Can’t Beat a Cadet Beating Retreat


The annual Army Cadet Charitable Trust Scotland (ACCT) Ceremony of Beating Retreat took place on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle on Saturday 29 April.

With battlefield origins, Beating Retreats are colourful pageants of military music and drill. Historically, Beating Retreats were a military tradition that signalled the end of the working day for troops, recalling them to camp before dark for roll call. Nowadays, the Beating Retreat has a more ceremonial function, bringing talented and hard-working musicians together to put on an impressive display for military and civilian audiences.

Cadet plays the clarinet

This was the first Cadet Beating Retreat to take place at the Castle since 2019. Despite the restrictions of recent years, Cadets continued their piping and drumming training over Zoom to ensure they were performance-ready for when events resumed.

The Beating Retreat featured a packed programme of musical performances by the Pipes and Drums and Massed Bands of the Cadet Organisations, which included members of the Army Cadet Force (ACF) and Royal Air Force Air Cadets (RAFAC) from across Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

Director of music conducts cadet musicians on the esplanade

Second Lieutenant Callum Mellis, Brigade Music Adviser for 51st Infantry Brigade and Headquarters Scotland, the Director of Music for the event remarked: ‘This event is the culmination of months and years of preparation. Cadets spend years learning their instruments, and then we spends months running rehearsals and working out the event logistics. It is a lot of hard work, but it’s so worth it.’

The musical event began with a rousing rendition of ‘Coronation Bells’ played by the Massed Military Bands, comprising Cadets from Scotland, Derbyshire and Durham. The musicians made an unforgettable entrance from the Castle gates. Spectators then enjoyed a lovely mix of marches, fanfares, beloved Scottish songs and a few popular tunes as well.

The bands closed off the Beating Retreat with a powerful finale of ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘Abide With Me’ and the National Anthem, before marching off to a medley of ‘Scotland the Brave’, ‘Black Bear’ and ‘Highland Laddie’.

Cadets Beat the Retreat outside Edinburgh Castle

Taking part in the event for the first time was saxophonist Cadet Andrew Hope, who is attached to the Band of the Black Watch based in Scotland. Andrew said: ‘It was quite a nerve-wracking experience given that this is my first time and there are so many people watching. However, it was so cool to march through the tunnel from the Castle.’

Probationary Instructor Benjamin Tullis, an adult volunteer with the Band of the Black Watch, also took part in the event. Benjamin commented on what a fantastic opportunity it was for the young people: ‘It’s an amazing moment for the Cadets because they get to develop their marching and playing skills.’

Cadets in kilts march

Aside from musical skills, Andrew was also enthusiastic about the practical skills he gained from being involved with the Beating Retreat: ‘You gain a lot of discipline because you have to get here on time and follow instructions!’

The positive impact music and events like this can have on young people is something Second Lieutenant Callum Mellis is particularly effusive about: ‘It’s brilliant! Music has been proven to help children with so many things, like maths, literacy, learning disorders and mental health. There’s a direct connection between musical ability and wider educational and societal benefits which make events like this really important. To give these young people a voice through music is just fantastic!’

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