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War Memorials

LETTER FROM DRUMMER FRANK PIKE - 9 JANUARY 1900

 

Buglers and drummers had to be very brave men to fight in the British Army- they rode into battle with their instruments while others took swords or guns. Their use in war was to sound signals or calls by which commands were passed to the fighting force. Every man on the ground and even the very horses would have been thoroughly familiar with the calls and would have been trained to respond to them quickly. Infantry and Cavalry regiments used calls to control every part of a soldier's day from  "Reveille" (the wake-up call) to "The Last Post" (at the end of the day) with a range of constantly in use during the day to saddle up, to call to battle,  to retreat, to pitch tents and so on.

 

8th January 1899

 

"It is not thought here that the war will last long as some captured Boers in our camp have told us that the British are too good for them, so they shall try to come to terms with England.

I am glad to say that I am under General Buller, and he has put us through some fine work this week. I can assure you Tommy Atkins* likes General Buller!. He is a fine man for this job and no one can beat him; although some people in England foolishly thought him no good because we lost so many men at Colenso.

 

When we left England, the people thought the war would soon  be over. We are working slowly but surely, and that is the only way to do the work before us. Lord Roberts is out here but he cannot do more than General Buller has done.

 

The Boers are all around us. Sir Redvers (Buller) formed the Devonshire regiment up and spoke to us like a father. Devonshire people should be proud of the county regiment now that we have done so much work in this war, and we intend to get our own back from the Boers before we finish them. We still sing the old song**.  Our regiment has lost a lot of men -  about 150 killed and wounded and bout 50 taken prisoners. We have had our share so far, and are under the Boer's fire every day, never knowing for a minute when you will be shot. It is a very funny feeling on a battlefield, and makes one feel bad to see his comrades getting killed. I am sorry to say that nearly all the men that have been killed in my regiment are reserve men, leaving wives and families  behind. We feel very sorry for them.

I am all right again in camp now but was in hospital for a fortnight."

 

* Tommy Atkins - i.e. a typical private. Dates from the time of the Duke of Wellington. Subsequently shortened to "Tommy" in both World Wars.

 

** Believed to have been first published at around the time the Devonshire Regiment was formed in 1881, most people know  the name of "the old song" as "Widecombe Fair". An upbeat version was adapted by the 5th Haytor Volunteers as "their " march and they took it with them to South Africa where it was widely sung by all the Devon men as they went into battle.

 

 
 
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