< Previous
Next >

Beat The Retreat On Thy Drum

by R P Weston and Bert Lee (1931)

Side drum
Military side drum

Also known as Sam, Sam, Beat the Retreat, written in 1931 and performed by Stanley Holloway.

Since, in the story, Sam is 102 years old and recalling events at the age of 10, we can forgive him for getting a little confuddled. The exercise of 'Beating The Retreat' was initiated by the British Army in the 16th century as a means to call 'Time Out' when the senior officer deemed it was too dark for further fighting. Such retirement was natural for both sides and in no way implied capitulation. (Ref: Army website)

Sam refuses to "beat the retreat" but is willing to "beat the tattoo". In fact, the original meanings were quite similar in that 'tattoo' originates from the Dutch taptoe, which means closing the taps of beer caskets. Beating the tattoo was the drum signal calling soldiers to return to the barracks from the taverns. (The decorative tattoo made by inserting indelible ink into the skin originates from the Polynesian tatau.)

The stereotypical French expletive sacré bleu in this poem literally means 'sacred blue', which could be a profane reference to the Virgin Mary or a euphemism for sacré Dieu ('Sacred God'). Below, we see the translation (5th verse) as 'by gum'. And that translation is quite close, since the stereotypical Yorkshire expletive 'by gum' is a euphemism for 'by God'.

I'm hundred and two today, bagoom!
Eh, today, I'm a hundred and two,
And at ten years of age, I wor soldiering, aye,
I wor drummer boy at Waterloo. 

And when Wellington said "Sam, my lad, get thy drum,"
I wor so mighty anxious to start
That I dashed on in front and got captured by French,
And wor taken afore Boneyparte.

And Boneyparte, scratching his-self under t'arm,
Like you see him in pictures today
Said "Voila! so you are a drummer boy, oui?
Then show me how well you can play."

"Sam, Sam! beat the Retreat! Beat the Retreat on thy drum,"
I said "Beat the what?" He said, "Beat the Retreat."
I said "Nay, that's one thing as I'll never beat;
I'll beat ye the Charge, or I'll beat the Tattoo,
But I'm British and Yorkshire, ba goom!
And though you're Napoleon, I'll see thee blowed
If I'll beat the Retreat on my drum!"

Then scratching his-self under t'arm once again,
In the way Boneyparte always did,
He said, "Sacré bloo! " which is French for "Ba goom",
"Eh, thou hast got a sauce for a kid."

Then he called Josephine (Josephine wor his Queen)
And he said "Tell this lad, Josephine,
If he don't beat Retreat on his drum,
He'll be shot - aye and put underneath Guil-li-o-tine."

So she put her arm round me, and stroking me 'air,
She whispered, "Hush, hush now - coom, coom!
Be a good lad - do as Boneyparte tells thee,
And beat the Retreat on thy drum!"

I said "Missus, nay!" then she started to cry,
And she murmured "0, lad, you are too sweet to die;
And hast thou a mother who loves thee?" she sobbed.
I said "Aye, and she's Yorkshire, ba goom!
And she'd beat the Retreat on me trousers
If I were to beat the Retreat on me drum!"

Drummer boy

Then Boneyparte scratching his-self once again
Said "My lad, I've a Mother like her,"
And taking his medals off with his two hands
And unpinning his gold Croix de Guerre
He put them on me, kissed me on both cheeks,
Then pulled me outside of the tent,
And leading me up to his Army,

And scratching his-self undert'arm as he went,
"Soldiers or France," he cried,
"This is Sam Small, he's a hero though only a kid,
E-coutez, mes braves, et com-prenez toute suite!
What do you think this lad did?"

"Beat the Retreat on thy drum! said I,
Beat the Retreat on thy drum!
And this lad refused, though I said he should die;
Why did he refuse?" I said "I'll tell 'em why:

For two reasons I wouldn't beat the Retreat
Though I knew that it meant kingdom come;
One reason was somebody pinched both me sticks,
And the other, I'd busted me drum!"

One of the most popular stories of Waterloo; Les Misérables


search 🔍



privacy policy