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The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - South African Scottish


One of the origins of the famous South African contingent which made its name during the Great War in the battle of Delville Wood, is found in the unit which was raised in 1885 by the Scots residents in and about Cape Town. The regiment was destined to take part in many fights, the first and the slightest being concerned with the quelling of the Malay Riots. That, however, does not really count as real warfare; but they had their share in the fighting in Bechuanaland in the Langsberg Expedition of 1897. Two years later the Cape Town Highlanders were plunged into the South African War and fought on till the close in 1902. The pipers were there but did not play — conditions of veldt warfare did not permit of noise of any kind.

The year 1906 marks an era in the annals of the regiment. It was then that H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught inspected the battalion with its eight kilted pipers, and gave officers and men high praise for their smartness on parade. In appreciation of the consideration of the Duke the officers asked whether he would grant the battalion the privilege of styling themselves his regiment: “The Duke of Connaught’s and Strathearn’s Own Highlanders.” The Duke readily consented and the battalion went on as a Volunteer unit until 1913, when the Imperial Defence Act was passed by which the “Highlanders” became a Militia corps with the official title of 6th Infantry Regiment.

The regiment, which wears the tartan of the Gordon Highlanders, to which it is affiliated, has always been popular with Scottish units stationed at the Cape. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders cherish some pleasant recollections of their association together, and are particularly pleased to recall an occasion when the pipers of the Cape Town Highlanders played for the Argylls at one of their important parades when they marched past the saluting base to the regimental tune of “The Campbells are Cornin’,” played by the Cape Town pipers.

The Great War made imperative certain combinations of the Scottish units in South Africa. The Cape Town Highlanders, the Transvaal Scottish along with Scots in other corps were merged into one regiment, which was named “The South African Scottish.”

While that strong force marched through German South Africa in the process of clearing out all German opposition the pipers were active as players. When victory was assured they were embarked for France, where the pipers took up the role of runners or of ammunition carriers.

Though these duties were exacting in the extreme, and enabled several of the not altogether suit the taste of Pipe-Major Donald Cameron, who knew something of soldiering. Cameron had been a piper in the Black Watch and had won the D.C.M. in the South African War while with his battalion, the pipers place, said Cameron, was at the head of his company in action, and if he could not get that he would go into the ranks. Cameron thereupon joined his company, was promoted company sergeant-major and fought throughout the War. Perhaps, had he remained with the pipers, he would have shared in the awards and promotions that fell to some of these. Pipers E. A. Cumming and W. Durward, for example, were promoted lieutenants. Charles Gordon, an ex-Gordon Highlander, who belonged to Aberdeen, and A. Gray from Glasgow, were awarded Military Medals, as were some others whose names have escaped us.

The pipers were mostly experienced soldiers, able to give an excellent account of their doings. In addition to those already mentioned there were Pipe-Sergeant A. Grieve, a Fife man who had done duty in earlier years with the Black Watch and the Botha Scouts; Pipe Lance-Corporal J. M. Matheson, a Sutherland man, who had been a piper in The Royal Scots; Lance-Corporal Hay, from Ayrshire, who after the War of 1899-1902 had settled in South Africa after his service in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Hay and D. G. Cummings had also been through the Zulu land Campaign of 1906.

The pipers were thus in some measure prepared for the much more strenuous work which they had to undertake on the Western Front, where the gallantry of all was most justly lauded — especially for their achievement at High Wood.

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