Instruments of Battle

The Fighting Drummers and Buglers of the British Army from the Late 17th Century to the Present Day

James Tanner

The colorful history of the drum and bugle in British armies, showing their tactical use on the battlefield and the combat experiences of the men themselves . . .
Date Published :
September 2017
Publisher :
Illustration :
black & white and color illustrations
No associated books available.


Instruments of Battle examines in detail the development and role of the British Army’s fighting drummers and buglers, from the time of the foundation of the army up to the present day. While their principal weapon of war was the drum and bugle (and the fife), these men and boys were not musicians as such but fighting soldiers who took their place in the front line. The origins of the drum and bugle in the Classical Period and the later influence of Islamic armies are examined, leading to the arrival of the drum and fife in early Tudor England. The story proper picks up post-English Civil War and the drum’s period of supremacy through much of the eighteenth century army; certain myths as to its use are dispelled. The bugle rapidly superseded the drum for field use in the nineteenth century until developments on the battlefield consigned these instruments largely to barrack-life and the parade-ground. But there are surprising examples of the use of the bugle in the field through both World Wars and the story is brought up to most recent times and relegation to an almost exclusively ceremonial role. This is all set against a background of campaigns, battles, changing tactical methods and the difficult processes of command and control on the battlefield. Interwoven is relevant comparison with other armies, particularly American and French. The wider roles of drummers, especially, as battlefield heralds, as adjuncts to recruiting and dispensers of punishment are considered, as well as the other roles they and buglers assumed, out of practicability, on the modern battlefield. Stories of the drummers and buglers themselves provide social context to their place in the army.

About The Author

Brigadier Jim Tanner is a former infantryman who saw action (and was wounded) as a company commander with 7th Armoured Brigade in the 1991 Gulf War, and went on to serve in several other overseas postings. He retired from the British Army in 2011, and now works for a defence technology company.



1 Earlier Times
2 The New Model
3 The English Line
4 Infantry without Parallel
5 American Scramble
6 ‘That Article’ and the Great War with France
7 Beyond Wellington’s Legacy
8 Armies in the East
9 Scarlet into Khaki
10 Hark, I Hear the Bugle Calling
11 Drummers, Boys and their Other Duties
12 The Great Wars of the 20th Century
13 Last Post

Bibliography and Sources


“The hitherto forgotten story of the development of the regimental band, mainly drummers and buglers. A rare piece of social history.”

- Books Monthly

“From the well-known writings of Humphrey Bland of 1727 to many seldom seen sources is good enough reason to read this excellent work which seldom ceases to be both informative and entertaining.”

- The Bulletin of the Military Historical Society

“A unique and informative body of seminal scholarship and an invaluable contribution to military history collections and supplemental studies reading lists, "Instruments of Battle: The Fighting Drummers and Buglers of the British Army from the Late 17th Century to the Present Day" is an extraordinarily and inherently fascinating read from first page to last.”

- Midwest Book Review, January 2018

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