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The Piper In Peace And War
Part II - Canadian Forces


Many of the Canadian Militia regiments had pipe bands long years before the Great War; they were mostly regiments affiliated to Highland regiments of the Old Country, whose titles they bore and whose traditions they sought to preserve. Oldest of all were the 5th Royal Highlanders of Canada, dating from 1816, affiliated to the Black Watch. There were the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, with headquarters at Galt, Ontario; the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada at Vancouver, and—also allied to the Seaforths — the Pictou Highlanders of Nova Scotia; the 48th Regiment (Highlanders), Toronto, affiliated to the Gordons; the 43rd Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada at Winnipeg and the Ottawa Highlanders, each affiliated to the Camerons; Princess Louise’s (Argyll and Sutherland) Highlanders of Canada, at Hamilton, Ontario, and the Calgary Highlanders, were both representative of the old 91st and 93rd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Pipers were not only in abundance in these units but also in certain mounted contingents. The 1st and 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles had full pipe bands, which, in times of peace, were also mounted.

In addition to these old established units many regiments raised for service in the Great War adopted pipe bands. There were pipers in France with all the following regiments: Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the 13th, I5th, 16th, 19th, 21st, 25th, 26th, 29th, 42nd, 43rd, 46th, 48th, 67th, and 85th Regiments; the 107th (Pioneers), the 35th (Forestry) Battalion, and the 1st and the 4th Canadian Mounted Rides.

The Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry had the advantage of getting en masse the Town Pipe Band of Edmonton, the members of which journeyed to Ottawa in August 1914, and offered to “play the battalion into France and back again.” The pipers, who were all good Scots, had volunteered for that distinguished regiment, though only 15 per cent, of its members were Scots, and they learned that the tunes often in request were not always of the type appreciated by true disciples of M'Crimmon. For example, when marching through a village in France occupied by American troops, the pipers played “Marching through Georgia” to the immense delight of the Americans. They had to keep on playing, no matter how long the march; pipers are expected never to tire or allow the men behind them to tire, but a march that requires no fewer than forty-two different times to be played seems something in the nature of a record. That, indeed, was the sum totalled one day by the P.P.C.L.I. after an exceptionally long inarch and was put down to the credit of their pipers!

In action the Canadian pipers were, as in the home regiments, employed as pipers, but oftener as stretcher-bearers, runners, ammunition and ration carriers and transport men. Frequently they were found at the head of their companies, playing them into action, and then resuming their work of stretcher bearing. The pipers of the F.F.C.L.I., two of whom were awarded the D.C.M., played the leading wave of the battalion up the lip of the crater of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, and then went back for their stretcher duties.

The 13th (Royal Highlanders) seem to have been badly handicapped at the outset by lack of pipers, only five having gone out with the original force and of these two were lost in the battle of Ypres in April 1915 — H. Robertson, a Muir-of-Ord man, who died of his wounds, and Alexander Singer, who, in consequence of wounds, had to be invalided out. The pipe-corporal, Neil Sinclair, an old piper of the K.O.S.B., who hailed from Islay, was wounded in June 1916, and after recovery was posted pipe-major at Bramshott camp. George Robertson, a Dundee man, was killed in April 1917. Matters were improved in April 1917, by a reinforcement of eight pipers under Pipe-Major A. J. Saunders, an ex-piper of the H.L.L, all the nine being transferred from the 73rd (Reserve) Battalion. They were not as a rule allowed to play their companies into action, but at Amiens, on 8th August 1918, Piper James W. Macdonald played his company and Piper G. B. Macpherson, a Wick man, played his in the action at Arras on 27th September 1918, and returned without casualty.

The 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion kept to the old Highland clan system of having the pipers play whenever and wherever possible; no battle seems to have been fought without the strains of one or more of their pipers resounding in the ears of some of the fighters. One colonel had the taste for pipe music so much developed as to have a piper march alongside him whenever he went into action; the music doubtless acted as a tonic for thought as well as action. Casualties in consequence of all these demands on their services were very high among the pipers. Seventeen pipers had set out with the 16th Battalion in 1915 but only three remained in November 1918. The pipe-major, James Groat, was a worthy successor of the pipers of Vimiera and Waterloo. Thrice he had his gallantry recognised in the awards of D.C.M. and M.M. with bar. Groat was severely wounded and had to be invalided out. The other pipers of the 16th were equally gallant; eight of these were awarded the M.M., one of their number, George Firth Paul, causing a sensation at Amiens in 1918 by getting atop a tank as it proceeded into action and there playing his pipes, as though that were the latest development of the complete piper in action.

The crowning award of the Victoria Cross was also reserved for a piper of this battalion, James Richardson, a native of Rutherglen, Glasgow, whose brief, glorious service is summed up in the Andon Gazette recording the deed performed on 8th October 1916, at Retina Trench

“This piper performed deeds of the most extraordinary valour. He implored his commanding officer to allow him to play his company over the top. As the company approached the trench they were held up by very strong wire and came under a most terrific fire. The casualties were appalling, and the company was momentarily demoralised. Realising the situation, he strode up and down outside the wire, playing his pipes with the greatest coolness. The effect on the company was instantaneous, and, inspired by his splendid example, they re-formed and sprang at the wire with such fury and determination that they succeeded in cutting their way through and capturing the position. After entering the trench he asked for some bombs from the company sergeant-major, and they together bombed a dugout, capturing two prisoners. He was afterwards detailed to take these prisoners out, together with the company sergeant-major, who had been wounded.

“After proceeding about two hundred yards he remembered that he had left his pipes behind. Although strongly urged to do so, he refused to leave his beloved pipes and, putting the prisoners and company sergeant-major in a shell hole, he returned for them. He has never been seen since. An unrivalled tale of Scottish valour, worthy of the finest traditions of Highland pipers.”

Not many pipers were so circumstanced; those of the 19th (Central Ontario) Battalion acted as stretcher-bearers until 1916, when they were allowed to play their companies to and from the front line, finishing in the advance against Amiens in November 1918. The pipers of the 21st (Eastern Ontario) Battalion also, like their friends of the 19th Battalion, began the campaign as stretcher-bearers, but they all became casualties and were replaced by pipers, of whom two won distinction: Piper W. Currie who, in addition to getting a Military Medal, was promoted lieutenant, in which rank he again was honoured for his “fine work and good leadership during a raid.” For that the ex-piper was awarded the Military Cross. The pipe-major, J. K. Mackenzie, had also been appointed a lieutenant; he fell in action on 11th October 1918.

As stretcher-bearers the twenty-five pipers of the 25th Battalion did duty, the pipe-major, J. Carson, a Greenock man, being awarded the Meritorious Service Medal; Pipers W. Brand, and N. J. M'Innis for bravery, getting each the Military Medal. The 26th (New Brunswick) Battalion pipers continued as pipers whenever an opportunity presented itself. There were eighteen of a pipe band, thirteen of whom were emigrants from Scotland; three were natives of St John’s, one of Montreal, and the eighteenth was actually an Englishman who belonged to Southend-on-Sea! They all escaped sickness and wounds until the attack against Amiens in 1918, when three were so severely wounded as to be unable for further service. Military decorations did not come to the pipers except the Military Medal, which was awarded Piper Gallacher.

The 29th (British Columbia) Regiment, the pipers and drummers of which were all Scots of Vancouver, suffered severely, losing before the close of 1916 two from wounds and two sick, while four were killed in action on 6th November 1917.

The 46th (Saskatchewan) Battalion pipers numbered many ex-pipers of pre-war Highland regiments who, in the Great War, found themselves bearing stretchers instead of playing in action, as in former times. There was George Allan, an Edinburgh man, who had been for twelve years a piper in the Scots Guards, with the two medals for South Africa; Piper Allan died of wounds in August 1917. There was also Peter Baggett who hailed from Leith and who had piped in the Black Watch for twelve years before settling in Canada. Baggett was wounded so severely that he had to be discharged from service, as had likewise Pipers John Smith, ex-Seaforths, W. M'Geachin, John Fraser, and Charles Maclachlan. Another piper who had to leave was the veteran corporal James Hogg, whose earlier Army record extended over a period of twenty-six years, twelve of which were spent as a piper in the K.O.S.B. and fourteen years in the Black Watch. Length of years and increasing infirmities had at last forced him to retire, just as these disabilities forced his comrade, Piper William Finlayson, an ex-Seaforth belonging to Stornoway.

All these departures left but three pipers to the 46th Battalion, but these three did prodigies of valour while serving as stretcher-bearers. Piper Fraser was awarded the Military Medal and Pipe-Sergeant George MTntosh, a native of Forfarshire, after gaining that medal, had a bar added in 1918.

Into the 67th Battalion—Western Scots of Canada — went the pre-war pipers of the Gordon Highlanders of Canada, with the exception of three, who were transferred to the 16th Battalion. There was a delightful variety about the personnel of these pipers of the 67th. The youngest was a sixteen-years-old boy, and the eldest a veteran of sixty-nine years, and each, curiously, received much military honour. Boy Piper D. Campbell showed himself a brave soldier at Vimy Ridge and was awarded the Military Medal; he was then promoted staff-sergeant and, having attracted the attention of General Ironside, was appointed confidential clerk to that officer, whom he accompanied later to the Russian Front. J. Wallace, the veteran piper, whose soldiering had been learnt several decades back as a piper in The Royal Scots, won the admiration of H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught and of Field-Marshal Haig. These officers, as they watched the massed band performance at Camblain l’Abbe in 1917, made special inquiry into the military history of Piper Wallace, and after the recital, saluted him to the utter embarrassment of that most modest soldier. Another old soldier was Piper George Leslie who, as a Gordon Highlander, had played his pipes in 1897 on the hills of Dargai and carried them over the veldt of South Africa in the war of 1899-1902; he had the good fortune to be promoted pipe-major at the base.

The pipers could not complain of monotony in their duties, for they were at times at the head of their companies playing them into action, at other times they were out with the stretchers bringing in the wounded, or again were back and forth with ammunition for the front line, and when food was required they were sure to be sent for it. On the eve of the Armistice the battalion was disbanded and the pipers were transferred to the 102nd Battalion.

The pipers of the 85th (Nova Scotia) Battalion belonged to a province where pipe music was the favourite form of entertainment, “the people preferring it to all other kinds of music.” So spoke an officer of the battalion. The sixteen pipers therefore who composed the band on the outbreak of the War were certain of having an appreciative audience among their comrades who kept them piping as often as occasion would permit. Ten of the pipers were native born — six Cape Bretoners and four were Ontarians—but there was room for a much-travelled Scottish soldier in the person of J. M'Intosh, who, after his period of service as a piper in the Gordons, which included the campaigns of Chitral and South Africa, had emigrated to Massachusetts. Thence he had journeyed to Nova Scotia to join the pipe band of the 85th and was appointed pipe-sergeant.

The sixteen pipers who comprised the pipe band of the 107th Canadian Pioneers were Scottish emigrants who had come from various townships of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They were pipers only when duties allowed. Making trenches and wiring occupied much of their time, but when the Pioneers rested from these labours the pipers tuned in their pipes for the delectation of all. Illness and wounds resulted in the death of one and in the discharge of five others.

The 1st and the 4th Battalions of Canadian Mounted Rifles resembled the Scottish Horse and the Lovat Scouts in their love of pipe musie. The fifteen pipers of the 1st Battalion who mobilised with the troops at Brandon in August 1914 and the ten pipers — all Scots — of the 4th Mounted Rifles found that the conditions of war did not permit of the practice of their art on horseback, nor even of their ordinary routine duties as pipers. They became infantrymen like the rest of the battalion, and were either using the rifle and bayonet or were engaged in the strenuous duty of stretcher-bearers. Two pipers of the 1st were killed in action and four were wounded, while of the 4th one was killed and three were wounded.

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