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The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - Royal Scots


The oldest regiment in the world, The Royal Scots may also claim priority over all other existing regiments in the use of the bagpipe. When, in 1634, Sir John Hepburn arrived in Germany to resume command of his old corps he found the remnants of other Scots units waiting to be absorbed by his regiment, and among them some of the Mackay Highlanders, whose last surviving piper of a band of thirty-six “blew his notes of welcome” in honour of Hepburn.

Probably he was the first piper of the regiment, as one year later (1635) the establishment is stated to consist of 8316 officers and men, of whom one was a piper. That piper was doubtless a Mackay of the great piping family of the Mackays in Reay on the borders of Sutherland and Caithness, with an extensive repertory of pipe tunes with which to regale The Royal Scots on the line of march and in action, one of the favourite melodies of his old regiment having been the “Strath naver Highlanders.” When he retired the regiment replaced him by a Lowlander named Alexander Wallace who appears on the Roll of 1679 as “Pipe-Major,” and he in turn was succeeded in 1704 by Adriel Duran. The pipers then did not wear the kilt but their stirring tunes on the march in foreign lands attracted considerable attention and the pipers themselves were deemed worthy of a prominent place in the painting of an eminent painter of battle scenes, J. P. Stoop, whose "Destruction of the Mole of Tangier, 1684” shows four red-coated, white-breeched pipers of the Royals in the foreground. “Dumbarton’s Drums" were famous even then, and Adriel Duran, pipe-major, a person of distinction for he appears on the “Roll of Officers entitled to a bounty of £3.”

Apart from these facts the records of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries do not mention pipers until 1769 when the officers were in danger of losing them. In that year the authorities at Horse Guards took exception to the pipe-major and the drum-major being on the strength of the corps. The hint conveyed to the commanding officer to get rid of them brought forth a protest from the colonel, the Marquess of Lorne, later 5th Duke of Argyll, whose plea to have the drum-major and pipemajor retained, merely met with a polite note from the inspecting officer, who reminded the colonel that one battalion of the Royal Regiment had never had either of these officials, and he did not see the necessity for a regiment having either. Still the Marquess argued, but with the same result, the English inspecting officer closing the correspondence with the remarks that he “should be sorry The Royals should be deprived of any honorary distinction belonging to it; but no person whom I have consulted is of opinion that a drum-major and a piper can add to or take from the honour of that most respectable corps.”

Orders like that were understood to apply to occasions when the regiment was on inspection parades, but not otherwise, and thus the vexing business was overcome. The entries in the official records of the regiment in the later years of the eighteenth century on inspection days note that “Drum-Major and Piper (are) absent from inspection with the Duke of Argyll’s leave,” and, later, in 1787 and 1788, with “Lord Adam Gordon’s leave” (Inglis, in Leask and M'Cance’s Records of The Royal Scots).

The fact that these entries mention only piper and not pipers suggests that the term referred to the only professional piper (or pipe-major) and that the other pipers necessary for a battalion were in the ranks on inspection days—that they were “acting pipers” like those of to-day—which probably accounts for the paucity of records relating to the pipers in the battles fought by The Royal Scots. At all events the pipers were players of merit, as the Prize Lists of the Highland Society of Scotland amply prove. In their annual competition held in 1793 Donald M'Kerchar, “Piper to the Scots Royal,” won fourth prize; in 1796 he was second, and in 1798 gained the premier place. The pipe-major, Hugh M'Gregor, who competed in 1799, obtained third prize.

Unfortunately, the Records are entirely blank in the matter of pipers thereafter until 1882, when the colonel, H. G. White, obtained official sanction for a pipe band, the expenses of which were to be met by the officers, an arrangement that was maintained until after the close of the Great War when, thanks to the representations of the Lowland Association, the Government undertook payment of the pipe band consisting of a pipe-major and five pipers.

If the pipers had no chances of gaining distinction in the wars of previous centuries they were afforded many opportunities in the Great War, opportunities of which they availed themselves. The pipers of the 1st Battalion were in the trenches in France, and later in Macedonia. Piper Robertson, who was promoted duty sergeant, and Piper Armour, advanced to the rank of coy.-sergeant-major, were both awarded the D.C.M. and M..M. Piper Macmillan won fame and favour as a scout, his daring exploits, accurate reports and map sketches being singled out for special mention, which resulted in the award of a D.C.M. In 1919 he was appointed pipe-major of a battalion of the Gordon Highlanders.

The 15th—1st City of Edinburgh—Battalion, to which had been given the bagpipe that had been played by Gilbert Kerr in the Antarctic regions when the Scotia was there in 1911, took part in the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Pipe-Major David Anderson, who carried these pipes, had been ordered to stay behind with the pipers. That was an order not to the taste of the strapping pipe-major, who had all the old-time piper’s zeal for being in the forefront of battle; he implored his O.C. to be permitted to play his comrades in the Advance, and was allowed. Striking up “Dumbarton’s Drums” he marched on, but was hit and brought to the ground. Still he played, though unable to move, continuing his tune, like Clark at Vimiera, and Findlater at Dargai, until he lost consciousness. How Anderson escaped alive must ever remain a mystery; he was found and carried off by the stretcher bearers, who did not trouble themselves about the pipes, which, unfortunately, were lost in consequence. The pipe-major had struck the imagination of the soldier of all regiments there, and when the announcement was made that a Croix de Guerre would be awarded to the officer, N.C.O., or man who was, in the opinion of the whole Division, the most conspicuously gallant figure in the day’s fighting, the Division unanimously voted Pipe-Major David Anderson the man. The other battalions were equally proud of their pipers. Of the pipers of the 8th (Territorial) Battalion the most outstanding in his duties on the field, tending and bearing off the wounded, was Pipe-Major J. M. M‘Dougall, an ex-piper of the Black Watch, who, for his great gallantry at Festubert, where he lost an eye, was awarded the D.C.M. The 9th (Territorial) Battalion, one of the Edinburgh contingents, had a gallant soldier in Albert Forsyth, who was killed in action soon after winning an M.M.

In the earlier stages of the war posthumous honours were not conferred, otherwise the relatives of Pipe-Sergeant Andrew Buchan, an ex-Gordon Highlander, would have had either the V.C. or the D.C.M., in recognition of Buchan’s extraordinary valour in the action of 27th June 1915, on Gallipoli, where his prowess as a combatant was the common topic of the l/4th Battalion, and of other units. Two battalions were signally unfortunate in losing several pipers before reaching the battle-field—the 7th (Territorial) Battalion by the railway collision at Gretna in May 1915, which caused the deaths of Pipe-Major Gair and four pipers; and the 10th (Territorial) Battalion, whose pipers, along with half the battalion, were transferred to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, in which, though their music was much appreciated on the march and in rest billets, was not utilised in battle.

After all, there were few, if any, opportunities on the Western Front for displaying the various qualities of the Scottish bagpipe. The French and the Belgians were quickly accustomed to the habits of Scots regiments with their pipers; but on the Macedonian Front it was quite different. There the all-conquering Scots’ bagpipe had rivals - of a kind — in the pipes played by the Greek shepherds, and the still different pipes played by Serbs and Bulgars. It was a novelty — each of these — to the Scots pipers, who liked none of them. In this connection there may be mentioned an entertainment given by the officers of a Greek regiment to the officers of The Royal Scots, in return for the hospitality of “The Royals” to them. On the earlier occasion the pipers of The Royal Scots had played the classic airs of their “ain countrie” for the benefit of the unenlightened Greek. When the return dinner was in progress the officers of The Royal Scots found that their hosts were equally mindful in the matter of a musical “treat.” For, round and round the table marched ten Greek pipers with their pipes — long bags with chanters, but no drones — playing Hellenic “tit-bits,” which the Scots, not at all liking, had to endure in polite silence, and as politely applaud when the strange music ceased.

The capabilities of the Scots bagpipe for all kinds of music were more leisurely examined on that Front than on any other. It was there that Pipe-Major George S. Allan composed “Lothian Lads” and “The Royal Scots’ March thro’ Salonica,” both deemed by competent judges very good works, and there, too, Piper Clancy paid tribute to his friend Pipe-Cpl. M‘Nab, appointed pipe-major of the 3rd Battn. Royal Scots Fusiliers, in a neat tune which he entitled “M'Nab’s Farewell to The Royal Scots.” Clancy was a humorist and a good piper. It was he who, while trotting on the flank of his company in an attack on a village, part of which was then in flames, tuned his pipes to suit the occasion in the popular song of the war period, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” to the vast enjoyment of the troops.

It is rather singular to find the pipe history of The Royal Scots in 1918 and 1919 following precedents set in former centuries. “The Scots March", which the Royal Scots had hummed or whistled as their pipers played before them three centuries back — through Flanders, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bavaria and Sweden, was succeeded in 1918 by other Scots marches, including “Dumbarton’s Drums,” “Scotland the Brave,” and “Blue Bonnets over the Border,” played by the pipers of “The Royals” and other Scots units as they marched into Germany, crossing the edge of Waterloo where, in 1815, their predecessors had also played “Dumbarton's Drums” while The Royal Scots had fought. Never, however, until 1918 had Scottish troops marched into Germany with massed pipe bands playing “Blue Bonnets over the Border,” charming the youth of that country in a manner reminiscent of the pied piper of Hamelin City described by Browning.

Far off from them one solitary piper of another battalion of the Royal Scots — J. Smart — was doing his best to lighten the wearisome journey to Russia, where British troops wrere sent to assist the loyalists of Russia against the Bolsheviki. They were “sidetracked”; the centre of attraction was Germany, where the massed pipe bands of the Scottish regiments paraded and played through the streets and where Scottish Colours were presented to several units—surely the first occasion in history when Colours were presented on enemy soil.

Another parallel with the seventeenth century pipers of The Royal Scots may be found in a notable pipe melody composed by one of the pipers of the regiment. In 1634 a piper had played a “Salute” in honour of Colonel Sir John Hepburn, and in 1919 Pipe-Major Chas. Dunbar paid a similar compliment to the colonelin-chief, Her Royal Highness the Princess Mary, in his “Princess Mary’s March.”

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