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Bugle-Horns and Bugles in the British Army

The Bugle’s Tale
Recent study of the bugle’s tale arose from a recording by the 5th/8th Battalion, The King’s Regiment (Manchester and Liverpool). Their compact disc offers a range of calls from both the day’s routine and from battlefield calls of an earlier generation and features Lance Corporal David Liptrot and Drum Major Ivor Higham. To this has been added just a little.

Bugle-Horns and Bugles in the British Army

The word Bugle, first recorded in middle-English (roughly 1200-1500) was adopted from the like, old French word that in turn emerged from the Latin Buculus or ox, (diminutive of bos or young bull), and is thus an abbreviation of the earlier Bugle Horn, (O.E.D.). Contemporary terms include (French) clairon and (German) Signalhorn. Modern bugles of copper or brass used by the armed forces of most countries and by British, civilian youth bands have a compact, twice-wound form with a small bell, which was authorised in 1858. This or the once-wound Bugle horn was first used by German Jäger units in the Seven Years War. English Light Dragoons adopted them in 1764 and by the Grenadier Guards in 1772.

British calls usually comprise a “battalion” call, to identify the unit to obey the call following and then the “duty” call involved; (company calls also existed). Drummers had beaten tactical direction to battalions, certainly from the mid-1500s, well before we believe that marching in step occurred beyond the parade ground. However, in the 16th and 17th centuries, drum signalling to British troops was so significant that both England and Scotland had their respective “English” and “Scotch” Marches. The first is believed to be for drum alone and was so important that, circa 1631, King Charles I felt it necessary to ordain that the English March for rallying troops in battle be taught once more throughout the realm. The war in America (for its independence) saw a need for more lightly equipped troops than the sturdily-mannered infantry of the day to combat the enemy’s skirmishing way of operation. This also applied later for the fight up the Peninsula in Spain. 5th Battalion, The 60th Rifles commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Baron de Rottenburg was the first British unit to take tactical direction from the bugle-horn. Indeed, the Napoleonic Wars saw battlefields dominated by gunpowder rather than earlier generations’ swords and arrows. This technological change was one of smoke, tumult and noise, a noise which could easily be confused with signals beaten by infantry (and possibly, Artillery) Drummers on their instruments’ vellum heads. The Light Companies’ signalling bugle provided an instant solution, hence it began to replace the drum for internal, infantry signalling. It is thought that 1798 saw direction that bugles be issued sufficient for all infantry battalion signalling but John Moore’s letters tell us that this remained awaited in 1803. It is worthy of note that the first calls published were found in some way wanting, possibly their inability to cut through battlefield noise, as they were transposed to a higher plane by the time of Hyde’s 1798 work. Use of the fife for battlefield signalling remains in small debate but, in company with the drum, it did regulate the infantryman’s day in camp or quarters. Later, this task was also undertaken by the bugle, right until when, in 1970 the new “military salary” allowed soldiers to afford watches! There are battalions which, even in 1999, maintain a Drummer of the Guard to sound the calls directing battalion routine. Conventionally, the instrument was sounded by Drummers from the ‘Drums, and in the Light Division by Buglers. Drummer is the appointment of all members of the corps of drums whether they play flute or drum and includes when sounding their bugles. The bugle was also adopted by British mounted troops when deployed, again possibly because of its capacity to cut through battlefield noise than the trumpet. This is most regularly seen today when mounted Royal Horse Artillery Trumpeters sound tactical calls. Bugles are also used by The Royal Marines whose evolution to the 1960s mirrored that of the infantry. The Royal Air Force has E-flat, trumpets, its calls being of a camp or quarters nature. Cavalry bugle usage appears in their Bugle Duty within Britain’s first relevant book, a 1798 direction of bugle and trumpet calls compiled by Trumpet Major Hyde of the Westminster Light Horse, Sounds for Duty and for Exercise for the Trumpet and the Bugle Horns etc. Henry Potter’s 1815 work (below) also aimed to regularise the calls being played just as Signals training pamphlets ensure today’s efficient battlefield communication. For regulating the soldier’s day in camp or quarters, many editions of bugle call books were published. The most recent is Trumpet and Bugle Sounds for the Army 1966, (HMSO, Army Code 14163), which, with Potter are the two publications chosen to be sources for these recordings. Finally, although not used here for the calls, the Gale and Polden bugle call books published between the two world wars reflected the cheery doggerel by which soldiers learned the calls. It is from these that most of the words shown have been taken. There is another Hyde work “A New And Compleat Preceptor for the Trumpet and Bugle Horn”. Both emerged from this inventor of the slide trumpet being commanded, in 1798, to compile a book of trumpet and bugle-horn signals for use in the army by the Duke of York. Some of these calls had probably been in use for decades and others newly composed but Hyde added his instruction for playing the new slide trumpet and several march arrangements for trumpets, in with the signals. The half-moon bugle-horn arose because, breaking with the tradition of infantry signals played on a drum, the newly formed corps which we know today as The Light Division, forwent the drum in favour of the bugle. Something of an “élite of its day” the corps felt the clumsy drum’s inability to penetrate the dense forests of North America rendered it obsolete. The change in the shape of the bugle, from a half-moon form pitched in ‘C’ with a tone crook to put it in B-flat, to a once coiled horn in B-flat occurred about 1812 but in 1835 there were further changes. High amongst these was Sir Richard Hussey Vivien’s introducing “regimental” calls which, played as a prefix to a trumpet or bugle signal, identified which recipients were to comply. He also forbade cavalry use of bugles, obviously for fear that it might confuse the infantry who were changing over from the drum to the bugle in large numbers. From an interview of a surviving trumpeter from the charge of the light-brigade in 1854, it seems that this ruling was only adhered to for routine calls in camp. However, the reasons for the cavalry’s new love for the bugle were two-fold: first, the field calls played on a trumpet would not carry nearly so far as they were pitched in a part of the trumpet’s harmonic range to be too low to cut through the din of battle. Second, the cavalry trumpet has far more harmonics than a bugle and they are much closer together. This makes pitch a rather hit and miss affair on the back of a horse (which doesn’t necessarily like the noise in the first place!). Shortly before the Crimean War, tests at Woolwich compared the distance the sound of a bugle would travel, where copper bugles were found to carry almost twice as far as brass. The twice-coiled bugle was introduced in 1870, as it is smaller and easier to handle. Several keyed bugles were developed over the years, but as these were largely for march playing they are ignored. Finally, in this brief look at the evolution of British bugle use it is important to mention that the quality of bugle playing up to, say, the late 1960s was extremely high. Bugle players took immense pride in their skill, evinced “in solo” on duty. This recording tries to sustain the tempi shewn, because players in past times not only achieved but often exceeded them! (Hear Aldershot Tattoo recordings). Great passion erupted from bugles as calls were ripped out, the drama in interpretation being all in prompting both soldiers’ affection for calls and the urgent reaction the calls induced. The Bugle Calls in the Recording Sources a. Trumpet and Bugle Sounds for the Army 1966, HMSO, Army Code 14163. b. The Bugle-Horn Major’s Companion, Consisting of the Regulation Signals, with Barrack, Field and other useful sounds, Henry Potter, c1815. Rouse “Come, make a move and show a leg – Why dilly dally? Now, don’t you hear? Get out of bed, it’s past Reveille! Get out now, sharp, for the day’s begun”. Sometimes called “The Donkey” (see Robert Blatchford in The Rambling Soldier, p287). The Rouse was to awaken troops and, fifteen minutes later, was followed by the Reveille call, when troops turned out. Major stations in India saw the flag hoisted at the Morning Gun, fired just before this call, (hence the term “Gunfire” for the early morning tea then available). The Drums beat The Mother and Three Camps between Rouse and Reveille. Transposed for the E-flat trumpet, it is called Reveille in the Royal Air Force. Reveille A call more popular for its attractive manner than its requirement! Meal Calls On the first meal call “Oh! Come to the cookhouse door, boys, Come to the cookhouse door.”, the Orderly Men from each barrack rooms reported to the cookhouse to draw the rations, supervised by the Orderly Officer and assorted Orderly Sergeants. At the second call,“Oh pick ’em up, pick ’em up hot potatoes oh, pick ’em up, pick ’em up hot potatoes oh!”, troops began their meal, visited by the battalion duty Officer etc. The doggerel words to the trio of Payne’s march “Punjab”, “Why should I draw rations when I’m not the Orderly Man” are from this. The first dining room attached to its cookhouse opened in Wellington Barracks, London on 28th July 1858. (Chef Soyer built hospital kitchens in the Crimea and Aldershot saw sheltered feeding but both were based on field kitchens). Half Hour and Quarter Hour Calls (Half) “Warning for parade! It’s half an hour they give us to get in good trim, Half an hour before those bugles call ‘Fall in’. Lor! There’s a lot to be done – shave, wash and clean the old gun! Everything’s done on the run …… Listen! There hark! Same old remark, heard in the Ark, ‘Half an hour for, warning for p’rade”. Or, “Just a half an hour they give us all to dress, lots of time to turn out afresh! Things will be bad if you’re not there just the same … the Ord’ly Sergeant, he’ll jot down your name. Then take my tip boys, half an hour you’ve got. Just look sharp and get on the spot!” And (Quarter) “Quarter my boys! Time to make a move”. Reactions to these were dependent upon the parade to which troops were bidden. If a company parade, the troops mustered in time for the parade to be handed over at the time shown in Company Detail but for a battalion parade companies were formed up in time for the Quarter Call. Then they could march on to the markers when Advance is sounded; (i.e. not the Fall In, as the companies had already “fallen in”). With no call for markers i.e. the right-hand men of companies, Orderly Corporals was used in some regiments. In many cases, individual battalions had their own, specific form-up procedure comprising that personal blend of drum, flute, pipe calls and verbal orders assimilated over often hundreds of years. Fall In “That’s the call, for us all. Fall in now the short and the tall! In you fall, great and small, see you stand up smart at the call!” or “Fall in ‘A’, fall in ‘B’, fall in all the companies”; (‘A’ and ‘B’ means ‘A’ Company etc). Dismiss, or No Parade “Oh, there’s no parade today, Oh, there’s no parade today, It’s jolly seldom that we get the chance to stay away”. This was a final call indicating in some regiments that there was no more work so men could go home or at other times that a particular parade was over or was cancelled. Post Call “Letters from Lousy Lou boys, letters from Lousy Lou” or “Maybe there’s one for me boys, maybe there’s one for you”; or the slightly purified, “There goes the call for letters, latest from ‘Home Sweet Home’”. A call this, at which Orderly (/In Waiting) Corporals collected the mail from the post room for distribution. Fatigue Call “I called them; I called them, they wouldn’t come. I called them; I called them, they wouldn’t come at all!”. Sounded routinely for men under this punishment to assemble for detail, or, in the working day, for those men detailed to do fatigues from the Duty Company. Orderly Sergeants “The orderly sergeants are wanted now – orderly sergeants to run! Come”. To summon Company Orderly Sergeants/Sergeants in Waiting, it could be sounded at any time but always for R.S.M.’s Detail (about mid-morning). Orderly Corporals was also used as a matter of routine, C.Q.M.S. rarely but if C.S.M. were blown for, serious matters were afoot. (For these others: “Now, “Flags”, come answer your call, I say, “Flags”, come answer your call; Come! Come!” for C.S.M and C.Q.M.S. and, “Oh! Ord’ly corporals has gone again. Raise your elbows and run!” for the orderly corporals. Parade for Guard A call with an obvious function, it was preceded by the Half Hour and Quarter calls. Guard Salute Sounded in succession by the Drummers of the Old and New Guards when presenting arms to each other as a part of the relief procedure. Orderly Room “Now it’s all Non-coms who are on duty and officers answer the call! Colonel’s in his chair – you bet he won’t spare any prisoners at all. ’Tis orderly room!” Usually timed for just before lunch to interfere as little as possible with training, this called for Commanding Officers’ Orders (/Memoranda) where summary justice was dispensed and commanding officer’s interviews given. Orders “Come for orders, come for orders, now be sharp, hurry up! Come for orders; you know he Corps is waiting for the orders of the day – So come, let ‘em have the news!” Usually sounded when daily orders were complete and ready for collection by company clerks or company runners and thus, often blown in the afternoon. Officers’ Call “Officers, come when you’re called! Adjutant’s shouted and bawle’d! Colonel he’ll swear that you crawled! Come! Come! Come!” A call rarely heard and thus almost unknown in some regiments, the Brigade of Guards has it as an essential part of their various battalion “form-ups”; (a subject worthy of separate study). Pioneers Call “Pioneer, pioneer, pioneer there’s a dog been on the square! Pioneer, pioneer, pioneer and it’s left its business there!” – A rare call as the Quartermaster guarded his tradesmen jealously. Battalion pioneers were “in-house” tradesmen rather than of the Royal Pioneer Corps (now Royal Logistic Corps) and particularly provided tree-felling and explosives expertise. An alternative set of words which perhaps reflect times when deployed, are: “Come along, Pioneer, you are wanted here, to try and clear the way! Look alive Pioneer! You must work, no fear, or we’ll be here all day!” Band/Drummers/Signallers Calls “It’s time we heard the band – they haven’t played all day” or “Now let the band strike up, and play us home today.” And “Drummers all, big and small, don’t you hear the Drummers Call?” The Adjutant might decide to devote the first twenty minutes of parade to foot and arms drill at the halt and then use Band or Drummers when it was time to begin marching. Further, although the ’Drums were the signallers until the end of the nineteenth century, as their functions diverged the need for a separate call can be understood. So, for the latter, “Signallers, come!” School Call “Now go to school and learn to write, It gets you on … for the stripe”. Usually sounded during the morning when the day’s education began. Rations “Go for the rations Ord’ly man, stale bread and meat and plenty of bone”. It signalled the bulk issue of rations to messes and cookhouses from the rations store, was usually sounded around mid-day and was an event attended by the Orderly/Picquet Officer, Sergeant and Corporal, (though why the latter history tells not!). Young officers were taught to examine meat by touch and smell because checking its fitness for consumption was central to their part of this duty. Fire Call “There’s a fire, there’s a fire, there’s a fire”. Sounded by the first Drummer to spot a fire or, at last, by the Guard Drummer, it was always followed by the Double, was taken up by all Drummers and was answered at the double. As the Guard Drummer had to navigate his route swiftly sounding this call, by the 1960s he frequently used the battalion bicycle. It was invariably followed by the Double. When taught with the Double, the words sometimes were, “There’s a fire, there’s a fire, there’s a fire. Run and get the engine boys and put the beggar out”. The engine in this case was the Fire Picquet’s cart, which contained fire apparatus of the period. Double “Run you buggers, run you buggers, run you buggers, run”. This could follow any call and invariably meant trouble, either from an alarm or for those summoned by the call preceding. General Salute A call sounded by the Guard Drummer when the Quarter Guard paid compliments to the commanders of formations in which the battalion was serving. Other brigadiers and generals would have been offered compliments but without a General Salute. Parade for Picquet The Picquet, sometimes called the Reinforcement Guard was mounted at Retreat and could be used in emergencies, whilst the Quarter Guard was in the Guardroom area to protect the safe, property and detention prisoners until ordered otherwise. Otherwise, this picquet provided emergency fire cover. Retreat This call has always signalled the change from day to night routine and is in summary, “the end of the soldier’s working day, except for duties and punishment”. There is no evidence that it or retreat marches or drum beatings have ever meant anything else. This change to night routine meant the Picquet was mounted, stores and armouries had been locked and the Quarter Guard turned out for inspection by the Guard Commander. Later this was also the time to mount the new Barrack Guard. The unit flag was lowered; (normally by the Guard Drummer, once he had completed sounding Retreat). The Evening Gun would also be fired at this stage (see also the Rouse and the Morning Gun). It is worthy of note when mentioning lowering the battalion flag (not to be confused with colours) that the “Great Union” was only permitted to be flown at designated Flag Stations. The size of the flag depended on such important anniversaries as Royal birthdays. Details of Beating Retreat, Tattoo and Long Reveille etc, are to be found elsewhere. The Royal Navy’s Sunset Ceremony, lowering flags at sunset, is similar in intent but Bandmaster Green’s, Sunset, a concert-style setting of Retreat and a hymn, has no relevance to army custom. Tattoo Comprising the First Post and the Last Post it is thought to have emerged from the system of closing town gates wherein once sentries were posted, the Picquet Officer accompanied by the Picquet Serjeant would inspect all sentry posts, with a call being blown to note the first and last sentry posts visited. More recently, the First Post was sounded at 9.30 p.m. signalling the Company Orderly Sergeants to tour barrack rooms, checking nominal rolls en route, at the same time the Quarter Guard turned out for a Guard Commander’s inspection. The ’Drums then Beat a Tattoo sequence on the square ending with the National Anthem followed by the Last Post. At 9.55 p.m. all those on duty, plus the Defaulters, paraded at the Guardroom for inspection. There, the duty non-commissioned officers made their final reports of the day to the Orderly Officer or the Captain of the Week; (depending on which of them took this last parade). Until 1914, it was customary for the ’Drums to beat Retreat or Tattoo on alternate days of the week. (see Potter: “Drum and Flute Duty” p 54). The word tattoo is believed to have come from, “Doe den taptoe” or, close the taps – bungs were hammered into the barrels and marked with a chalk cross as a simple “closed” expedient, when campaigning in the Low Countries. Germany’s Zapfenstreich is similar. It is perhaps by poetic or natural associations that the Last Post has become part of military funerals as service folk go to their “last posting”. Lights Out Sounded between 10.15 p.m. and 11 p.m. dependent on battalion custom, this call delivered just what its name proclaims – all lights other than those for personnel on duty were to be extinguished and there to be no noise or talking before Reveille. The Field Calls These were modified in their early life by raising them on the stave, presumably in an effort to have the calls better able to cut through battlefield noise and Barrack Calls have also been modified but returned to normal in this century. The Field calls that were recorded include: Send Out: The Rear Guard, Flank Guard; Attention The Advance Guard (Interrogative);The Enemy is: Infantry, Cavalry, Infantry & Cavalry, Artillery; The Enemy’s Infantry Is Advancing/Cavalry is Advancing; the Enemy Is Inclining to the Right, or the Left; the Enemy is In Line, in Open Column, is in Closed Column; the Enemy is In Small Numbers, is in Force; is Halted; is Retiring; Pursue The Enemy and, finally The Charge. Major Richard Powell, F.S.A. Scot


  1. Gerge March Gerge March July 21, 2016

    Name is george, I was a drummer and played bagel fo the us 7th Cave. Back in 1960. I want to play taps for our boys who have passed. I am looking for a British Bagel with a good mouth place. I am getting on in age but I would like to play again.
    Need info on where to get a bagel not he cheap ones. I hope you can help me. Thanks George March.

  2. Tapsbugler Tapsbugler Post author | June 2, 2016

    To The Color.
    There must be a Canadian equivalent.

  3. Ray Oset Ray Oset May 30, 2016

    I need to know when to play Hoisting colors for Canadian flag raising. Do you play any other bugle call while raising the flag?
    Thank you
    Ray Oset

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