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Beat of War: An Original RAF Marching Drum


Original photo of the RAF band of the Air Training Corps, bearing a photographer's imprint to Charles F. Hull, City Chamber, Clifford Street, York. (Collection of Bill Howard)

Music has long been a part of military organizations. Although the Royal Air Force (RAF) is most often associated with its aircraft, the force has a well-established music tradition that dates back to its origins during the Great War. Major Walford Davies, was appointed as the first Organising Director of Music for the RAF. After Major Davies left the force in 1919, Major George Dyson took command and established the RAF Music Services. As part of this initiative the Central Band of the RAF and the Band of the RAF College were formed at Uxbridge and at Cranwell respectively. During World War II, the RAF experienced a major expansion of its music services and a large number of professional musicians were brought into the service. Bands were also established at the command and squadron level along with the RAF Symphony Orchestra and the famous “Squadronaires” Dance Band.

Despite musical evolution and the expansion of the RAF’s band offerings, drums remained a centerpiece of the various military bands. The drum pictured here is a fine example of the standard brass-shelled, rope tuned side drum that was used by the RAF during World War II.

The shell of the drum, which measures 14½" high x 14½" diameter, has been decorated with the Royal Coat of Arms, an eagle superimposed on a circlet surmounted by a crown (this is the heraldic emblem used to represent the RAF) and written on scroll “Royal Air Force.” The top and bottom rims are made of wood that have been painted with a castellated design with two shades of blue separated and surrounded by dark red. The drum is fitted with two skins, a set of snares (no gut) and 10 leather ears that apply tension on the ropes to tune the heads. Stamped onto the brass is the manufacturer’s name, “Premier/Made in England” along with the official Air Ministry crown mark and the date “1941.” The “A.M.” mark provides indication that the drum was Government Issue. The bottom skin has the name of its owner, “A.W. Daniels,” written in fountain pen. Side drums such as this were traditionally used to march military troops in step. They also functioned as a method for signaling commands regarding camp duties or movements during battle.

The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom features two mottos, “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense” and “Dieu et Mon Droit”, translated as: “Shame be to him who thinks evil of it.” and “God and My Right.”

The Premier Drum Company was founded in 1922 by London drummer, Albert Della Porta and the drum maker, George Smith in Soho, London. The company moved from Central London to Acton in the 1930s. During World War II, the company also made gun sights for tanks and aircraft. After the Premier factory was bombed by the Germans during the Blitz in 1940, the company moved to Leicester. A 1958 catalog from Premier depicts the exact model of side drum as pictured here; the selling price in the American version of this store catalog for the drum was $75.

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