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The Pipes of War
The Pipes in the everday Life of the War. By Arthur Fetterless


I DO not think any one can write with greater pleasure than I for the Pipers' Record. My only regret is that, personally, I never chanced to see the pipes go into direct action. I know that, in the earlier stages of the war, and in a few celebrated cases later, the pipes went into the charge, but I had not the good fortune to be present on one of these occasions. Others, however, will have written of these things, and I do not think I can do better than speak of events actually known to myself relating to the pipes and the pipers in the general life of the war.

The pipes! Ah No memories of the great war will ever be complete to any member of a Highland regiment without the recollection of the pipes, for they are unquestionably the finest battle instrument ever created. They mourned with us in hours of sorrow. They cheered us in hours of weariness. They played gaily in hours of rest and merriment.

Back in billets, in ruined villages, half the battalion would turn out to hear "Retreat" played by the pipe-band. It was one of the events of the day, in the summer in the sweltering heat of the dust-laden huts behind the front-line, in the winter in the dank cold mid the seas of mud, in the midst of which the pipers played upon an island that was sometimes almost a floating raft.

At these times the rumble of the guns was overwhelmed, and the horrors of war and the atmosphere were for a little time forgotten. And the fact that the pipes were the pride of the battalion was evident from the remarks of the men, if several Highland battalions were billeted together.

Your pipes are no' a patch on ours!

"Aw, away wi ye, look atyecr big drum he canna twirl his sticks above his heid."

"Umph! We've got a pipe-major, onyhoo."

"Aye." A grudging admission.

Such remarks were of the everyday talk of the men who heard the pipes.

Again, at the periodical meetings and games of Highland brigades, the massed bands of the battalions were always there playing a mighty skirl. There were, of course, piping competitions in conjunction with competitions in Highland dancing and sport.

All these occasions did much to rob modern war of its dismal character, and bring back something of the glamour of arms, and the glory of strong men.

But enough of general remarks. I wish to write of five typical scenes from the life of the war relating to pipes and the pipers.

In the first I am standing at the entrance to one of the low dug-outs, covered over with turf, which used to lie, and perhaps still exist, a few hundred yards from the Café Beige up the road to Ypres. Most people who fought in that sector found a billet in them at some time, or knew them— filthy they were.

Overhead a couple of aeroplanes are hovering, very high up. An occasional shell can be heard, coming from a long distance away, with a rolling noise. The shells are probably 9-inch or perhaps larger, and they are bursting with crash and splash in the fields around or near the road.

From the direction of the Café Beige I see a company of men in kilts advancing, men heavily laden with all the usual impedimenta of packs, rifles, etc. They look, in the distance, tired and grim, and in formation they are straggling, owing to the appallingly muddy state of the road.

A shell bursts in the field to the left of the road along which they are coming. There is a heavy cloud of smoke, and streams of mud and slime are spued upwards and around. For a moment the leader seems to hesitate, and the party halts. Then they move on again.

Suddenly there is a sound as of tuning up, and two pipers commence to play. The advancing men steady in formation and come slogging through the mud, with step almost rhythmic to the music.

"Crash!" Another shell bursts nearer them, splashing some of the platoon with mud. The pipes play on.
"Crash " A third shell bursts short of them.

The pipes play on, and the men march steadily past to the music of the pipes. They cover another hundred yards, and a shell bursts in the road where the platoon were marching a few seconds before. I say to myself, "Thank God, they got through in time."

As I look back it seems to me that that was not too bad an example of steadiness of pipers and men under dangerous fire. But of course it was all just an everyday sort of thing—a few men relieving trenches with a couple of pipers to cheer them on the way up—part of the everyday life of war.

The pipes only began to play after the shelling broke out.

* * * * * * * *

My second scene is an incident taken from life in France. I think the pipes did their share in fostering the entente, and the arrival of Highland battalions with their pipe-bands marching in front did much to engrave in the hearts of the French people memories which will be carried on from generation to generation.

In this second scene I stood at the entrance to a French town when a very famous battalion entered the main street marching to attention, with pipe-band playing. It was the first Scottish battalion to enter that town.

Near me stood a little girl in a white dress. Her face, on seeing the band, first expressed astonishment. The expression changed to pleased interest, and finally she burst into gleeful smiles.

As the band came near her she danced along beside the pipers, a beautiful golden-haired child, supremely happy.

The people standing around cheered and waved with French enthusiasm. To them undoubtedly, in one of the darkest hours of the war—those magnificent men and the music of the pipes bore a message of hope and determination, with the promise of ultimate victory.

To any people who are inclined to be supercilious about pipe-music, the recollection of the unfeigned pleasure of a beautiful child on hearing the pipes for the first time has often seemed to me to supply an answer. Those who cannot understand pipe-music might be able to do so if they were ready to receive it in the same simple spirit.

About the end of October 1915 the trenches on Hill 6o in front of Ypres, were in a particularly sodden state. The rotting sandbags which formed the parapets were a mass of oozing earth, continually being scattered by shell-fire and rebuilt again by the toilsome labours of mud-covered' "Jocks."

The Hun sniper, too, was exceptionally vigilant in these parts, and, as he had the advantage of ground and of enfilade fire from several points, to put a head above the parapet in daylight meant almost certain death. Men also were being continually wounded and killed while passing along the trenches at points where the parapet had become too low, and it had not been possible to build it up quickly enough.

As the combined result of shell-fire, sniping, and the bad state of the trenches, the amount of work which could be done in daylight was small. Repairs were done at night. There were also, on account of these difficulties and others, very few loop-holes available, so that, excepting through periscopes, the average man saw very little of the enemy. He scarcely ever got a shot at him by day. I suppose it was the result of all these things put together which created the scene.

On a very dull morning a party of Seaforths were gathered in a bay of one of the trenches. I was round the traverse in the next bay. One of the party of men was on sentry duty with a periscope the rest were cleaning rifles.

Owing to the dullness of the day, mud and filth, the ensemble was dismal. Suddenly there sounded from the direction of Sanctuary Wood the music of pipes playing. Why they were playing then, or where exactly they were playing, I have never known, but there certainly floated across to the dismal trenches the music of "Horo, My Nut Brown Maiden."

To us in the trenches the distant music sounded perfectly glorious, and the burdens of the hour were for a time lifted away. That the men found it so was evident from their action.

Everybody knows the soldier's version which runs to the same air, and it apparently struck the fancy of the men as applicable to the occasion, or there burst forth from the adjoining bay a cheerful chorus:

"Aa canna see the tairget,
Aa canna see the tairget,
Oh, aa canna see the tairget,
It's owre far awa."

The last line was converted by one of the chorus party into the line:

"For Jerry he's owre fly."

On looking round the corner of the traverse I saw the concert-party incredibly cheerful, and entirely oblivious of war, mud or danger, for the pipes had asserted their sway.

* * * * * * *

There are many marches which the pipers made, including marches to battle, of which I might write, but I think my second last reminiscence had best be taken from the journey of the conquering Second Army which tramped from Ypres to the Rhine on the last great triumphal march.

Of the 250 miles odd which the Army covered, I am certain that the pipers of my battalion piped at least a good half, perhaps more.

What could we have done without them on that march? As we tramped through village after village and town after town, neath welcome banners and cheering crowds, men wearied with marching, not always too amply rationed, yet swung forward with assured tread to the lilt of the pipes through every village and town.

Welcoming bands played the Marseillaise, the Brabançonne, and the British Anthem, and the crowds shouted their "Vive les Allies," etc. The pipes played their regimental and national marches in return, and if intercommunication through language was not perfect, yet there was complete accord through music.

Undoubtedly, on that never-to-be-forgotten march, the pipes were indispensable.

* * * * * * * *

The last scene is taken from Germany. Perhaps I should speak of massed bands parading in the main squares and streets of the great towns of the Rhine, bringing home to the Hun as forcibly as in anyway the destruction of his ill-judged schemes or perhaps I should speak of the pipers on some of the great occasions—presentations of medals, presentations of colours, etc.

I prefer to write of a very simple event. Happening where it did, it seemed so homely.

I was riding through a forest not far from Cologne when I heard the music of pipes. I turned off the road and proceeded along a pathway which led to a green sward in the forest.

There I saw a solitary piper marching slowly up and down playing a lament. His loneliness seemed to me to symbolise two things—the completeness of victory, and the detachment of the conquerors. The music sounded very beautiful among the trees.

I did not interupt the piper, but if I know anything at all of piping, I am sure that that piper in the forest felt for a little while almost as if he were treading his native heath again, and dreamt of the Highland hills and forests from which lie had come.

After all, in Germany, we were strangers in a strange land and not wishing to stay there. Having done our work, we said in our hearts, let us away I for the Huns will always be Hunnish. But we are Highland, and the pipes are calling us home.

* * * * * * * *

Beat on drums let the pipes play and the banners be unfurled for every triumphal march that shall be. But when the marches are played let us never forget that every march has grown more glorious by the war and the blood of the men who fell that every march has woven around it a thousand memories of life and death, of hardship, of danger, and of victory.

In days to come we will remember--to battle we went by that march to Longueval we went by that march; and from Loos we came by that one. And for every battle march that the pipers play, we know that a million feet and more have marched to its song.

That record of great work—that, with death and other things they did not count—that is the Pipers' Record.


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