What is Beating Retreat?

What is Beating Retreat?

If you’re unfamiliar with British military ceremony, you may be confused by the term ‘Beating Retreat’, but this colourful event at Horse Guards Parade is not-to-be-missed, so we’re here to give you the low-down on a wonderful ceremony that began in the 1690s!

  • Beating Retreat is a military ceremony that dates back to an order given to the army of James II of England in 1690 in the early days of organised warfare. The troops were ordered to beat drums and parade the streets to mark the end of a day of combat, the lowering of the flags and the closing of the gates. The beating of drums is where the name beating retreat comes from.
  • It was originally called ‘watch setting’ and was initiated at sunset by the firing of a single round from the evening gun.

Horses at Beating Retreat

  • The ceremony has today evolved into a colourful pageant of military music performed by military bands, impressive  marches, spectacular fireworks and celebratory gunfire – an absolute must-see.
  • The precision drill is carried out this year by the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines.


  • Taking place this year on 8th and 9th of June, the ceremony often overlaps with the birthday of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. This year he will celebrate his 95th birthday.
  • Each year, the salute is taken by a member of The Royal Family. Prince William did so for the first time in 2014.
  • 2015 marked the 200th anniversary of The Battle of Waterloo and the ceremony featured Napoleonic Association re-enactors.
  • It is not to be confused with the Edinburgh Military Tattoo – a massive military ceremony that is televised worldwide to an audience of approximately 100 million people.
  • The Massed Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines perform every two years. Prince Philip is their Captain General.

With the added celebration of Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday, this year looks to be even more exciting and spectacular than ever! An incredible example of British ceremonial tradition.

Have you ever attended a military ceremony?

Images courtesy of Pathik Vashi via Flickr.