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
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.
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
Your pipes are
no' a patch on ours!
away wi ye, look atyecr big drum he canna twirl his sticks above his
"Umph! We've got a
"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
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
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.
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
* * * * * * *
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
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'
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."
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:
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.
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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