Devon PL20 6EY
A most important historical relic can be seen in Buckland Abbey at Buckland Monachorum in Devon. This relic is a 16th century side-drum belonging to Sir Francis Drake – Defeater of the Spanish Armada and circumnavigator of the world.
The black leather drum emblazoned with Drake’s coat of arms is a lovely example of a 16th century side-drum and would be merely interesting except for its ghostly habit of beating at times of national importance!
Over the centuries and prior to more modern communications, military personnel received their orders via the beating of a drum. This drum was used by Drake to call his seamen to action stations and when he was dying of dysentery in the Caribbean in 1596 he requested that the drum and his belongings be returned to his home at Buckland Abbey.
England's Hour of Need
According to legend he requested that the drum hang in his home so that when England needed his assistance it would be beaten to summon him from the grave to lead England to victory.
Again, according to legend, the drum has been heard to beat unaided on some particularly momentous occasions over the centuries.
The drum is said have been heard beating when the Mayflower left Plymouth for America in 1620, when Admiral Lord Nelson was made a Freeman of Plymouth, and when Napoleon was brought into Plymouth Harbour as a prisoner.
In the 20th century, the drum is said to have given a victory roll when the German Imperial Fleet surrendered in Scapa Flow in 1918. During the Second World War it allegedly beat on several occasions, once in 1938 when Buckland Abbey caught fire. Some say the relics were only saved because the drum’s beating woke the warden.
The drum was removed to a safer place but nearby Plymouth was being devastated by air raids. Locals remembered the old saying that “If Drake’s Drum should be moved from its rightful home, the city will fall”. The drum was returned to the Abbey and the city remained safe for the rest of the war.
Evacuation of Dunkirk
In May, 1940 the drum was said to have beaten during the evacuation of Dunkirk, and in September 1940, two soldiers on the Hampshire coast claimed they heard the drum beating defiantly during the Battle of Britain.
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Falklands War & London Bombing
It remained quiet until 1982 when it was said to have beaten quietly during the Falklands War. The most recent spectral soft drumming is said to have occurred on 7 July 2005 when London suffered a terrorist attack.
The truth is that the drum did belong to Drake and side-drums were listed as part of the Bill of Lading of the ship he last sailed in. The drum and other personal items were returned to the family following his death.
Britain's Indomitable Spirit
The legend starts with the delirious mumblings of a dying man. It has grown with the British love for a courageous, immensely talented sailor and explorer who was instrumental in the saving of England from invasion at two critical times.
The beating of Drake’s Drum has become synonymous with Britain’s indomitable spirit in times of trouble.