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The Piper In Peace And War
Part 1 - Chapter VI

Pipe Music

(1) Battle Music.

To the average, uninitiated ear the bagpipe seems at first to play but one tune, and that one by no means tuneful. Salute, march, strathspey, reel, and pibroch, with all their subtle shades of musical expressions, their doublings and treblings of grace notes, fall on undiscriminating ears, if not discordantly, at best as a medley of sound, a tartan clamour. But to the true Highlander and to the lover of the pipes every note has its meaning. All the emotions of the human heart—joy or sorrow, love or hate, admiration or scorn, anger or fear—all are within the range of the instrument in the hands of a master. Now he is sarcastic, now he breathes vengeance, then he is despondent, and anon he lifts his audience on the wings of elation. He revels in description; the clash of arms, the tumult of battle, victory and defeat hanging uncertain in the balance, the pasan of triumph, the soft croonings of peace and rest, and the tripping lilt of days of merry-making follow one another on his magic pipe.

In war the piper is the direct representative of the ancient bards, [Following the harpers] whose part it was to rouse their clansmen to deeds of heroism by reciting the glorious achievements of old-time warriors. So the piper has inherited a stock of music handed down from ancient days, music in which the famous battles of the past are celebrated for the encouragement of the soldiers of the present day. Of these “Cogadh no Sith” (War or Peace?) is one of the oldest and best known. All the elans have played it for centuries when preparing for battle. It was played at Waterloo when the 79th (Cameron) Highlanders, formed in hollow square, were awaiting the enemy’s attack. The situation was doubtful, every nerve was tense, and then Piper Kenneth M'Kay,1 true to his calling, calmly paraded around the outside of the square playing this appropriate tune. There were no misgivings as to the result after that.

Bagpipe tunes form a musical record of the battles in which Highland regiments, or clans, with their pipers have taken part. A piper who was there composes a commemorative piece. If his rendering is received with approval (and masters of the pipe are severely critical) the music is added to the long list of similar pieces for repetition when the appropriate occasion offers. If it fails to reach the standard of excellence it drops in favour of older or stronger compositions. Thus the “ Battle of Harlaw ” has rung through five centuries, and shares immortality with such later pieces as the “Battle of Sherifftnuir,” “Battle of Waterloo,” and others. Piper William Ross of the 42nd produced such a memorial of the Crimean War in his “The Alma,” which is still popular.

It is too soon yet to attempt to appraise the output of the pipers of the Great European War. Moreover, that war was so unlike any former war that traditional treatment had to be modified. Then again so many pipers have been killed in the Great War that many masterpieces may have been lost. But there is already something to be recorded. The doyen of army pipers, Pipe-Major Robert Meldrum, has produced “The Highland Brigade at Mons,” and Pipe-Major William Lawrie of the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the “Battle of the Somme.” This gifted piper, reckoned one of the finest of his day, succumbed in 1916 to the hardships of trench life in France. In the opinion of many good judges this piece, one of many by the same composer, is likely to have its niche in the pipers’ temple of fame.

The “Battle of Arras,” by Pipe-Major M‘Lean, 5th Cameron Highlanders, is a stirring battle tune and has already become popular with not a few battalions.
Piper Simon Fraser, 6th Cameron Highlanders, has to his credit several pretty pieces arising out of his experiences in the war, of which perhaps the best known are “Eyes Front” and “Delicia Chisholm,” a “Salute” in honour of the Inverness-shire poetess who devoted so much of her talent to the service of her county regiment.

On the Macedonian Front, where British troops had not only to contend with an untiring foe, but with insidious disease, Piper Gillon of the 2nd Cameron Highlanders was able to portray in pleasing manner some of his memories in a melody entitled “The Balkan Hills.”

Sergeant-Piper Purgavie, 1st Battn. King’s Own Scottish Borderers, who, as one of the immortal 29th Division, participated in all the bard fighting on Gallipoli, before enduring that of the Western Front, signalised the battalion’s departure from Flanders in a neatly turned melody “The 25th’s Farewell to Marcoing.”

Lastly, it was reserved for an officer of the Seaforth Highlanders to describe his battalion’s entry into Baghdad in 1917 in a pipe tune quickstep, which the composer—Major lan H. Mackay Scobie—has entitled “The 72nd’s Entry into Baghdad.”

From these, and others yet to come, will doubtless emerge a few that will endure like those earlier melodies: “The Alma,” by Piper Ross ; “The 25th’s Farewell to Meerut,” by Pipe-Major Balloch; “The March to Coomassie,” by Pipe-Major John Macdonald, 42nd (the Black Watch); the “Barren Rocks of Aden,” by Pipe-Major M'Kcllar, 78th (Ross-shire Buffs), now 2nd Seaforth Highlanders; “The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar,” by Pipe-Major Macdonald.

(2) Regimental Marching-Past Tunes.

Everyone who has witnessed a regimental inspection may have noticed that the companies march past the saluting base to the music of the band. The music played on these occasions is not chosen in haphazard fashion but is the same year after year, and is in fact the regiment’s marching-past tune. Every regiment has one; Scottish battalions have generally one played by the brass band and another played by the pipe band.

Curiously, the most popular air with the pipers is “Highland Laddie,” used, though with different accent, by the Scots Guards, Royal Scots Fusiliers, 2nd Battn. the Black Watch, 2nd Battn. Highland Light Infantry, the Gordon Highlanders, and by the 2nd Battn. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The oldest marching-past tune belongs to the oldest regiment, The Royal Scots, whose seventeenth-century predecessors made it reverberate throughout France, Germany, and Holland. The sound of the old Scots march is said to have been so potent as to ensure success straightaway for the Scots, a fact observed by the crafty German whose drummers learned and practised the tune in order that they too might derive the like happy results, but there the charm failed. It was for the Scots alone; and no enemy could be deceived by a stranger intermeddling therewith.

Much has been written upon this old tune and its variations; it is generally accepted as the same as that of the old song, “I serve a Worthie Ladie O”; the lady of the song being then Princess of Bohemia, daughter of James VI. and I. A romantic Royal Scot, or one of his admirers of a later day, set the tune to other words, beginning, “ Dumbarton’s Drums beat bonny O, they mind me of my Nannie O”— which makes quite a nice accompaniment—and “Dumbarton’s Drums” is the name it has gone by since 1678-99 when the Earl of Dumbarton was colonel of the regiment.

The King’s Own Scottish Borderers have the stirring tune, “Blue Bonnets over the Border”; and “Kenmure’s on and awa’, Willie,” also Jacobite, serves the anti-Jacobite Cameronians—old 26th Regiment .The 42nd (the Black Watch), Seaforth and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders have “Pibroch Donuil Dubh,” a very old tune which originally commemorated the victory in 1431 of the Islesmen, the Macdonalds, over the forces of the Earls of Mar and Caithness. It was natural that the successors of these Macdonalds, many of whom were in the 42nd and many more in the original regiment of the 79th Camerons, should adopt it, and having been used, that “Pibroch Donuil Dubh ” should remain in these regiments. The 2nd Battn. Scottish Rifles—old 90th Perthshire Light Infantry—have “Atholl Highlanders,” a tune written for and used by the Atholl Highlanders from 1777 to 1783, when that regiment was disbanded. But an extraordinary departure from the normal was made by the old 71st, now 1st Battn. Highland Light Infantry, in their choice of “Whistle o’er the lave o't,” an air attributed to John Bruce, a Dumfries fiddler of 1720, and also claimed by Ireland. “The Campbells are Cornin’” appropriately serves the 1st Bn. A. and S. Highlanders, who, as the 91st Argyllshire Hdrs., were raised by the Duke of Argyll—a Campbell; but it does seem out of place in the Seaforth Highlanders where it is played before entering barracks—until one learns that the name of one of their most venerated colonels-in-chief was Lieut.-Gen. Sir Colin Campbell, and that it was this tune which was said to have been played by the 2nd Bn. (78th) in their advance on Lucknow in 1857 when “The Campbells are Cornin’” sounded the sweetest of all music to the imprisoned residents.

Oh! they listened dumb and breathless,
And they caught the sound at last;
Faint and far beyond the Goomtee
Rose and fell the pipers’ blast.

Why, it has been asked, do the Gordon Highlanders have “Highland Laddie” and not “Where Gadie rins,” which they play for “Fall In”? The answer is found in the origin of the regiment the old 92nd—which, raised by the Marquess of Huntly and his mother, the Duchess of Gordon, was composed of men not so much from the territory of the Gadie but the confines of Inverness, from the Macdonalds and Camerons who knew not the Gadie nor Bennachie.

With territorial battalions “Scotland the Brave” is the most popular. The Scottish Horse, however, have the “Scottish Horse March,” composed in South Africa by the Duchess of Atholl; the Lovat Scouts rely on “Lord Lovat's Strathspey,” the London Scottish cling to “Highland Laddie,” the Liverpool Scottish to “Glendaruel Highlanders,” and the Tyneside Scottish — a wartime force of four battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers—preferred the “Nut-Brown Maid.”

(3) Charging Tunes.

In the old Clan fighting days the rival pipers kept up the spirits and the fighting energies of their comrades by means of the liveliest airs. The practice was continued by their descendants who enlisted in the regiments of the King and these strathspeys and reels they played when the battalion was at the “ double ” and also when in action.

In the Great War the Seaforths’ “Cabar Feidh” was over and over again heard amidst the din of artillery, though not so clearly as in the older days of battle. “Cabar Feidh” shares with the Gordon Highlanders’ “Haughs of Cromdale,” or “On wi’ the Tartan,” the distinction of being the most famous charging tune in the whole army. “Cabar Feidh,” however, has a long history and an illustrious, while the Gordons are largely indebted to Piper Findlater for the fame of the “Cock o’ the North.” Any strathspey is good enough in a tight corner for most battalions, but The Royal Scots would appear to stipulate for “Monymusk” and the Royal Scots Fusiliers for “Cutty’s Wedding.” The “Cameronian Rant” was adopted by the Cameronians and “Because he was a Bonnie Laddie” by the Camcrons.

The piper declares the tune, however, and from accounts given me by pipers in the various battalions there was a surprising variety. Piper Laidlaw, V.C., of the 7th Battn. K.O.S.B., after paracling the bullet-swept parapet to the tune of “Blue Bonnets,” trotted with his fellows, playing “Standard on the Braes o’ Mar.” On the Balkan Front, Piper—later Pipe-Major— Clancy of The Royal Scots deliberately selected a tune not intended for the Piob Mhor, but one decidedly appropriate, in view of the enemy village at the time on fire: “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” The composer of this once topical song surely never dreamed that his tune would be adopted by an army piper for such an occasion, or that it would encourage the bayonets of The Royal Scots to drive the Bulgars from a position in Salonica.

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