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Army Music

Mr F, J. Crowest contributes to the ‘ National Review ’ for May a most interesting article on ‘ The Music of the British Army.’ It consists in part of notes, all too brief, of the history of the regimental tunes. Each regiment has its tune, as it has its flags, and it would be hard to say which has more effect in emergencies on the courage and spirit of the men. If the flag may claim first honors, it is only because the flag is always with the regiment, while the band is usually left behind when the men turn out for serious work. The bandsmen then take their place in the ranks, or serve with the hospital corps, and only such tunes become possible as may be managed by the fifes and drums. These, however, are usually equal to the regimental tune, though it can receive but scant justice from two instruments of that kind. The First Battalion of the Royal Scots march to glory to the tune of ‘Dumbarton’s Drums,’ of which not much more is known than that an Earl of Dumbarton commanded the regiment in 1655. The Prince of Wales’s Own the old 14th Foot—plays, of all airs in the world, the ‘ Ca Ira ’ of the French Revolution. But the reason is simple enough. In an attack on the French fortified camp at Famars, in 1793, the Colonel of the Fourteenth happened to want a tune at a pinch to put heart into his men, and he ordered the band to play ' Ca Ira,’ which, no doubt, they had learned by heart from its frequent performance by the men over the way. It led to victory; and Ca Ira became the regimental tune. When the regiment played themselves into England with it, on their return from the war, they were, at first, atoned by the mob. After a short explanation, however, national honor was satisfied, and the tune is used to this'day. The * V7ha wadna fecht for Charlie ?’ was appropriated by the Cheshire Regiment, in honor of Sir Charles Napier, who was once in command. ‘ The British Grenadiers ’ dates as a tune from the reign of Elizabeth. The Rifle Brigade play * I’m ninety-five ’ because the Rifle Brigade was the old Ninety Fifth. Mr Crowest does not give the words, but, from our remembrance of the chorus, we believe they form the battle song of an elderly spinster : I’m ninety-five, I’m ninety-five, And to keep single I'll contrive, I'll contrive, I’ll contrive, To keep single, I'll contrive. ‘ The girl I left behind me’ is an old Irish air, which became a military tune after the noted Brighton Camp, ‘Brighton Camp,’ we believe, is its other name. Some of the tunes are distinctively local or national. ‘ The Lincolnshire poacher,’ * Warwickshire lads,’ ‘Yorkshire lass,’ and ‘Lancashire lads,’ were no doubt played by regiments connected with these localities, long before the territorial system was invented. The sth Lancers, being an Irish regiment, use ‘ Let Erin remember’ and * The harp that once.’ Other Irish regiments, of course, adopt ‘Garry Owen’ and ‘St. Patrick’s Day.’ ‘Ap Shenkin’ and ‘The Men of Harlech’ are the peculiar property of certain Welsh regiments, while ‘Blue bonnets over the border ’ and * The Campbells are coming ’ are naturally favor-

ites with the Scotch. As to this last air, Mr Crowest has an observation which serves to show how history should not be written, and especially the history of tunes. It is an observation to the effect that the air was heard on a memorable occasion by a certain “Highland lassie” shut up in Lucknow during the Mutiny, and straining ears and eyes for the tokens of coming relief. Mr Crowest, who knows so much, does not know that this Highland lassie never lived in the flesh, hut was an imaginative creation of a lady who had cultivated her ruling faculty by much writing for the newspapers and magazines. This lady thought that a Highland lassie in the beleaguered cityjwould be good copy. She accordingly made copy of her forthwith, and cast it on the waters of publicity; and she had the satisfaction of seeing it return in duplicate by every stream that brought an exchange from the nearest or remotest centres of civilisation. The Highland lassie of Lucknow, in fact, made the tour of the world of print, and though there is absolutely not one word of truth in her, she probably will not receive her official and final contradiction until the Judgment Day.

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Bibliographic details

Army Music, Issue 7976, 3 August 1889, Supplement

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Army Music Issue 7976, 3 August 1889, Supplement

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