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The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - Scots Guards


The history of the Scots Guards prior to the year 1914 has yet to be written. Mr Andrew Ross, who was commissioned to undertake the duty, died unfortunately before accomplishing half the work. Nevertheless he discovered many important facts relating to the early career of the regiment which, by the way, commenced in 1641—not 1661 as hitherto supposed. Mr Ross has also the credit of tracing to the Scots Guards several companies of Highlanders which in time became merged in the main battalion. These Highland companies were, towards the close of the seventeenth century, stationed ip. various parts of the Highlands and, along with some Lowland companies, assisted the Black Watch to maintain good order.

There is no reference to any pipers which the Lowland companies may have had — no record of any pipe music played by the pipers of the Scots Guards on the march to Bothwell Bridge or elsewhere; but there is proof of the piper’s presence in the Highland companies of the regiment. These companies had been reduced in number in December 1704. when one of their officers, Lieut.-Colonel Duncan Mackenzie, was ordered to command the company which was to proceed to London for the purpose of being added to the main body of Scots Guards. That Highland company entered the city arrayed in the "proper Caledonian dress," with broadswords and targets, and preceded by their piper.

Londoners must have gazed with astonishment on the strange spectacle of Highlanders in tartan kilt and plaid, of which they may have heard, but which they had never till then beheld: and they must have marvelled to hear the strains of the bagpipe, an instrument that was equally foreign to their ears.

These Highland soldiers were probably soon afterwards breeched and gaitered and made uniform in appearance with their comrades of the Lowland, but it is unlikely that the piper was "dropped" or that he was forced to exchange his kilt for trousers or breeches; the average Englishman of the period manifested much interest in kilted men and pipers who found their way to England. There was one Scots piper who was captured in the battle of Worcester, 1651, who discovered to his amazement that he was regarded by his captors as an object of wonder and admiration; he was encouraged to play his pipes and a post was given him in Bath, where he prospered.

Though the first Highland piper of the Scots Guards fared well it is doubtful whether he had many successors. The Guards appear to have had pipers towards the end of the eighteenth century. They were without them in the first half of the nineteenth century; Colonel Greenhill-Gardyne recollects the re-introduction of pipers in the Scots Guards about the year 1853, when he was a subaltern in the Coldstreams, and of the early pipe-majors he has some interesting stories to relate. The first pipe-major of the 2nd Battalion was pipe-corporal Murdoch Macpherson of the 42nd, who continued to wear his Black Watch uniform for some time after he had joined the Guards. To the 1st Battalion went Ewen Henderson, a Grenadier piper of the 92nd, for whom the Guards had to exchange a private of theirs. Ewen, who accompanied the Guards to the Crimea, was a well-known personage in the regiment and had the honour of playing before the Royal Family on many occasions. There in Buckingham Palace he was paid many a compliment, but the greatest interest for Ewen was his performance before H.R.H. the Princess of Wales, later H.M. Queen Alexandra. That performance was often recalled, and the kind words which Her Royal Highness addressed and the golden napoleon which she graciously bestowed on the pipe-major. That token of royal esteem Ewen greatly treasured and showed to particular friends. An officer teased him by offering £5 for the coin, and had the satisfaction of hearing the loyal Highlander’s indignant "No, sir! nor £500!"

Among the rank and file the pipers of the mid-nineteenth century were very popular, one private, Roderick Ross, who hailed from Inverness, being the most ardent auditor. Roderick was a strapping Guardsman of six feet four, and with an enormous chest and muscles; all tunes were pleasant to his ears—all except that of "Lochabcr No More." As soon as the opening notes had sounded Roderick’s chest would heave and all the other marks of suppressed emotion would be revealed to all around. The pipers used to take an unkind delight in witnessing the distress of Private Ross, who used to remark: "I canna' stand ‘Lochaber No More,’ it aye gars me think o’ deserting."

The pipers, who had been unofficially introduced and made part of the Scots Guards establishment, learned soon after their return from the Crimea that the inspecting officer having discovered that they were not "officially authorised" they would be sent off packing. The news was like a bolt from the blue, but the officers were determined to keep the pipers, and, fortunate in having the Duke of Cambridge as colonel, made a successful appeal against the edict. In the correspondence that followed, the adjutant-general agreed to allow the pipers, in view of the "regiment being Scotch, it is considered that pipers will facilitate recruiting"; in another letter he "deems it especially necessary (to have pipers) on account of the duties of the Guards about the Court."

The pipers were then placed on a better footing, and one which not only made them part of the establishment but eased the officers of their maintenance, for, by an Army Order of 1856, each of the two battalions of the Scots Fusilier Guards—as they were styled from 1831 to 1877 — was to have a pipe-major and five pipers, free of cost to the officers, the pipe-major to be paid 2s. a day, and each piper 1s. 2d. a day with an additional penny a day to each as "beer money."

The pipers of the Guards are not permitted to play their companies into action, nor can they show the varied records of other regiments in regard to foreign service; for the Guards never serve abroad except in time of war, when they are placed in the "tightest" corners. The pipers are then either ammunition carriers or stretcher- bearers; they were in the Egyptian War, 1882-4, and in the South African War, 1899-1902, where their gallantry in fetching the ammunition to the front was the subject of praise. Two young pipers of the Guards who performed these duties in the Boer War were in the Great War, one Pipe-Major William Ross and the other Pipe-Sergeant Alexander Martin, both of the 2nd Battalion. The 1st Battalion with its eight pipers landed in France in August 1914, and took part in the retreat from Mons. On that depressing forced march, when everyone trudged along weary and despondent, the pipe-major, Alexander Ross, brother of the pipe-major of the 2nd Battalion, set his pipes to a lively tune. The men at once "changed step," pushed back their shoulders and tried their hardest to march erect; the piper’s tune was an unexpected comfort and inspiration; then they noticed that the pipe-major limped as he played, and, looking at his shoes, saw blood oozing and were amazed at his pluck and unselfishness.

In the first battle of Ypres, where the battalion was heavily engaged, Piper Mackenzie was employed as ammunition carrier. Carrying one bandolier of ammunition to front-line trenches several times in an engagement is a trying occupation, yet Mackenzie carried more than one over each shoulder—and he ran! Only a strong man and a fearless could manage that for any length of time. The men in the trenches—themselves in peril—trembled to see the piper on his frequent, trotting journeys, expecting each minute to see him fall. Still he carried on all day—but not quite. Before night had gone the brave Mackenzie had fallen, mortally wounded. The war had taken heavy toll of the eight pipers of this battalion, only two of the eight surviving at the close of 1914.

The 2nd battalion, which had reached France on 2nd October 1914, with sixteen pipers, were left with but six pipers at the end of 1914; their casualties had been sustained while the pipers served in the trenches or as stretcher-bearers. One of the most deplored of these casualties was Pipe-Sergeant Alexander Martin, who, after using his rifle in the trenches, was placed in charge of the stretcher-bearers and there he showed unvarying gallantry and devotion to the wounded. The regiment was gratified when they learned that the popular piper sergeant had been awarded the D.C.M. and that the Gazette notice of the award made mention of his "conspicuous gallantry and resource throughout the campaign when in charge of stretcher-bearers" and of his having "on many occasions picked up wounded men and carried messages under heavy fire."

Martin was further marked out for a staff appointment or for a cadetship as an officer and got his "marching orders" while in the trenches. Congratulated by his comrades, he had said the last of farewells and departed. "Lucky beggar," they said as he left, but alas! he had not proceeded far on his road to the base when he was hit on the forehead by a stray bullet and died instantaneously—on the very day on which he had completed twenty-one years’ service.

For a regiment that does not generally overestimate the merits of its members, it speaks volumes for the valour and the mental abilities of the pipers of the Scots Guards that so many of them were considered worthy of holding commissions. The two brothers Ross, pipe-majors of the 1st and 2nd Battalions respectively, were recommended, but both declined. Piper Bruce Hobson and Piper Archie M'Phedran availed themselves of their recommendation, Hobson going to the Royal Berks Regiment, and M‘Phedran to a Yorks battalion. Both survived the war, though M'Phedran was badly wounded while leading his platoon into action.

The losses to the pipers by deaths, wounds, and promotions led to the drawing up of a new scheme by the officers of both battalions for the better preservation of their pipers. The 1st Battalion pipers were put on transport lines; while those of the 2nd Battalion, besides their duties there, had to play the battalion up the line to a point decided on by the O.C., from which they played the battalion back after their spell in the trenches.

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