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Drummer Hodge September 10, 2010

Posted by Jenny in Boer War, history, military history, poetry.
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This illustration is captioned simply "Boer War skirmish." It depicts the British side.

DRUMMER HODGE

by Thomas Hardy

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest

Uncoffined—just as found

His landmark is a kopje-crest

That breaks the veldt around:

And foreign constellations west

Each night above his mound.

#

Young Hodge the drummer never knew—

Fresh from his Wessex home—

The meaning of the broad Karoo,

The Bush, the dusty loam,

And why uprose to nightly view

Strange stars amid the gloam.

#

Yet portion of that unknown plain

Will Hodge for ever be;

His homely Northern breast and brain

Grow to some Southern tree,

And strange-eyed constellations reign

His stars eternally.

#    #     #

From Wikipedia: “Before motorized transport became widespread, drummers played a key role in military conflicts. The drum cadences provided set a steady marching pace, better than often accompanying wind instruments such as flutes…, and kept up the troops’ morale on the battlefield. In some armies drums also assisted in combat by keeping cadence for firing and loading drills with muzzle loading weapons. Military drummers were also employed on the parade field, when trooops passed in review, and in various ceremonies including ominous drum rolls accompanying disciplinary punishments.”

From Hugh Barty-King, The Drum: A Royal Tournament Tribute to the Military Drum, London, 1988:  “Most people are unaware of the vital role played by the military drummer in communicating strategy and keeping the machinery of battle oiled….

“At the onset of battle, the roar of the assembled drummers would surely instill courage in the hearts of the men (and fear in the hearts of the enemy). Possibly, in the heat of battle, the beat of the drum, detached and ethereal, took on a spiritual quality, helping the combatants to distance themselves from the horror and suffering all around.”

For a rousing contemporary video of a corps of military drums—no historical relevance here, just something to give a nice feel for what this instrument can do—watch this video.

Ordinary British soldiers. The Boers called them "khakis" or "rooineks," the latter for their sunburned necks.

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