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FIFE MAJOR

The Fife Major was the second-in-command of a corps of drums, responsible for the training and discipline of the regiment’s fifers.  It was nonetheless a semi-official rank within the British Army, as not every regiment maintained a fife major as part of its establishment.  Still, a number of regiments in Canada such as the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion and the Frontier Light Infantry had fife majors during the War of 1812.

Evidence concerning the dress of fife majors is extremely scarce.  A watercolour of the fife major of the 7th (Royal Fusiliers) Regiment painted in 1787 suggests they wore uniforms similar to those of the drum major, including a laced baldric as a badge of office.  The drum and fife majors’ uniforms of the 7th Regiment were, however, entirely non-regulation and unusually elaborate owing to the fact that the regiment’s colonel at that time was HRH the Duke of Kent, son of King George III and a notable enthusiast of military fashion. 

John Shipp, who served as fife major of the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment in the very early 1800s left the most comprehensive description of a typical fife major’s uniform in his memoirs.  Shipp recounted that when promoted, he wore “two stripes [corporal’s insignia] and a tremendous long sash [of a sergeant], which almost touched the ground” along with his normal drummers’ coat, and was allowed to carry a small cane as well.  Later, having grown out of his previous coat, he was issued “a splendid white silver-laced jacket [or light buff, the 22nd’s facing colour], with two small silver epaulettes,” which his swagger caused to sway in the evening breeze.  Whether this was the distinctive dress of the 22nd’s fife major or a cast-off drum major’s coat is unclear.  Regardless, it is clear that corporal’s stripes and a sergeant’s sash worn in conjunction with some form of musician’s uniform were the distinguishing marks of a fife major, at least in the 22nd Regiment.