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The Piper In Peace And War
Part 1 - Chapter II


Day in day out, from morning to night, the soldier is dependent on the piper. Not only does the piper provide musical entertainment in the intervals of relaxation, but he rouses the soldier from bed in the morning, calls him to his meals during the day, and sends him to sleep at night. The soldier opens his eyes in the morning to the strains of, “Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye waukin’ yet?” Other appropriate tunes, such as “Brose and Butter,” or, “Bannocks o’ Barley” call him to breakfast and dinner. “O, Jock, are ye glad ye listed,” or, “Bundle and Go” may be the summons to tea.

“Highland Laddie” warns the Royal Scot to dress for parade. In another regiment it may be “Pibroch o’ Donuil Dubh,” or, “Bonnie Dundee,” that conveys the same message. On the parade ground the “Assembly” of the clan to which the regiment belongs, musters the men to their places. The Seaforths, being Mackenzies, fall in to the strains of “The Mackenzie Highlanders,” the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to “The Campbells are Coinin’,” the Camerons and others to “Pibroch
o’ Donuil Dubh.”

At six o'clock or half-past six in the evening, once or twice a week, the full pipe band in spring and summer plays “Retreat.” Pipers and drummers march up and down the barrack square for half-an-hour playing for the entertainment of the men. The tunes usually selected at this time are those which are most popular with the rank and file, and the custom is the occasion of daily delight to many soldiers.

The piper’s work is by no means over yet. The piper on duty warns the officers to dress for mess. Then while they dine he provides music, and at the wine stage the colonel sends for the piper, who has hitherto been marching up and down outside, to enter. Round and round the mess table goes the piper playing a march, which, merging into a strathspey/finishes off with a reel.

If the colonel is an enthusiast and knows the piper to be competent for such a difficult performance, he may ask for a pibroch, but that will be caviare to most of the guests. In the 2nd Battn. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders the officers, continuing a pious custom of their predecessors, the 93rd (Sutherland) Highlanders, have a lament played for Fallen Comrades. With eyes downcast and head supported on hand, the lament is listened to in perfect silence. This ceremony never fails to impress the guest who happens to witness it for the first time.

A glass of whisky or of wine is handed to the piper as guerdon by the colonel at the end of the performance. The piper salutes, says “Slainte” (Health), and drains the glass.

On “Guest” nights, the pipe-major and three or four selected pipers are present. The programme usually consists of three “sets” — each set containing a march, strathspey and reel. Between two sets the pipc-inajor plays a pibroch, then gets a cuaich of wine or whisky, which he drinks to the health of all present. Usually each captain has his coat-of-arms emblazoned on the banner of his company piper, the reverse side bearing the regimental crest and Battle Honours. At the end of the musical entertainment the pipers depart.

“First Post” is sounded at 9.30, and “Last Post” at 10, but once or oftener a week there is a turn-out for “Tattoo” at 9.30 o clock. As the word implies, this is a signal given by drum-beat to warn all soldiers to repair to their quarters. While the pipes play the warning each man in the regiment, not on duty or on leave, is parading for the Roll Call by the sergeants on duty.Finally at 10.15 the pipes convey the order “Lights Out.” Sharp to the minute the pipers’ benediction, “Sleep, Dearie, Sleep,” [An old Gaelic air: “Caidel mo ghaol" —“Sleep my Love.”] wails out on the night. The men of the Scots regiments have named the tune “Soldier, lie down on your wee pickle strae.” Although this is the most popular air for “Lights Out,” the Black Watch and the Scots Guards [Scots Guardsmen call it: “Oh good Lord! my rille’s rusty."] have “Donal Blue,” and some others “Fingall’s Weeping.”

The piper’s duties are not exactly the same in all regiments, some having a longer and some a shorter programme than that indicated.

The “Prisoners’ Call” is given in The Royal Scots and in the 1st Battn. Gordon Highlanders by the pipers striking up “A Man’s a Man for a’ that,” [An old Gaelic melody: “The Black Lad, my darling."] to which immortal sentiment the soldier has added “Though he get fifty days’ C.B.” In other regiments this tune is strictly forbidden, as is also “Lochaber No More,” the “Lights Out” tune of the Royal Scots alone. In other regiments than the Royal Scots this fine old tune is only used at funerals, its appropriateness for these sad occasions explaining why it is barred at all other times.

The idea, common among civilians, that Highland regiments are the most enthusiastic supporters of the bagpipe, and that all the best pipers are to be found in their bands, is not quite correct. The regiment to which most good pipers would like to go is probably the Scots Guards. There they have nothing to do but play their pipes and be idolised by the Londoners, whereas in Scots regiments of the line they have certain “fatigues” to perform. Moreover, the officers of the Guards make much more of their pipers than do the officers of Highland regiments. Even the officers of Lowland regiments are said to be more lavish in their provision for the pipe band than their comrades of the Highland regiments.

Much depends on the taste of the officers in pipe music. Where the officers are not much interested, the pipe-major, or “pipie” as he is familiarly styled, will lay down the law as to the programme of music ; and the men may be regaled with Scots airs not recognised as pipe tunes, and even by pantomime songs neatly turned to the use of the expressive pipe! Such pipers are regarded by many soldiers as first class. Where, on the other hand, the officers have a knowledge of pipe music, such liberties are never permitted. More than one O.C., for example, has banned “Annie Laurie,” and, notwithstanding its place in the repertoire of the oldest regiment of the line, “ A Man’s a Man for a that is forbidden in certain other regiments. In times past the Camerons did not allow their pipers to play “The Campbells are Cornin’,” nor would the Seaforths reciprocally permit theirs to play “The March of the Cameron Men.”

Progressive pipe-majors in pre-war days did not welcome the presence among the officers of the sons of former officers, because they invariably demanded the tunes which their fathers had listened to, whereas “pipie” was anxious to introduce new airs. One cannot help sympathising with the officer who was conserving the traditions of the regiment; but time brings changes no matter what efforts may be made to prevent them.

In the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century pipers played without any drum accompaniment. In some corps each company marched or doubled past the saluting base to the marching or the charging tune of the battalion played by the piper of the company. Later this was altered, so that the pipers of all the companies, with the drummers, stationed opposite the saluting base, act as one band while the companies march or double past.

The charging tune to which a regiment doubles past on parade, and to which they double into action, is a matter of regimental taste. While some are satisfied with any strathspey, others tenaciously hold to one, as, for example, the Seaforth Highlanders, whose “Cabar Feidh” (Deer’s Horns) is famous. The Camerons have “Because he was a Bonnie Lad,” and the Gordons “The Haughs of Cromdale.” The “Monymusk” of The Royal Scots is an old favourite pipe tune, and the Royal Scots Fusiliers’ “Cutty’s Wedding” was popular with the French villagers, and with a certain British General during the war.

Every Scots regiment marches into barracks or camp to a tune which nevervaries, “Scotland the Brave,” “The Campbells are Cornin’,” “Pibroch o’ Donuil Dubh” being favourites.

The most extraordinary of all is the “Black Bear” played by the pipes and drums of the 1st Battn. Cameronians. When the bass drum sounds a double beat there is a pause and the battalion breaks into a cheer, after which the pipe band continues.

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