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The Pipes of War
A Gossip about the Gordon Highlanders. By J. N. Bulloch


IF the Great War has reversed some preconceptions and ruthlessly rationalised many traditions, it has confirmed, and actually enhanced, the fine fighting reputation of the ten Regiments of the Line—half of them kilted— which Scotland contributes to the British Army. We now know of a certainty that this reputation is well founded as we did not know it before. True, there has long been a legend to that effect, but of recent years there has been a disposition to question its validity. Scotland, or rather the articulate part of it, has borrowed the deadly doctrine of self-depreciation, from which the dominant partner has suffered severely, and the suggestion has not been wanting that the praise of Scots troops, which received such an impetus from the enthusiastic pen of the author of Time Romance of War, was somewhat overdone. We were reminded that our Army had not had to face troops on the Continent of Europe since the days of the Crimea one Scots Regiment had not done so since 1799, while the Gordons had nothing to show for it since Waterloo.

If that was true of the old "Contemptibles" generally, it was still truer of the auxiliary forces, which had seen no fighting at all, except in South Africa; but to-day all of them have stood the acid test of the greatest war in history. The old "Contemptibles" were never finer, and we have lived to see one of the best Divisions in the Army composed entirely of kilted Territorials. Indeed, a cloud of witnesses has arisen to prove that all the 126 Battalions, into which the 69 composing the Scots Regiments expanded themselves for the purposes of war, have rendered magnificent service. If we relied merely on the word of the Commander-in-Chief we might suspect bias, for Earl Haig and more than one of his Generals are Scots by birth but we have the appreciation of the special newspaper war-correspondents, and not one of them hailed from north of the Border.

We have, moreover, the testimony of the enemy, who very quickly recognised the valour and skill of all the Scots Regiments, particularly those of the 51st Division. Indeed, the Scots soldier, although lie represented only eleven per cent. of the British Army against eighty-one per cent, of England itself, took hold of the imagination of the Germans to such an extent that their caricaturists turned John Bull into a Highlander, converting his traditional tall hat into a diced "cockit" bonnet, his white riding breeches into a kilt or tartan trews, and his top-boots into gaiters. The pages of Simplicissmu.s, Klaclderadaisch, and Jugend, to name only a few, have throughout the war pictured a long procession of the "wife-men" as representing the British Army, at first in a spirit of incredulous burlesque, and latterly with something of the wholesome fear, which was popularly supposed to have overtaken George the Second when he started in his sleep in terror as he dreamed that the "Great Glen-bogged" (Glenbucket) was swooping down upon him.

It was to the advent of the father of that monarch that we owe the raising of the kilted Scots—nearly all the trewsed Regiments arose in the previous century—though the connection was indirect, not to say inverted, and was touched with an irony (especially in the light of the greatest of wars), which has been largely lost on a certain type of popularly accepted English history. According to this reasoning, the Highlanders, on seeing the country in danger owing to the expansion adventures of the dominant partner at the expense of France, flocked to the colours at the call of the English Government, and thus not only helped to save the Empire, but gratified their own passion for arms, which had been severely suppressed after the Forty-Five.

The facts, however, are very different from this facile theory. To begin with, if the country as a whole had little consciousness of expansion, as Seeley argued, the Highlander had infinitely less, for one of the main troubles of dealing with him, even in our own day, has been his homing instinct, his intense love of his native soil, no matter how poor it may be. In the second place, the ambitions of the House of Hanover touched no responsive chord in the Highlander's heart, for the Clans had felt the full scourge of Teutonism in the ruthless work of Cumberland at Culloden.

Again, if France was the hereditary arch-enemy of the dominant partner, Scotland in general and the Highlands in particular, had no such quarrel with her. On the contrary, France and Scotland, linked together by racial, psychological, and historical similarities and identities of interest, had long been the best of friends, and it must have puzzled the average Highlander why he should be asked to fight against her. So strong is this community of spirit that it might very well be argued that the Highland Regiments have never fought better in their long history than they have done in the Great War, because they were fighting for France, as well as for their native country.

No doubt the Union had placed Scotland in the same category as England so far as France was concerned, but the kilted regiments arose, not so much out of a political necessity as from a revival of the spirit which had made the Scot in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a soldier of fortune wherever he was wanted, fighting now for Rome, and now in the ranks of Gustavus Adolphus against her; fighting to a large extent without passion, but as an artist in arms; and it was this absence of bias as much as anything else that made these venturers clean fighters, and raised their reputation as masters of their art wherever they took service.

From first to last the spirit which animated the soldier of fortune—out to gratify his instinct for adventure, his desire to make a living, and his passion for individuality—has always inspired the Highland regiments to a remarkable extent. It is true that the war with France involved the most momentous issues for the State, but the methods adopted for warding off the danger were far more personal and local than national. It might be argued that the real cause of the war with France was due to the imperialistic ambitions of individual adventurers, and therefore raised little national animus, but precisely the same methods of meeting a crisis coloured the early stages of Armageddon, when every one felt involved, the influence of one man, Lord Kitchener, being far more potent in rousing resistance than any abstract doctrine of State necessity.

The raising of troops to fight France was at no time the complete State undertaking that conscription has involved in our own day. At first the duty was taken up by individual landowners, who raised in turn Regiments of the Line and Fencible Corps; and when their pockets were exhausted, the task was assigned to local authorities like the Lords Lieutenant, who were commissioned to raise in turn Militia, Volunteers (1794-1808), and the very curious force known as Local Militia (1808-1816).

Scotland afforded a splendid ground for the exercise of personal influence because, although the Clan system with its chieftainship had broken down, the influence of the great landowners was still powerful enough to attract attention, although the devotion of the people had to be reinforced by bounties on a scale unknown in our day, and by all sorts of practical recognition, such as the adjustment of rents and the enlargement of holdings for, although the armies thus raised had strong affinities with the levies organised under the feudal system, the Clan system was infinitely more democratic, and gave scope for greater individuality. This is so true that it often happened that the men raised in one glen declined to march to the rendezvous with the men of another glen who happened to be their hereditary enemies, and trouble arose over the demands of particular groups to be led by their local officers, some of them even believing that they should go forth to battle by Clans, as in the old days.

Of all the personal potentates interested in recruiting in Scotland, none was more powerful than the fourth Duke of Gordon who, although long in possession of vast tracts of Highland territory, was in no sense a Highlander, his family having migrated from Berwickshire to the north, and the trouble which existed for centuries between him and his Highland tenants, like the Macphersons, was due to the inability of his ancestors, or their representatives, to understand the true nature of the Celt. More motives than one urged His Grace forward as recruiter. In the first place, his immediate ancestors had played a very dubious part in the Jacobite risings, and the fourth Duke was anxious to remove the last doubts as to the loyalty of his house. Later on he married an extremely clever and ambitious woman, the famous Jane Maxwell, who had a great desire to play a big part in the State, and do something for her sons.

Whatever the motives, the recruiting achievements of His Grace were splendid, for from first to last lie raised no fewer than four complete regiments, besides contributing two companies to corps raised by others. and he also played a very active part as Lord Lieutenant of his county, The forces organised by the Duke were as follows:

The sole remnant of this mighty effort, which must have cost the Duke a fortune, is the regiment of Gordon Highlanders, which we have seen blossom out into eleven battalions, to say nothing of certain reserves; and although the regiment has not continued to be recruited on the ducal estates, its connection with the House of Gordon has all along been maintained, and has actually been strengthened in recent times. That connection of course has always been symbolised by the wearing of the clan tartan, but the links with the north were strengthened by the rearrangement of 1872, when infantry regiments were allotted to definite Territorial areas for the purpose of recruiting. About the same time the Gordon family motto, "Bydand," and the familiar crest were placed upon the bonnet in lieu of the hard-won Sphinx.

What is of much more importance is the fact that the genius of the family, admirably described in the alliterative phrase the "Gay Gordons," which inspired the original regiment, has passed into all its subsequent accretions, so that the 75th Regiment added to it in 1881, although actually of earlier origin, has been completely absorbed. The same can be said of the old Aberdeenshire Militia, which became the 3rd Battalion, and also of the various Volunteer Corps which were gradually absorbed, while the Service Battalions raised by Lord Kitchener displayed exactly the same spirit as the cradle corps. This continuity and identity of tradition are also emphasised, not only in the Gordons, but in all the Scots regiments, and especially in the kilted units, by the fact that they alone maintained during the War at least, part of their Peace equipment in the shape of the kilt—even if it was camouflaged with khaki aprons—and the trewsed regiments had their glengarries replaced by Kilmarnock and other braid bonnets.

Who can doubt that such a continuity of outward traditions is but the symbol of a spiritual identity which links up the Scots regiments of the present day with the Corps who did such splendid work of old from Fontenoy to Waterloo, from the Crimea to South Africa. True, when you come to define it, it is difficult to say what it precisely consists in. Nearly every Regiment of the Line has its own peculiarities, but the Scots regiments have them in even greater abundance, for with them they are reinforced by marked racial characteristics. It is perfectly true that the Highland regiments are no longer confined to Highlanders, or even to Scotsmen, although the idea industriously propagated some years ago that they were originally composed largely of Irishmen, is a fallacy, completely disproved by War Office Records. Even if it were otherwise, the fact remains that the esprit de corps which all these idiosyncracies help to form has a remarkably proselytising influence, very subtle and difficult to define, but very potent in actual practice.

The early history of the Gordons is full of curious little incidents which sometimes run counter to popular notions. For example, it used to be commonly only supposed, especially in support of the now exploded theory that we have become "degenerate," that the first recruits of the Highland regiments were gigantic men. This is far from being the case. From the Description Book of the Gordons, one of the very few regiments which possess such data in an early form, it is proved that the average height Of 914 men composing the greater part (940) of time original regiment, was only 5' 5½", only six of them being 6' or upwards—the tallest, a 'Morayshire man, scaling 6 4'. Similar facts can be cited about the heights of other groups of men at the same period.

There were only 16 men actually named Gordon, against 39 Macdonalds, 35 Macphersons, and 34 Camerons. As to the occupations of the men, it is interesting to note that 442 were described as "labourers," and as most of them came from the Highlands, they were presumably farm servants. Of skilled artisans, 186 were weavers. Inverness-shire, where the Duke had vast estates, supplied 240 men, Aberdeenshire 124, Banffshire 82, Lanark 62, Ireland 51, England 9, and Wales 2.

There was a solitary German in the regiment, a musician named C. Augustus Sochling, hailing from Hesse Cassel. There was another German in the regiment later on, also a musician, named Friederich Zeigher (or Zugner) who fell at Quatre Bras. The appearance of these Germans was in its way a sort of return for the fact that the House of Gordon had given many good soldiers of its name to what we now call Germany, although most of them really took post in Poland. The descendants of at least four of these soldiers still exist in Germany, and have risen to the dignity of a \fl including the founder of the von Gordon-Coldwells, of Laskowitz, in West Prussia, the von Gordons of Frankfurt, and the family of Dr. Adolf von Gordon, the well-known Berlin lawyer, whose motto is "Byid Dand." Although at the beginning of 1914 he told a Berlin newspaper that he knew nothing more about it than that it was an " altschottischer Spruchi,"it is, of course, nothing more or less than the historic word " Bydand."

With regard to the pipe history of the regiment not very much is known. I fancy this is due to the fact that so much that has to do with the art of piping generally rests on oral and not written tradition. In the second place it must be remembered that pipers were not originally recognised by the State. They were purely a regimental, and not an Army, institution, and had no separate rank as the drummers had. Indeed, it was not till about 1853 that they got the same rank and pay as drummers. Thus, in May 180, a piper named Alexander Cameron was taken on the strength of the Grenadiers as drummer, probably to get him drummer's pay, to which, as a piper, he was not entitled.

The rivalry of the two is brought out in a story told in Carrs Caledonian Sketches, of a dispute as to precedence between a piper and a drummer of a Highland regiment. When the Captain decided in favour of the latter, the piper expostulated with the remark, "Oh, sir, shall a little rascal that beats a sheepskin take the right hand of me that am a musician?" The differentiation of the two is still reflected in the fact that a piper is always a piper, whereas a "musician" returns to the ranks in time of war.

The first direct mention of pipers in the Gordons occurs in a regimental order of October 27, 1796, when the regiment was at Gibraltar, and when it was ordained that pipers were to attend all fatigue parties. An interesting sidelight on the use of the pipes occurs in a regimental order of November 12, 1812, when the regiment was at Alba de Tormes in Spain:

"'l'he pibroch will never sound except when it is for the whole regiment to get under arms; when any portion of the regiment is ordered for duty and a pipe to sound, the first pipe will be the warning, and the second pipe for them to fall in. The pibroch only will, and is to be considered, as invariably when sounded, for every persons off duty to turn out without a moment's delay."

A pathetic little story about this function of the pipers is told by James Hope in his forgotten little book, Letters from Portugal, Spain and France, printed in 1819:

"At ten o'clock (on the evening of the day of Quatre Bras) the piper of the 92nd took post under the garden hedge in front of the village, and, tuning his bagpipes, attempted to collect the sad remains of his regiment. Long and loud blew Cameron, and, although the hills and vallies (sic) reechoed the hoarse murmurs of his favourite instrument, his utmost efforts could not produce more than half of those whoin his music had cheered in the morning on their march to the field of battle."

At the battle of St. Pierre in the Peninsular, December 13, 1813, two out of the three pipers of the Gordons were killed while playing the pibroch "Cogadh na sitli " (with which they were to charm the ears of the Czar of Russia in the great Review at Paris in July, 1815). As one fell, another took up the tune, and it was suggested to Sir John Sinclair, as President of the Highland Society, that this "should be made known all over the Highlands." It may be noted that the Colonel, the gallant, if martinet, Cameron of Fassiefern, who fell at Quatre Bras, gave great encouragement to his pipers, especially as regards the specially Highland airs and the high-class music (Ceol Mor). Colonel Greenhill Gardyne attributes to this the fact that "all pipers in the Gordons are still taught to play "Piobaircachd," and that the ancient and characteristically Highland class of pipe music is still played every day under the windows of the officers quarters before dinner.

The Gordons have enjoyed the services of one particular family of hereditary ear-pipers, the Stewarts. They came from Perthshire, where one of thein. was a piper to the Duke of Atholl, while his brother, known as "Piper Jamie," crossed time hills into the Parish of Kirkmichael, Banffshire —the cradle of a remarkable military family, the Gordons of Croughlywhere seven sons were born to him. All of these strapping fellows entered the Aberdeenshire Militia, now the 3rd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, six of them becoming pipers. The best known of these was the eldest, Donald (1849-1913), who migrated to New Deer, Aberdeenshire, and was known all over Scotland as a champion piper. The family has been supplying pipers to the Gordons for more than half a century.

No doubt modern battles are not won by deeds of individual daring such as these pipers have achieved, but they are won in terms of the spirit which makes such conduct possible, for it is just the little things, the train of tradition, the idiosyncracies of uniform, and the rest of it, which go to form that esprit de corps which has made time kilted regiments famous the world over.


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