Soldiers who have served

WO2 (Drum Major) D Hilton

Drum Major David Hilton died suddenly at work in December 2003. David who was also known as ‘Drummy’ or ‘Hilly’ at various stages of his career, was probably better known to the majority of us as ‘Dave’.

I first met Dave at school in Bury St Edmunds and he was the epitome of a ‘Bury Boy’. He was quiet, unflappable and he had a presence about him, even then. He had a flair for technical subjects and even at this early stage had demonstrated a skill in carpentry which he was to develop throughout the years.

As soon as we were old enough we joined the Suffolk Army Cadet Force and it was there that we experienced our first taste of uniform life at the old TA Centre in King’s Road, Bury St Edmunds. It was a sign of things to come; when the detachment were presented with the instruments from one of the former Suffolk Regiment units, whilst most cadets made a grab for a bugle or drum, Dave simply picked up the Mace.

After leaving school, Dave enlisted into the 1st Battalion the East Anglian Regiment as a Junior Drummer. While completing his junior service at Blenheim Camp in Bury St Edmunds he demonstrated considerable expertise as a side drummer and was promoted through the ranks to Junior Sergeant, the highest rank achievable at that time.

After completion of his training, he was attached to the 3rd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment in Berlin awaiting the return of the 1st Battalion from Aden. After joining the Viking’s Corps of Drums in Celle, Germany, Dave quickly established himself as an accomplished side drummer, and at the same time his soldiering abilities and leadership skills saw him selected for early promotion.

During the 60s, 70s and 80s the role of the Corps of Drums underwent a considerable period of change; Mechanised Infantry, Defence Platoon, SF Platoon, Rifle Platoon and always the Drums Platoon. Dave continued to rise through the ranks and was a strong influence and key component in the Corps of Drums throughout these years of change.

As a side drummer Dave was second to none, I don’t think that anyone who witnessed The Corps of Drums performing at a Beating of Retreat could fail to be stirred or moved. The side drum routines co-ordinated by Dave as the Drum Sergeant were an integral part of their success and reputation at that time.

The Corps of Drums have a unique ésprit de corps, and Dave’s support as Drum Sergeant to Drum Major Dougie May produced a combination that was a pleasure to observe, and which would be very difficult to equal, let alone beat. When Dave succeeded Dougie as Drum Major, I offer no offence when I say it was probably the first time in living memory that the Vikings had a Drum Major who was not an extrovert.

I think that everyone has dreamed of leading the Battalion onto the square in the position of Drum Major and few filled that role better than Dave. In 1984 Dave was the Drum Major for the 1st Battalion Tercentenary Parade and as always, did an outstanding job. He was very proud of his position, but he was at all times a modest man.

During his time with the Vikings, Dave served in Germany, Libya, Denmark, Catterick, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Israel, Kenya, Norway, Oakington, Canada and Belize. As Drum Major, Dave took considerable pride and pleasure on the occasions that he commanded his Platoon on Operational Service in Northern Ireland and Belize, an appointment at which he excelled.
But, that is very much the trait of a native of Norfolk and Suffolk, and he was ‘An Anglian’ through and through. Slow to anger, quick to react, he was someone you would choose to have by your side in any conflict. He had an excellent sense of humour and a very infectious laugh. Dave Hilton was a carpenter, a soldier, a drummer, a comrade, a Viking, and a friend to many of us. He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered. Throughout his service he was an example and inspiration and his legacy goes on to this day in the form of the Drummers of today who followed him.

Dave retired from the Army in 1987 and returned to Bury St Edmunds and took up his love of carpentry as a profession.

The attendance at the funeral service was excellent, with no fewer than 10 former Drum Majors present, and the great number of attendees was testimony to his popularity and the esteem in which he was held by all members of the Battalion and Regiment.

We extend our sympathy to his sons Simon and Michael.