Some of greatest military manoeuvres in history involved the retreat. The Retreat of Dunkirk during World War II, the March of the Ten Thousand in 401 BC, and even George Washington’s Escape from New York in 1776, all mark times in history when men knew that at the certain time, the battle was to be saved for another day.

Soldiers spread far and wide, across fields and land, needed to know what to do without voice to tell them. It was invariably the sound of the trumpet or the drum, playing the particular melody of retreat, which gave the signal to fall back or bunker down for the night.

Bahamian Custom of Beat Retreat

Countless Bahamian traditions, customs, mores and etiquettes have their roots in British conventions that are centuries old.

One particular tradition, the tradition of the famous “Beat Retreat” performed by the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band is a breathtaking feast of both sight and sound to behold.

For the former British colony, the Bahamas’s history with the tradition of Beat Retreat was purely ceremonial, and still is.

(The Miami News, Sunday, August 22, 1965)

(The Palm Beach Post, Sunday, December 4, 1994)

Historical Fact: In 1967, the drummers of the Royal Bahamas Police Band wore leopard-skin aprons. The reason for this was due to the British occupation of India. The drummers of the Bahamas saw the Maharajah’s men wearing these leopard aprons. The look was adopted by the Bahamas Police Band according to them Band Director Dennis Morgan.

(Fort Lauderdale News, Sunday, 11 June, 1967)

One of the most spectacular “Beat Retreat” in Nassau was performed for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, on the occasion of her official visit to Bahamas in 1975

(Tampa Times, Friday, 21 February, 1975)

(The Boston Globe, Sunday, 27 June, 1971)


Originally it was known as “watch setting” and was initiated at sunset by the firing of a single round from the evening gun.

The ceremony of the Beat Retreat is one of the oldest in British military annals.  In the olden days when military battles ended at sundown its purpose was to collect soldiers and post the guards. Any soldiers outside of the quarters when hearing the sound knew it was the signal to come in or they would be locked out for the night.

The original call was performed by drums alone. 

History Of Beating Retreat

Beating Retreat has its origins in the early years of organised warfare when beating or sounding retreat called a halt to the days fighting, a return to camp and the mounting of the guard for the night.

An order from the army of James II of England, dated to 18 June 1690, had his drums beating an order for his troops to retreat and a later order, from William III in 1694, read: 

“The Drum Major and Drummers of the Regiment which gives a Captain of the Main Guard are to beat the Retreat through the large street, or as may be ordered.

They are to be answered by all the Drummers of the guards, and by four Drummers of each Regiment in their respective Quarters”.

The original call of Retreat, to mark the end of the days fighting was beaten on drums as were most battle orders.

The use of brass bugles, as military signaling device, came to England in 1764 where it was gradually accepted in the foot regiments.

The Massed Bands we see today are a modern innovation, added to provide spectacle, to the Beating Retreat ceremony.

Beat Retreat – A History