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The Piper In Peace And War
Part 1 - Chapter III


The earliest Scottish record of pipers accompanying troops into battle occurs in the archives of the Chiefs of Menzies. Mention is made there of the hereditary pipers of the clan . . . the M'Intyres, some of whom accompanied the Clan Menzies to the Battle of Bannockburn. One of the most highly prized heirlooms of the clan is a bagpipe played by one of their pipers on that great day. The evidence for the presence of pipers at Bannockburn is entirely traditional. Robert Burns, an admirer of pipe music, wrote the immortal “Scots Wha Hae ” to the tune of “Hey Tutti Taiti,” which, tradition says, was the tune played at Bannockburn. Neither Barbour in The Bruce, nor Buchanan in his History, alludes to the instrument although others are mentioned. This negative evidence does not, however, carry very much weight, as the greatest animosity existed in Barbour’s and in Buchanan’s days between Highlander and Lowlander. Only their common danger had brought the two races together in the time of Robert the Bruce. The Lowland historian would not deign to notice the barbarous equipment of the Highlander, and the Highlander was not in the habit of committing his annals to writing. Tradition was served in the Highlands by recitation of the deeds of one generation by the next, and by all succeeding.

Nearly a hundred years later than Bannockburn, in 1411, Donald of the Isles, with 10,000 men, was defeated at Harlaw by Alexander Stewart, “The Wolf of Badenoch,” in what has been described by a high authority as “the bloodiest battle ever fought in Scotland.” Of the presence of pipers at this battle there is again no documentary evidence, but one of the oldest pipe tunes, “The Battle of Harlaw,” if not coeval with the battle, was probably composed not long after.Almost all, if not all, the martial music of the pipes commemorating an event in the history of the people has been produced by a musician under the influence of the excitement aroused by the event.

Sir Walter Scott’s description of the battle on the North Inch of Perth in 1396 may here be recalled. At a certain stage of the fight the pipers, who had been stimulating the clans to feats of desperate valour and endurance, threw aside their instruments, and rushing at one another with their daggers, “the piper of Clan Quhele was almost instantly slain, and he of Clan Chattan mortally wounded. The latter, nevertheless, again grasped his instrument, and the pibroch of the clan yet poured its expiring notes over the Clan Chattan, while the dying minstrel had breath to inspire it.” Scott further states that the Feadan Dubh, or Black Chanter, which the piper of Clan Chattan used, is in the possession of Cluny MacPherson, the chief of his clan.

The demand for pipers by officers commanding Scottish battalions in 1914 had its counterpart as early as 1641, when the Earl of Lothian in a letter to his father, the Earl of Ancrum, after reporting the progress made in recruiting, proceeds, “We are well provyded with pypers. I have one for every company in my regiment, and I think they are as good as drummers” (Ancrum and Lothian Correspondence, quoted by A. W. Inglis). When Alexander MacNaughton raised his two hundred Highland bowmen for service against the French in 1627, the chronicler was careful to note the names of the two pipers, “Allester Caddell” and “William Steel” (Highland Papers, vol. ii., Scot. Hist. Soc., 2nd ser., vol. v., p. 115).

Long before that year Highland and Lowland pipers were serving in France, Germany, Holland, and Norway. The regiments of the Scots Brigade which servedon the Continent from 1582 to 1782 had pipers in plenty. One of their pipetunes, “The Lowlands of Holland,” attained a wide popularity, but the musichas unfortunately been lost. More famous still was the “Scots March,”which, played over all France and Germany, is said to have struck terror to the hearts of the enemy wherever it was heard. Now known as “Dumbarton’s Drums,” it is the regimental tune of The Royal Scots, the modern representatives of the Scots Brigade.

In Grant's Memorials of Sir J. Hepburn, p. 231, an account is given of the transference of the Scots Brigade, which had fought under Gustavus, to the service of France: “After the battle of Nordlingen (1631) the remnants of the Scottish regiments were placed under the command of Duke Bernard of Saxe Weimar. . . . When the agreement had been arranged between Sweden and France, it was decided that Duke Bernard’s troops should be taken into French pay; and shortly afterwards a junction was formed at Landau between the Duke’s forces and the French troops which were under the command of Marshal de la Force and Sir John Hepburn.

“The foot consisted almost entirely of Scotsmen, and were all that remained of the thirteen gallant regiments which had served so long and so bravely under Gustavus. Among these veterans were the remnants of Hepburn’s own old regiment and the one remaining company of Mackay’s Highlanders.

“All greeted their old commander with acclamation and joy, by beating the ‘Scottish March’ as he approached, while a deafening cheer rang along their sunburnt lines, and the last solitary piper of Mackay's Highlanders blew long and loudly a note of welcome on the great war-pipe of the north. And as they all wished to take service under him (Hepburn) in France, the whole were incorporated into one corps, to be styled in future 'Le Regiment dHebron.' [So called owing to the difficulty of Scottish pronunciation.]

Later Hepburn’s regiment became known as the Douglas Regiment, and Dumbarton’s, the Earl of Dumbarton being the brother of Douglas, the former colonel. From him the regimental march-past tune got its name “Dumbarton’s Drums,” and it is significant of the importance of the pipe band that the name of this tune was sometimes applied to the regiment.

A minor incident in the wars of Gustavus Adolphus was the destruction of a small force of Caithness and Sutherland men on their march through Norway to join the Swedish commander. Of this ill-fated expedition there remains a side drum in the Museum of Uppsala, and a piece of music still famous in Norway, entitled the “Sinclair March.” This was the tune played by the pipers who led the unfortunate little company of three hundred Scots.

The pipers of Mackay’s Highlanders received in pay twelve Rex dollars a month, a sum equal to £3, Os. 9d. in 1630, to £10, 12s. 6d. in 1880, and surely something like £300 a year at the present post-bellum rates. It is hardly likely that the rate was so high in the Douglas Regiment, and The Royal Scots certainly did not enjoy such a munificent scale of remuneration.

Pipers were, as a matter of course, attached to the army of the Marquess of Montrose. Their best known tunes were named “Montrose’s March” and “The Highlanders’ March.” The opposing Lowlanders had also their pipers, whose principal marching air was named in compliment to their leader, “Leslie’s March.” At the battle of Philiphaugh, it is said that one of Montrose’s pipers,while playing close to the banks of the Ettrick, was shot by the foe. His body rolled down the bank into the river at a spot still known as “The Piper’s Pool.” A similar story is told by James Hogg of a piper in the army of Claverhouse at Bothwell Brig. As the Ettrick Shepherd supplies a somewhat detailed account of the incident he may be quoted here: “The piper to Clavers’ own troop stood on the brink of the Clyde playing "Awa’, Whigs, Awa'" with great glee; but being struck by a bullet, either by chance or in consequence of an aim taken, he rolled down the bank in the agonies of death; and always as he rolled over the bank, so intent was he on this old party tune, that with determined firmness of fingering he made the pipes to yell out two or three notes more of it till at last he plunged into the river and was carried peaceably down the stream among a great number of floating Whigs.” (Hogg’s Jacobite Relics, vol. i. p. 25S); quoted in Dalyell’s Musical Memoirs of Scotland, p. 26.)

Royalist and Cromwellian seem to march through the seventeenth century to the notes of pipe and drum. The muster of Monk’s men at Coldstream and other places, and their march to London, were accompanied by pipe and drum. “General Monk’s Right March,” or the “Highlanders’ March,” is the name of one of the tunes of this period, preserved in John Playford’s Dancing Master, published in 1651. (A. W. Inglis.)

One of the most striking features of the bright pageant produced at Stirling in 1651 in honour of Charles II. after his coronation at Scone was the band of eighty pipers under John M’Crimmon, “to whom all the pipers in the army gave the van and acknowledged him to be their chief.” Charles having expressed a wish to be introduced to the “Prince of Pipers,” M'Crimmon acknowledged the royal compliment by composing the celebrated tune, “Fhuair mi pog do laimh an Righ” (I got a kiss of the King’s hand). In September of the same year M'Crimmon was taken prisoner at the battle of Worcester, a misfortune which he deplored in a pibroch composed during his captivity.

A dull poet who was present at Killiccrankie described the rally to the standard of James II.:

Hie belli buccina signum
dira dedit, Martemque ciens rauco ore pithaules
inflarat plenis marsupia turgida buccis.

[Here the dread trumpet gave the signal
for battle, and the piper, calling to war with hoarse note,
blew up the swelling bags with inflated cheeks.]

From Killiecrankie dates “The Killiecrankie March,” a beautiful bagpipe melody, and that most famous of all pipe tunes, “Up and waur them a’, Willie.” Printers, ignorant of Scots, have been known to give the name of this tune as “Up and warn
them a’, Willie,” in a praiseworthy effort to make the title intelligible to English readers.

It was at this period that the Edinburgh Regiment, now the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, was raised, and for some years recruiting went on briskly for various regiments serving abroad. In Musselburgh a goodly bodj' of recruits had been assembled. They were led to their home depot by Alexander Waugh, the town piper of Musselburgh, who rendered this public service to the young soldiers from purely patriotic motives and love of his calling; but the officer in command of the recruits wished to include him among the newly-enlisted men. It was only by invoking the aid of the law that Waugh regained his liberty. (Chambers’s Dom. Ann. vol. ii., p. 194.)

All the performers on the bag and chanter were not on William’s side at the Battle of the Boyne. The pipers of the Irish Dragoons and the Infantry played as vigorously as did the Scots pipers with the Government troops. “The Battle of the Boyne” was a popular tune with the Orangemen, who also knew it by the name of “Down, Croppies, Down,” and it was correspondingly irritating to the Catholics. More than a century after the date of the battle mischief-loving pipers of the Highland Regiments stationed in Ireland were occasionally in trouble for rendering the tune to inappropriate and unsympathetic audiences.Two years before the battle of the Boyne, in 1690, was fought the battle of Cromdale, at which the Jacobites were defeated. On the day of the battle a Jacobite piper climbed to the highest point of the Haughs of Cromdale and there he continued to play until he fell and died. Whether the noble air, “The Haughs of Cromdale,” was composed in memory of this or of an earlier episode at Cromdale, where two battles had previously been fought, is not certain, though the probability is that it refers to the engagement of 1690. The Piper’s Stone (Clack a phiobair) is still pointed out as the spot at which the piper of 1690 fell (Flood, p. 137).

The stirring strains of the bagpipe were again heard in the rising of 1715. The indecisive issue of the battle of Sheriftmuir was no fault of the pipers on either side, we may be sure. The rousing “Sheriftmuir March” is a memorial of the event, which eclipses the “calculated” music of the Hanoverian troops. This “calculated” music was played by three companies of Argyll’s Highlanders on their entry into Perth and later into Dundee. The first company marched in, their pipers playing “The Campbells are Comin, Oho, Oho.” [The proper title is “Baile Inneraora? - Town of Inveraray.] The second company entered to the tune, “Wilt thou play me fair, Highland Laddie?” and the third derisively piped out “Stay and take the Breiks with thee.” While several Jacobites in these cities had their hopes raised on hearing the first air, deeming it to be from the Earl of Mar’s men, there lingered no further doubt on their part when numbers two and three were heard (Dalyell, p. 23).

Thirty years later the Irish war-pipes opposed the Scottish on the field of Fontenoy, where the Irish Brigade helped the French to victory over the British, among whom were the Black Watch in their baptism of fire. The Irish pipers on that occasion played “St Patrick’s Day in the Morning” and “White Cockade.”

In the same year, 1745, the last effort of the Stewarts to regain the throne of Britain took place, and before Prince Charles had finally left these islands Scotland’s greatest piper, Patrick M'Crimmon, was killed at the head of a party of M'Leod of Dunvegan’s men attempting to capture the Prince, then a guest at Moy Hall. M‘Crimmon, who was a Jacobite at heart, had a presentiment that he was to die, and it is to this melancholy circumstance that we owe “M'Crimmon’s Lament.”

From the gathering of the clans in Glenfinnan, to the swan song of M'Crimmon, the skirl of the pipes seems to dominate this rebellion of the ’45. Prince Charlie was himself a piper, and his triumphal entry into Edinburgh was headed by a hundred pipers. Again he crossed the Eden with a hundred pipers, if we may believe all the reporters of these historic events. A set of pipes which had belonged to the Prince was sold among the Cardinal York’s effects in 1824, and another set was in the possession of Mr James Skene of Rubislaw. So closely was the bagpipe identified with the Pretender’s cause that it was in danger of being regarded as an instrument of sedition. It is on record that it was decided in an English Court of Law to be an instrument of war.

James Reid was tried at York as a soldier in the rebel army. Reid’s defence was that he was a piper; but the judge arguing that as no Highland regiment ever marched to battle without its pipers, the bagpipe must be regarded as an instrument of war. Reid was accordingly sentenced to death and duly executed for being a piper.

At the battle of the Heights of Abraham, for the capture of Quebec, the pipers of the Fraser Highlanders were encouraging the regiment with their most stirring airs and the men were fighting like heroes, when a staff officer, not holding the same opinion of the bagpipe as the judge in Reid’s case, ordered the pipers to cease playing. The result was that the Highlanders began to weaken in their attack and even to give way. The tide of victory appeared to have turned, and our forces were being driven back. The staff officer became frantic, and sharply blamed the officer in command of the Fraser Highlanders. His reply was, “Well, sir, it’s your fault in stopping the pipers from playing. Even now they would be of use.” “Let them play then,” was the answer. Play the pipers did, and to such purpose that the regiment responded as one man, shook off" their lethargy, and poured over the enemy like a mountain torrent. Their renewed dash and energy astounded the enemy, who fled before them beaten and broken. Thus the pipers saved the day, and helped to gain the Dominion of Canada for the British Crown.

Similarly a piper of the Black Watch was the pilot to victory at the capture of Fort Washington in 1877. First to scale the heights he played till he fell, mortally wounded, while his comrades, animated by his stirring air, thrust forward and captured the position.

How the piper of the 71st (now 1st Highland Light Infantry) at Porto Novo, in the opinion of the commander-in-chief, Sir Eyre Coote, helped to win the battle, and how another piper of the same regiment set the example followed later by Findlater, Laidlaw, Stewart, Richardson, and many more regimental pipers, will be told in the separate summaries of their respective regiments.

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