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DateOriginal Topic
14th November 2003whistles
By jim
Hi There,
I've been told that whistles were carried by
victorian soldiers.
can anybody give me any information on this
thanks in advance
15th November 2003John Young

I don't know if whistles were carried as a general rule, but I do know that officers of Rifle regiments wore them on the full dress cross belt.

I have several photographs of officers from the 60th, and their whistles are quite obvious. If you'd like I will scan you some in order that you can see the design.

John Y.
15th November 2003Adrian Whiting

Further to John's reply above, I hope I can help in relation to other regiments. The 1877 pocket edition of Field Exercise (p92) has the following entry regarding whistles:

Whistle sounds are used either as signals, or to attract attention to the preconcerted signals of company commanders, or section leaders.

This entry appears in the "extended order" section of "company drill" and is thus applicable to all battalions of infantry.

In the 1884 edition, (p 422) the actual whistle signals are given their musical notation. The calls available on the whistle are attention (to attract rather than stand to...) advance, halt, retire and assemble/rally.

The whistle has two holes and the calls are achieved by stopping none or either one of the holes and playing a short sequence of notes. If you are desperately keen I can scan the "music" in and send it to you !

The 1877 Field Exercise implies availability to officers and sergeants (section leaders). However I cannot find any reference to their issue in equipment regs or clothing regs. If anyone else can point me to this I would be grateful. The range of calls, and the subsequent text in the 1884 Field Exercise all point fairly strongly to the whistle being primarily a means of attracting attention.

I hope this assists.


Given that all the above calls, and a lot more besides, were also achievable on the bugle, my supposition is that the whistle was a secondary option if a drummer (bugler in the Rifles) were not to hand to sound the necessary call on the bugle.
17th November 2003Mike McCabe
The whistle was a long accepted alternative to the bugle, were buglers to be absent or casualties. Clearly, the range of signsal would be more limited and could not easily replicate bugle field calls based on five notes. They were at least in use during the Crimean War, and were formally commemorated in the dress regulations of some Light Infantry Battalions as 'The Inkerman Whistle', being worn on their red sashes by the Serjeants and Serjeant Majors. It was also found in the Crimea that in very cold weather, buglers And trumpeters, with 7 notes to blow) faced great difficulty in sounding recognisable bugle and trumpet calss at short notice - until the mouthpiece and instrument could be warmed up - and bugler!
17th November 2003jim
John,Adrian and Mike,
Thank you very much for your replies.
I can ssume that the whistles were the policeman type and not a pea whistle?
17th November 2003Mike McCabe
The regiments that continue to wear whistles as a 'ceremonial' dress distinction, generally wear forms of pea whistles - though in their modern form, these are sometimes sylised and do not actually blow (though should). Some cavalry and infantry regiments adopted the policeman type whistle after the Boer War experience, the whistle being worn attached to a leather strap (and held in a cylindrical leather retaining sleave) on the shoulder strap of the officer's Sam Browne belt, or, on a cord lanyard attached (usually) to the left shoulder, with the whistle placed in the pocket. The 'Acme Thunderer' pea type whistle was also brought into use in WW1, being much louder and easier to hear - as well as being easier to blow.
19th November 2003Adrian Whiting

The whistle type that is illustrated in the 1866 Equipment Regs for rifles and light infantry is more of the "police" type of design - though it is hard to be precise.

The examples I have seen have an upper and lower hole, on opposing sides as opposed to in line like a flute for example. As you can see above, the holes were stopped to produce the necessary notes. Mike has added detail about the range of notes v the bugle.


31st December 2003tim rose
As Adrian rightly points out officers whistles were of the two tone sort - if you would like a jpeg photo of one drop me a line - atb Tim