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The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - Tyneside Scottish


In the north-east province of England, the Territorial area of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Purham Light Infantry, are many Scots. Unlike their brethren in London and Liverpool, they had never banded themselves together for military purposes until the outbreak of the Great War. Then it was that the old clan spirit manifested itself. The Scots there, who would otherwise have joined one or other of the local regiments, were so early as August 1914 made aware that an effort was being made to form a battalion of Tyneside Scots. The modern “Fiery Cross” was sent through the various towns and villages, through Newcastle, Sunderland, North and South Shields, the two Hartlepools and elsewhere, wherever there were Scots, or sons of Scots, calling upon them to join a new formation which would indicate the Scots origin of its members: “The Tyneside Scottish.” The Scots responded so well that in time there were formed three battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers made up of the “Tyneside Scottish.”

One of the early steps in the formation of the 1st Battalion was to secure pipers and drummers. In answer to the invitation to all pipers and drummers of experience the necessary numbers quickly enlisted and were then equipped with bagpipes, drums, and Highland dress — the gifts of influential Scots and others of the district, among whom were Lord Armstrong, Colonel Joseph Cowen, Sir Thomas Oliver, Colonel John Heed, Mr Angus Watson, and Professor J. Wight Duff.

The question of a tartan was much debated, and finally one with set like the Campbells of dark green and white stripes, was adopted.

To the reader north of the Tweed there is something significant in the choice of the first camping ground of the Tyneside Scottish. At Alnwick, 821 years earlier, there fell in action against the English that warlike King of Scots, Malcolm Caenmhor. Alnwick in 1914 was a training ground for Scots and English, united against a common foe, but even it did not suffice for the extensive operations which were part of every battalion's exercises. They were sent to Salisbury Plain in August 1915, and in both camps the pipers were of the greatest moment. Indeed they were held in the highest esteem by both battalions of the Tyneside Scottish, the men of each battalion claiming to have a better pipe band than the other, and each pipe band doing its best to justify the claim.

After what seemed to the battalions concerned an unconscionably long time, they were at last sent to France in the beginning of January 1916, as part of the 34th Division. The pipers, who had hitherto led their battalions, were ordered to stow away their instruments, and, with rifle and full kit, take their places in the ranks and in the trenches. Thus they fought until the eve of the battle of the Somme, 30th June 1916, when an important alteration in the status of the pipers was made. They were permitted to resume their instruments, take their place at the head of the battalion or companies, and play them into action.

The Tyneside Scots pipers were proud of the honour and right gallantly did they maintain the old traditions of the heroism of the Highland pipers in battle. They played with all their wonted verve into “No Man’s Land,” till five fell mortally wounded and two more were severelv wounded, leaving but four pipers of the 1st Battalion untouched.

The pipers of the 2nd Battalion were more fortunate, for out of their complement of thirteen pipers there were lost but two killed and four wounded. Of the pipers in that historic battle Brigadier-General Trevor Ternan wrote: “The majority of the pipers fell at La Boiselle on the 1st July 1916, and the pipes in which they took such pride, and played with their last breaths, were lost, or only now exist as torn and bloody fragments preserved as treasured relics of that band of heroes, the ‘Tyneside Scottish pipers.’”

The surviving pipers were appointed stretcher-bearers and they performed their new duties with all the bravery and solicitude for the wounded which the regiment expected of them. No matter how heavy might be the shelling that went on, the pipers were there devoting all their mind and energies to the care of those who lay wounded. It was in circumstances like these that the tireless zeal of three was observed and led to the award of the M.M. to Pipe-Major Wilson, Lance-Corporal Taylor, and Piper Phillips. Piper T. Shaw won his M.M. as a bomber.

But the lack of pipe music was at length badly felt and was much deplored by officers and men. No music on the march and none when the battalion was in rest billets! The rousing tunes about which they used to talk, were like to become but dimly remembered. Fortunately in the early part of 1917 the colonel informed the Tyneside Scottish Committee at home of the need for more bagpipes, and, in response, there were sent out sufficient sets wherewith to complete a fresh pipe band for each of the battalions of the “Scottish.” But though the pipes were there the pipers were not, except the pipe-major and one or two others. Volunteers were then asked for, and many willing to learn the ways of the bagpipe were quickly taught enough to satisfy the uncritical audiences of the Scots over the Border; though many averred that the preliminary stages of that limited musical education were more painful to the ear than the noise of the largest shell.

The new-found music of the pipes cannot have lasted many months when the battalions and the pipers were sundered, the battalions being disbanded and the pipers finding themselves privates in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, two ex-pipers falling in action a month later.

A very interesting set of pipers were the Tyneside Scottish, if only for the pipe-majors. Munro Strachan, pipe-major of the 2nd Battalion, was over fifty years of age when he proceeded to France, his son, an ex-Regular piper of the K.O.S.B., also of the 2nd Battalion, being a pipe tutor not only for his own recruits but also for the large number of tyros of the Tyneside Irish. The pipe-majors of the other battalions were the Wilsons—a father and his two sons. John Wilson, senior, town councillor as well as pipe-inajor, had also the honour of being selected first pipe-major of the Tvneside Irish, in 1915.

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