Members of the Senior Pipe Band and Highland Dancers were invited to participate in the Scottish Schools Beating Retreat held in the grounds of the Palace of Holyrood House on a glorious night in Edinburgh. This year is the 30th anniversary of the first female pupil at Robert Gordon's College which coincides with our first ever female piper to take part in the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Combined Cadet Forces in Scotland.
Beating the Retreat is a ceremony based upon the end of day parade during times of war; beating drums and Post Guards would signal the end of the fighting day, and for soldiers to retreat, when the flags were lowered. An order from William III, dating back to 1694 stated that the Drum Major and Drummers were to ‘Beat the Retreat’ through the large street, and they were to be answered by the Drummers of the guards in their respective Quarters.
At the end of the day’s work, the ‘Retreat’ was beaten. The term, which comes from the French ‘retraite’ [retire] was used by all the European armies, and has no connection with the tactical manoeuvre of the same name. After the daily drill or training, the troops dispersed to look after their own administration, which often included cooking their own meals, foraging for supplies, collecting food and water, and other domestic tasks. At the close of the working day, the troops had to be collected up again, and so the ‘Retreat’ was beaten by the drummers as the order to return to camp before dark for roll call. At sunset the gates of the town or fortress were closed for the night and the sentries began challenging anybody who approached their posts. Nowadays, ‘Retreat’ has two functions. Firstly, it is still an occasion for mounting the night guard each evening. Secondly, it its ceremonial form, it is an occasion when the Pipes and Drums can put on a musical display for spectators.