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The Pipes of War
The Pipes in the War, 1914-1918 - The Pipes in Captivity


Even pipers fall into the hands of the enemy occasionally, but they were never allowed to take their instruments with them into captivity. Gradually, as "comforts," pipes were sent out to individual officers and men and the following letter from an officer of the Gordon Highlanders who was at Friedberg Camp, indicates how popular pipe music became among his fellow-prisoners of the Allied armies.

"FRIEDBERG, 11/1/1917.

Though only a young player I play here every day and do not find people too hostile to me. The Russians, French and even the Germans greet me with great interest and seem to find pleasure in listening to me— though as I said I am no great player the most unsympathetic are always to be found among the ranks of the " Sassenach." I learnt to play in 1911, on joining my Regiment, under George MacLennan, who was Pipe-Major at that time. While on leave in Edinburgh I used to have lessons with his father—Jno. MacLennan. Up till now I have only attempted "The Glen is mine" and "Struan Robertson" in Piobaireachd, but having been thoroughly taught by the MacLennans I naturally follow their way of thinking'. Yesterday I played to a Russian who is a very good player of the piano. He was delighted with the Pipes and I conid not play too many tunes for him. Strathspeys and Reels are greatly appreciated by all our Russian friends. Last St. Andrew's Day we organized an Exhibition of dancing which was a complete success. As the Scottish Colony here is so small we asked the Russians to come and. help its. This they did right Nvell with dances and songs, the music being provided, in both cases, by "Balalaika," or Russian national instrument. For our part we danced two foursome Reels (dancing two different sets of steps), a Sword Dance and a Highland Schottische. In the latter dance we each took a Russian as a partner, they having been trained up for the event. We sang " Bonnie Dundee," "Lassies of Scotland," "MacPherson," and finished up with "Auld Lang Syne."

For the Reels my Russian friend provided the music on the piano. Our costume was of course improvised. Kilt, shoes and hose we had, we wore white shirts with lace cuffs, a strip of tartan fastened with a brooch at the shoulder to do duty as a plaid and a black velvet band with a lace ruffle, falling down in front, round our necks. Our sporans, with the exception of one which was made out of a local rabbit, all came from home. I had several pretty compliments paid to me by the Russians and French, both on our costume and dancing. Five of us took part altogether. I wonder if it would be too much to ask you to send me instructions for dancing the "Lochaber Broadswords" and the "Seann Triubhas," in case we have the misfortune to pass another St. Andrew's Day here in Germany. If we do we shall give another Exhibition and I would like to be able to vary it. I only know 12 Strathspey steps and 8 Reel steps. Since I have been a prisoner I have taught over 30 people to dance the Reel—including two Frenchmen and one Russian, and at present I have five pupils on the chanter. We are ifi Scots here, so can you say we are losing our national distinctions? I have only told you this because I thought it would interest you."

In Holland, in the internment camps, an organised pipe band was instituted by the writer of the above letter, and consisted of thirteen pipers of whom two were pipe majors.


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