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The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - Scottish Horse


Like the Lovat Scouts, the Scottish Horse owes its origin to the South African War of 1899-1902. It was in the autumn of 1900 that Lord Kitchener accepted the offer made by the Caledonian Society of South Africa to raise a corps of Scots from the various provinces, provided that the name should be “The Scottish Horse.” Practical shape was given to the proposals by the message sent forth by Lord Kitchener to the Marquess of Tullibardine, D.S.O. — now the eighth Duke of Atholl — who was then a captain in the Royal Horse Guards, offering him the command of the new regiment, and requesting that the “Fiery Cross” should be sent around for recruits.

The recruits, to the number of four squadrons, were got together by February 1901, a feat which so pleased the Marquess that he applied for and obtained leave to raise a second regiment of Scottish Horse to be recruited from Scots in Scotland and in Australia. The pipers arrived early in 1901 with John Macaskil as pipe-major.

The excellence of their soldiering and scouting in some of the “hottest” battles of that war was recognised by all the generals under whom the Scottish Horse had served, and was such that when the war was over and the regiments were disbanded, it was thought advisable to perpetuate the name, in a new formation to be recruited from the shires of Perth, Argyll, Moray, Banff, and Aberdeen. In the recruiting campaigns throughout these areas the pipers were of considerable value. On the long marches across the veldt of South Africa the pipers, mounted on trained Russian ponies, played cheerful airs for the men. They have of more recent years remained on foot, forsworn the breeches, and kept to the Atholl Murray tartan kilt and plaid. The pipers are mostly Atholl men, pipers also of that unique corps known as the Atholl Highlanders, the private regiment of the Duke of Atholl. The Scottish Horse have a marching-past tune called “The Scottish Horse,” composed in South Africa in 1901 by the Duchess of Atholl, who about the same time wrote another pipe melody entitled “Brothers Three,” in honour of her husband and his two brothers, all on active service.

The outbreak of the Great War found the regiment mobilised; soon its ranks were overflowing with fresh men and with men who had left its ranks in earlier years. The two regiments expanded into nine — three brigades — and each regiment with its own band of twelve pipers.

As battalions of infantry the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Regiments went to Gallipoli, where they took part in all the fighting until the evacuation of the Peninsula; thence to Egypt and successively to Palestine, Salonika, and France. During their service in the East the Scottish Horse had, in addition to marching and fighting, made roads, and, from being dismounted Horsemen, were, about the close of September 1916, converted into members of that famous regiment The Black Watch, though even then they were allowed to retain their identity in dress and in the official designation “13th Battalion The Black Watch (Scottish Horse).”

In all the adventures of the regiment the pipers were handy men, now assisting the quartermaster, now in transport, and, when the regiment were on the march, refreshing them by tunes on the pipes, which they resumed for these occasions and for times in rest billets.

In Gallipoli, in 1915, the pipers took a leading part on a notable occasion. Lord Tullibardine wished to prove to the Higher Command that the Turkish trenches, in front of his line — which he had been ordered to take — were fully occupied, though, “Intelligence” had reported them empty. News of the victory at Loos gave an excellent opportunity. The men were ordered to fix bayonets, show them over the top of their trenches and cheer. The pipers were sent into the trenches with orders to play and then lie low. Just as they were about to begin, an officer asked a piper what he was going to play. “The De'il’s in the Kitchen, sir,” answered J. A. Gordon. “Capital . . . most appropriate,” was the laughing comment of the officer. And “The Deils in the Kitchen” and other tunes rang through to the Turkish trenches, the tenants of which, though they probably did not understand the message, were considerably startled. “It so much startled them,” wrote an officer of the Scottish Horse, “that for forty-five minutes they put down a rifle fire barrage on our trenches of terrific density—while we laughed.” Incidentally it may be added that the affair thus started, developed into a fine pyrotechnic display, as the field and larger guns on both sides hearing the “battle,” joined in without in the least knowing what it was about.

One point was made clear: the order for the Scottish Horse to occupy the Turkish trenches was cancelled.

Except for that most extraordinary episode the pipers were kept at Quartermaster’s Stores or on transport, and while so employed on the Eastern Front suffered severely in health, nine pipers having to be invalided out of the service. Pipe-Major Peter Stewart, aged 61, head stalker in the Atholl forest, was an indefatigable sniper, and had the good fortune to be awarded the Serbian Cross of Kara George, a much coveted distinction among troops in the Near East.

With the transference of the Scottish Horse to the Western Front the pipers had to endure the hardship common to pipers of all units, of seeing some of their number posted to one or other of the fourteen battalions of their temporary regiment — The Black Watch.

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