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The Pipes of War
The Pipes in the War, 1914-1918 - Foreigners and the Pipes


Brought in contact as Scottish troops have been with those of our Allies it is not surprising that military pipers have attracted the attention of observers and writers who, before the war, knew nothing of their existence. From the early days of the war the pipes, the tartan and the kilt aroused the liveliest interest in France; and perhaps the sincerest tribute to them is the fact that, in their caricatures of the nations, the Germans usually depicted the British soldier as a particularly unattractive Highlander.

At first the French writers were mildly sarcastic about the players of the "cornemuse," and regarded them as an amiable weakness of the comrades of the "auld alliance"; but gradually they discovered that pipes and tartan were the outward and visible signs of a spirit which won their wholehearted admiration, and then their attitude changed.

Describing an attack by the 51st Division a French observer wrote:

Resolutely they crossed what seemed to be impossible ground . . . they charged to the shrill sounds of the bagpipes . . . they charged like heroes of Walter Scott—leurs bonnets a rubans et lezir ju,bes de danseuses."

Though the Breton bignon, the cornemuse, the German dudelsackpfeife are no longer—if they ever were—instruments of war, the instinctive admiration for the pipes remains in the most unexpected quarters; and in France, Flanders, Italy, the Balkans, and even the occupied portions of Germany, "piob mhor" has aroused race memories long dormant. One effect of this is the demand which has recently arisen in Italy for pipes from this country; another is the fact that the French Government have added a painting of a piper by a French artist to the official collection of war pictures.

American observers were often very ignorant of the mysteries of the bagpipe. A writer in the Boston Evening Transcript, after eulogising the piper as a military institution, informs his readers that in the hands of a really skilled performer the strains of the pipes can be heard for a distance of six miles against the wind or ten miles if the conditions are favourable. The writer may have been of M'Crimmon descent, but his enthusiasm exceeded his powers of observation.

One thing is quite certain, viz., whatever their inmost feelings regarding the musical qualities of the pipes, foreigners generally appreciate their military value in war and share the opinion of the court-martial in 1746 that they must be regarded as an "instrument of war."

The Germans certainly were not slow in forming an estimate of the military value of the piper. From a very early stage in the war they learned to associate the instrument with a type of troops for whose mentality, as exhibited in the attack, they had more respect than sympathy, and the piper at once became a marked man whenever he went over the top. The casualties among pipers while playing would of themselves suggest that this was the case but the statements of officer prisoners show that orders were given to pick off pipers for precisely the same reason as officers commanding platoons or companies.


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