Corps of Drums Society

How We Started

The Society was started by members of the Corps of Drums of the Honourable Artillery Company in August 1977.

At that time, the HAC Corps of Drums was a curious mixture including former Guardsmen, former members of school Corps of Drums, former members of other Territorial Army units, notably the Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regt., who had transferred en-bloc after their Corps of Drums was disbanded in the late 1960’s. The common ground was enthusiasm for drum and flute music and the Corps became very good. This was due in no small part to the guidance and sheer hard work of Drum Major Alistair (Nobby) Ingham-Clark, whose influence was felt long after he stood down as Drum Major but continued to play his F flute and watch over things from the rear rank.

Pre-Society 1960s

In the early 1960’s the HAC Infantry Battalion were part of the East Anglian Division, which used to have an annual competition for TA Bands and Drums. There were about a dozen Bands and six Corps of Drums which took part. The HAC first took part in 1963 and won the Drums competition annually until the old TA was re-organised in 1966 and most of the competing units were disbanded. The other Corps of Drums involved were from The Beds. & Herts, The Essex, The Middlesex, The Royal Norfolk, and the Suffolk & Cambridge Regiments. The Middlesex, Royal Norfolks and Suffolk & Cambridge weren’t very good and didn’t play flutes, but the Beds & Herts and the Essex had good flute-playing Corps and the competition was keenly contested. When the old TA died, the Essex carried on as a civilian Corps, which still just about survives, but the Beds & Herts, after carrying on without pay for two or three years, all joined the HAC and started a connection which continues to this day. Martyn Pearson, although under age, had paraded with the Beds & Herts and actually joined the HAC as a Boy and is still referred to by some as Boy Pearson. Jim Wallis, who had served in both the Essex and Beds & Herts, transferred and in due course brought along his two sons, Andy and Jamie, who served in the Corps, rose to higher things (Drill Sgts.) and now serve in the Pikemen & Musketeers. Andrew is also the curator of the Guards Museum.

The ex Guardsmen in the HAC included, Stuart Sutton, who is now Treasurer of both the HAC Drummers Association and (I think) the Guards Division Drummers Association. Also Phil Williams who joined in 1966 after 3 years in the Grenadier Guards. Phil is vital to this story as it was largely his stock of stories, books, old photographs, 78 records, etc., which made the rest of us realise that we were part of a very old tradition. We also appeared to be the only Corps of Drums still surviving in the new TA, and even that was unofficial, as, with the HAC no longer having an infantry battalion, there was no establishment for a Corps of Drums. It was only after some years that we discovered that 5 R Anglian had a Corps based in Peterborough and 5/8 King’s had one based in Liverpool.

Formation Years 1970s

By the mid 1970’s, the HAC was well-established in the Drums world and had a good relationship with the Household Division. At that time, even some Guards Drum Majors were saying that the use of flutes would die out within about 10 years, but it was also about that time that we discovered that there were still a few good flute-playing Corps in the Line regiments. The RRF in particular sent a combined Corps to the USA with a Guards Band tour and made a record to prove it. This was a time when whether there was an official establishment for a Corps of Drums in English and Welsh battalions was vague and there was nothing written down to say what a Corps of Drums was required to do. The old Potters Drum Major’s Manual was just about the only document anyone had seen and that dated from before 1914.

With all this background, we felt that something needed to be done to preserve the flute-playing Corps of Drums before it was too late. Regular serving soldiers cannot question the system without jeopardising their careers but TA soldiers don’t have such concerns. The International Military Music Society had been going for some years, but was not very interested in Corps of Drums. We therefore started talking about forming a Corps of Drums society. This was in 1977. I remember that the HAC summer camp that year was at Knook Camp just outside Warminster and I remember when I was Sgt. of the Guard one night, sitting at the desk in the guardroom and amending the Rules of the IMMS to suit a possible Corps of Drums Society.

The first meeting to form the Society was in August 1977 and I believe that the following were present:-

  • Phil Williams (elected Chairman)
  • Roger Davenport (elected Hon. Secretary)
  • Dave Golder (elected Hon. Treasurer. He worked for Lloyds Bank)
  • Greg Tunesi (who designed the badge)
  • Andrew Wallis
  • Jamie Wallis
  • Steve King
  • Martyn Pearson
  • Malcolm Potter

I believe that we each contributed £10 to get things going and thought that if it was still going after a year, we would be doing well. A newsletter was produced by Roger Davenport on an ancient manual typewriter but we were very lucky that the artist, Christopher Collins, produced some very fine drawings for the front covers of the first few years’ issues. The newsletter was sent to all battalions known to have a Corps of Drums with membership application forms. The response was mixed but good enough to make it worth keeping going. We also wrote to civilian Corps for which addresses were known. This was all pre-internet, so it was not easy to find information.

We were not always greeted with approval. In 1978 my wife and I visited York and I called on the Yorkshire Volunteers, who I knew had a Corps of Drums. The Drum Major was there as he was on the permanent staff and he took me to see the Adjutant. The Adjutant was quite hostile as he viewed the Society as a Drummers’ union, so not much progress was made!

One early response was from the late Major Jack Barrow, who although he was a DERR man, who had originally joined the Wiltshire Regt., was then Quartermaster of the Royal Hampshire Regt. He had seen a copy of a book on the Drums of 2nd. Bn The Buffs, which had been written by a Major Howe (the barracks in Canterbury are named after him) in the 1930’s. It was a useful guide to history and traditions and Jack wanted to produce something similar for the Royal Hampshires. I replied to the effect that what was really needed was a book for the whole infantry, and the Drummers Handbook project was born. One of the first serving Drum Majors to join the Society was Mike Hall, who also willingly joined a working party to produce a new book. This was about 1979 and the work went on for about 2 years. It was fortunate that Jack knew the then Director of Infantry, who agreed to support the venture and subsequently got it printed and published. Other lucky factors were that it was ready for publication at about the time of the post-Falklands euphoria when the government was inclined to spend money on the armed forces, and also about the time of major cuts in the military band establishment, when most battalion bands disappeared, and it was suddenly realised that Corps of Drums, which had previously not been considered particularly important, would become the only source of in-house music. Again, Chris Collins contributed his artistic talents without charge, which added greatly to the books appearance and interest.

The Beginning of the Society.