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The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - Australian Forces


Notwithstanding the numerous Scots and Scottish Societies throughout the Commonwealth of Australia there was no pipe band attached to any Australian unit — until the outbreak of the Great War.

Then it was the Queensland Battalion—the 42nd — which led the fashion by having a complete band of pipers and drummers. The 8th, 9th, 14th, and 52nd Battalions — the only other units with pipers — did not have these until they had been for some time in the field. The 8th Battalion obtained their pipers from the men of the battalion and one or two from outside battalions. They were not all Scots, four of the eleven being Australians. The Scots in the 9th Battalion were either fewer, or were unable to play the pipes — except the four Scots on whom the battalion depended for the music. The 14th, on the other hand, had twelve pipers and five drummers; and the 42nd Battalion also managed to maintain that number.

None of the pipers had the privilege of being entered on their regimental roll as “piper”; on the other hand they were saved the fate of the bandsmen who were sent to duties behind the line. The pipers were either runners, stretcher-bearers or scouts, according to the battalion and the needs of the moment. It was as scouts that two pipers of the 42nd (which battalion was renumbered the 41st), namely A. Aitken and R. Gillespie, were awarded the Military Medal, a distinction which also was bestowed on Piper Munro Ross of the 8th Battalion.

In 1917 the 41st Battalion had the misfortune to lose all its pipers either by death or wounds — all except the pipe-major, A. R. M'Coll, nephew of the famous Scottish player, John M'Coll of Glasgow. The losses were made good some months later by the transfer of the pipers of the 11th Training Battalion.

The 52nd Battalion had probably the most enthusiastic supporters of pipers and drummers whose programmes, arranged to suit the tastes of men not used to the traditional tunes of the Scottish Highlands, were frequently of the music hall order. Encores were the usual thing, and no mercy was shown to pipers or drummers who could not continue to play as long as these were demanded. When one considers how long some of the marches of the battalion were, for example, the march from Arras to Dernacourt, and how the pipers and drummers had to play all the way and right into action, it will be conceded that theirs was no light task. On that occasion they played under heavy shell and machine-gun fire until their pipes were smashed and two drums were burst by shell splinters. As a rule, however, they did not play in action, but carried out the rigorous duties of stretcher-bearers, ration carriers, and runners; and repaired the barbed wires at front-line trenches. On the disbandment of the battalion in 1917 the pipers were sent to the 49th Battalion, and again, on 20th May 1918, to the 4th Machine Gun Detachment, and there they remained without further mishap until the close of the War.

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