OT: 10 July 1920 – The Pipes of War [Article and Announcement]

The Oban Times, 10 July, 1920


What is the piper playing
That surges in my blood?
The soft breeze in pine trees,
The hawthorn in the bud;
The lone tarn,
The golden barn,
Fields of waving grain–
What is the piper playing
That beats within my brain?

Read war streameth from his reeds,
And in the thrumming drones
Their barks the lapping of men’s blood,
And sobs, and dying groans;
Night in it,
Fight in it,
Wraiths of stricken men
Ghosts of ancient clansmen
Sweeping down the glen.

Joseph Lee, Lieut.

The music of the pipes is a wonderful tribute to the power of the Piper. Mr. John Grant, in his book on Piobaireachd, affirms that it expresses “the romance, the renown, the glory, the tragedy, the joys and sorrows, the memories and the hopes of our forefathers.” There is no other music known in the world so ingeniously invented and constructed. The love song, the battle song and the song of lamentation are all expressed in Piobaireachd. Sir Bruce Seton, with his collaborator, Pipe-Major John Grant, with infinite trouble, patience and research, has created a book which must remain a standard record of the valour of the Pipers in the Great War.

Memories are short, and it was patriotic and admirable in the highest degree of Sir Bruce Seton, with Mr. Grant, to collect the particulars of the achievements of those Pipers who gave their lives for their country. The book is full of rousing enthusiasm for the lads who played “courage to the heart” in face of the guns which was to sound their own coronach. It is impossible to read unmoved the account of their deeds of heroism.

The authors point out that with a loss of five hundred pipers who made the supreme sacrifice, and with six hundred pipers who were wounded, the piping world has proportionately received a very big blow. To make good the loss as far as may be, it is proposed that the Piobaireachd Society Institute a Memorial School of Piping, and all the profits from this very splendid and worthy volume, completed every detail, with its fine title, The Pipes of War, are to be devoted to the training of Pipers. In spite of the endeavours of the League of Nations, more clouds are hanging heavily over Europe, and it would be a bold man who would dare to prophesy in times such as these, that there will be no more War.

The best and only way to prevent War in our day and generation is to be prepared for War, and with preparation to stand firm. An important part of the panoply of war is the Pipes. Army drills will not make a piper, but judiciously selected lads, trained and schooled by pipers of repute, will soon establish again our piping forces. Locally much could be done. Take Oban, for instance, who so well-equipped to impart the art as Pipe-Major Donald Macfarlane, who won his spurs on the field of Loos! How many a sinking heart, in the face of battle, has received fresh courage for the inspiring strains of the Piob Mor. Army pipers are essentially brave. Did they not feel what they play, they would play in vain.

There are, of course, good pipers and poor pipers, the latter is a misfortune, for which the performers are not always to blame. Everyone has not the advantage of tuition on MacCrimmon lines; but to their faults, let us be a little blind. These learners will soon find their level of competition, and seek to improve, if they mean to uphold the best piping traditions–otherwise they will fall out of line.

It is a matter of regret, as well as of some astonishment among many, that the Mod does not attempt the practical work of encouraging piping. The contemplative element of the Mod is well entered for, as a glance at our Mod report will show this week, but the present difficult times demanded stir and activity, and the degree of the practical element as well as the leisured study of the ancient language, beautiful, romantic and poetic that would be.

The value of the Pipes in battle is incalculable. Napier, in the “History of the Peninsular War,” is his tribute in these words:–

The pipers contributed in no small degree to produce the enthusiasm. They headed the charge, striking up a favourite war tune composed centuries before. Their warlike music inspired their comrades with a fury nothing could resist. . . . How gloriously did that Regiment come forth again to the charge, their colours flying and their pipes playing as if at review.

Long may we encourage the pipers! The Highland Gatherings, if they did no More than recognise piping, are doing fine work.

Never in battlefield beat heart so brave
As that which beats beneath the Scottish plaid;
And when the pibroch bids the battle rave,
And level for the charge their arms are laid,
Where lives the desperate foe that for such onset staid?

The Pipers’ War Memorial deserves generous help from the public. There is without exaggeration veritable genius in the creation of the “Pipes of War,” which will “fetch” the reader whether or not he plays the pipes, and whether or not he understands the music.

The contents of the volume include a record of the Pipers in action, collective and individual. Some writers have given noteworthy and valuable contributions on the subject of the Pipes, such as Major J. P. Grant, yr. of Rothiemurchus, who writes authoritatively upon Canntaireachd; Neil Munro, the prose bard of renown, and Editor of the Glasgow “Evening News,” who here gives “The Oldest Air in the World”: a wonderful piece on the MacCrimmons by Mr. Fred. T. MacLeod and the Tuition of the Young Regimental Pipers, full of sound advice, by Pipe-Major Grant. The pictures are excellently done. The music is given of “The Comrades we Left in Gallipoli,” from the Pipe Tune composed by Colonel H. A. C. MacLean of Pennycross. These and many other statements and annals chronicling the dead, unite in producing a volume of extraordinary interest. It is priced at twenty-five shillings, and, as indicated, the proceeds from its sale will be devoted by the Piobaireachd Society to the establishment of a School of Pipers. To buy a book as this is not sacrifice. It is a privilege to possess it.


The Pipes of War. A Record during 1914-18. By Brevet-Colonel Sir Bruce Seton, Bart., of Abercorn, C. B., and Pipe-Major John Grant. With Contributions by Neil Munro and others. Price, twenty-five shillings. Maclehose, Jackson & Co., 61 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow.