Drum (Article courtesy and copyright
� John Mount 2000)
Drake's Drum : In 1918 as the German fleet steamed into the port of
Scapa Flow to surrender, the eerie tattoo of a kettle drum's victory roll
began sounding below decks in the British battleship Royal Oak. Twice the
commander sent officers to search out its source. When nothing was found
the commander himself made a search of the ship. But every man was at his
station and still the ghostly drummer continued his sonorous vigil.
The moment the ship dropped anchor the mysterious drum rolls ceased -
Drake, it would seem was at rest once more.
The Englishman Sir Francis Drake, was a man of many talents, his naval
career extended from an apprenticeship on a coastal vessel to the rank of
admiral during the invasion by the Spanish Armada.
During his life he was an explorer, (the first Englishman to see the
Pacific ocean) and as a navigator he twice circumnavigated the globe (the
first, by an Englishman). As a privateer under the secret commission of
Queen Elizabeth I he attacked Spanish ports at will and at one stage
brazenly sailed into the Main Spanish harbour of Cadiz where the Armada
was being assembled for the coming invasion of Britain. After sinking
10,000 tons of shipping (a considerable amount in those days) he
laconically reported that he had just "singed the King of Spain's
When the Spanish Armada finally sailed, Drake was in the middle of a game
of bowls and was most put out when told of the imminent arrival of the
Spanish fleet. "Don't worry," he coolly informed his comrades,
"there's plenty of time to win this game and thrash the Spanish,
Drake's landfall accomplishments were nearly as spectacular as his
seaborne ones. Besides his knighthood; in 1582 he was made mayor of
Plymouth, and in 1584-85 was elected to represent the county of Bossiney
As the saying goes, you can take the man out of the sea but you can't take
the sea out of the man, consequently Drake teamed up again with Hawkins
and the two old sea-dogs set sail for the Spanish Main.
After capturing the fort of Nombre de Dios Drake sailed West and during
the voyage became ill with fever and was too sick to remain on deck. On
the night of January 27, partly delirious, Drake struggled from his bed
insisting he should don his armor and die like a true knight.
He died before dawn the next day. His body was placed in a lead coffin and
given to the sea off Portobello. Whilst on his deathbed he ordered
that his drum be taken and hung in Buckland Abbey near Plymouth where it
hangs today. He vowed that if England should ever be in danger from a foe
and someone were to beat upon the drum he would return again to defend her
It is said that while Napoleon, was being held a prisoner in Plymouth
after the battle of Waterloo the drum was heard to give a low `growl'.
Apparently it has been heard three times this century, first in 1914 when
the first world war started, four years later on the battleship Royal Oak
and again in the second world war during the retreat from Dunkirk.
"Take my drum to England, hang it by the shore,
And strike it when your powder's running low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I'll quit the port of
heaven, and drum them up the channel as we
drummed them long ago." Sir Henry John Newbolt 1862-1938