Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - Royal Scots Fusiliers


The officers of the second oldest Scottish regiment of the line have not been prone to exaggerate the importance of their pipers as an aid or bulwark or tonic to the troops. Yet they had three pipers from the very start of the regiment in 1678, and these three pipers doubtless played their fellows on the march to Bothwell Bridge and other centres of Covenanting activities before finding more congenial fighting in the Netherlands and Flanders. There was no room in the regimental chronicle for the pipers at Steenkerk, Landen, Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet and Dettingen, in each of which engagements the pipers must have been heard. Nor is there any record of their presence at Sheriffmuir, whither the Fusiliers were sent on their return to Scotland and where pipers on both Jacobite and Hanoverian sides were conspicuous.

A similar reserve characterised the battle of Culloden, where the regiment and its pipers were present, though an amusing incident which occurred on the eve of that fight is told of the colonel, Sir Andrew Agnew, and one of the pipers. The Scots Fusiliers were then in occupation of Blair Castle, and the colonel, standing by an open window, saw in the distance the Duke of Cumberland approaching. Outside and in front of the Castle a piper was lounging along with some other soldiers, quite indifferent to royalty and commanders-in-chief. The colonel, on the other hand, deeming the occasion worthy of a salute on the pipes shouted to the idle piper, “Blaw! blaw, ye scoundrel, dinna ye see the King’s ain bairn?”

The resultant “blaw” of that Fusilier piper in his perfunctory salute to an uncomprehending German prince was a waste of energy, the antithesis of the pipe-playing of the opposing handful of Jacobites. Lord George Murray, their commander, was aware of the meditated attack by Sir Andrew Agnew and his Fusilier regiment, and having at the time no men sufficient to meet the attack, had recourse to stratagem. His twenty pipers and parcel of fighting men he scattered behind a peat dyke at Dalnaspidal with orders to the pipers to play, while the claymores of the Highlanders were to be brandished. All this was done, and Sir Andrew, falling into the intended deception, beat a retreat, imagining that the widely scattered pipers indicated a large body of fighting men.

The pipers of the Scots Fusiliers were not trained in these arts, nor are they mentioned in any of the engagements in which the regiment was prominent, from Laffeldt to Saratoga, from Martinique to the Napoleonic Wars — except that of Waterloo. One might almost have imagined that the pipers had ceased to be borne by the Fusiliers were it not for the Muster Rolls which attest their establishment and the two eighteenth century pipe tunes of the regiment—“The Scots Fusiliers,” which was their marching tune, and a “quickstep” known as the “March of the 21st Regiment of Foot.”

The piper himself emerges in 1830 in a painting which shows him smartly attired in Royal Stewart tartan trews, Kilmarnock bonnet with red “toorie” and red and white dicing; and immaculate red, tailed coat with high collar and with two brass grenades on the points of the “tails.” The piper has his black waist belt and black shoulder belt, from which depends his sword—all which proves that particular attention was paid to him by the oflicers. Colonel Groves, who has a reproduction of the piper in his history, quotes an earlier historian for the statement that two pipers only were in the regiment about that time, and that “for some reason they were abolished in 1850, but in 1870 they were again introduced and their number increased to ten.” May the reason be found in the person of Sir De Lacy Evans who was colonel from 1850 to 1870? As a Welshman he probably had an antipathy to the bagpipe. Matters were still further settled in 1876 when an Order was issued permitting the regiment to have a pipe-major and three pipers for each battalion, the additional pipers being “acting” pipers.

Three years later the 2nd Battalion, which had been raised at Paisley in 1858, set out for the South African War with the pipers at their head. After an exciting voyage in the steamship City of Paris, which struck a rock just as it was steaming into Simon’s Bay, the troops were safely disembarked and, with pipers playing, entered Durban, where the music of the pipes created considerable excitement among the residents. The battalion marched into Pietermaritzburg on 6th April 1879, and there again the pipers were the main attraction. The Scots Fusiliers were then part of the British Force which took the field against Cetewayo whose warriors numbered 20,000 and whose fighting attracted many correspondents of English newspapers. These spectators were apparently more impressed by the appearance of the kilted pipers of the Royal Scots Fusiliers at the head of the long column of troops than with any other detail of the soldiers. That was “the first bit of music of any kind I have yet heard in the Division,” wrote the correspondent of the Daily News; and, in the fierce fighting that soon followed, that correspondent could not forget the sensation caused by the Fusiliers’ pipers who “filled the air with the breath of battle . . . sending out skirls that sounded far above the fusilade and the screams and yells of the combatants.”

In the Boer War of 1880-1, where the 2nd Battalion were also engaged, the pipers were not specially noted, nor in their next campaign, that in Burmah, where from 1885 to 1887 they had Burmese to “tackle,” are the pipers’ services made the subject of remark. They were relied upon to supply the music on all their marches and in the South African War of 1899-1902, where Pipe-Major Muir was shot while playing a company across the veldt, the pipers were in the forefront of all the marches. They led the 2nd Battalion, after the Relief of Ladysmith, into the Transvaal, the first British regiment to enter; and they were part of every party that went to the various townships in that province for the ceremony of hoisting the Union Jack. The pipers had done well, but the chief honours were with the battalion generally, who were, in recognition of their many great services, given the white hackle for their sealskin headdress, which ornament had been taken from them in 1837.

The Great War which saw the Royal Scots Fusiliers increased to eight battalions, of which two were Territorial and four “New Army” battalions, did not lead the officers to make any great alteration in the duties of their pipers. They did not play in action but carried rations from transport lines to the trenches under cover of night and often under intense gunfire. When two battalions were changed into Labour units the pipers did duty like the rest.

The ration-carrying pipers and drummers were highly popular with all ranks for they never failed to deliver supplies. Indeed the colonel of one battalion had a special parade of his battalion at the close of the war for the purpose of expressing his thanks to the pipers and drummers for “the splendid services which they had rendered throughout the war.”

There was one piper of the 1st Battalion who, more than all the others, was in great favour with his fellows. He was Lance-Corporal Wallace, known from of old as “Dodger” Wallace on account of miraculous escapes from all kinds of trouble. He had served eighteen years with the Colours and had passed through the Great War without wound and without illness — the only piper of his unit with that record. At one period he was the only piper left in the battalion. And his comrades, in virtue of these facts, considered that his pre-war nickname of “Dodger” had been well justified.

Go to previous chapter | Return to Book Index Page | Go to next chapter


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus