as this could have a dramatic effect on the ultimate outcome of the conflict. In recognition of this it was considered bad form to knowingly strike or wound a drummer in battle, although during a musket volley casualties were unavoidable. Often drummers could speak foreign languages and were used as envoys. In this capacity they were often able to spy on enemy camps as they delivered a message or received a reply.

Because of the standing of drummers in the armies their clothing was usually superior to the rank and file, perhaps even donated by his colonel. The drum itself was held high on the left side by a sash or a leather belt. The sword too would be usually worn on the left, but because the drummer rarely used the sword this was not an inconvenience. It could be said that if a drummer needed to draw his sword the day was already lost.

Drums today

Drummers also play a very important role in The Sealed Knot today. In just the same way as their 17th century counterparts, they are responsible for providing a steady, even beat, enabling the whole regiment to march and manoeuvre together as one.

Once on the battle field, drummers are split between the two fighting units of pike and musket, relaying orders and leading the way around the battlefield. During the flourishing of the regimental colours the drums beat loudly, taunting the enemy. Just prior to engaging with the enemy, all the drummers move to the rear of the unit, a safe distance from the fighting. The drums then relay orders to engage or retreat as required. Drumming is an ideal way of getting into the midst of the battle whilst remaining in a non-combatant role. Indeed you often get a 'bird's eye view' of the battle as it unfolds.

Half-way through the battle some the drummers are mustered for a parley, while the officers from opposing sides argue their point. The battle then recommences until the day is won or lost. At the end of the show, the drummers beat to call all the dead to rise up to re-join their unit, and as you march off to the applause of the crowd you feel you have done your bit too. After returning to the campsite, all that is left is to enjoy the evening!

The basic kit required for a drummer is a drummer's coat (supplied by the regiment), a pair of grey breeches, blue hose, white socks and a pair of desert boots. You will also need hat, a snap-sack, a pair of drum sticks and a drum. The drum can sometimes be loaned by the regiment until you can purchase your own, and members of the regiment will always try and help by loaning clothing for your first musters. Full training is provided, the beats are easy to learn, and with a little practice you will soon be ready to join the drum corps.

A drummer's view

"As a drummer, I particularly enjoy being an integral part of the regiment and being in the thick of the battle without actually being a combatant. I get a close-up view of the action and get to spur on the guys with attacking drum beats. Drumming is a lot of fun and you get a great sense of achievement when the drums sound right, lifting the troops on a march. The public like taking pictures of us, which always makes me feel a bit special."

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