Greig Canning got the evening under way and he was in excellent form. Greig, due to band commitments with Inveraray, does not make it along to the Society as much as he would like, however he is playing this Sunday in the Scots Guards KO competition and took the opportunity to run through some of his repertoire. Greig is up against Steven Grey, a fellow band member, so perhaps there will be a small side bet? The first round of this excellent event kicks of at 16.00hrs Sunday, 16th November at the Scots Guards Association Club in Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh.
The next performers were a quartet from Fettes College led by P/M Seamus O’Bagighill. (also an excellent fiddle player) Cameron Drummond has recently taken over there as principal instructor and the boys are heading up to Aberdeen to take part in the annual CCF competition this Friday. The group also included Matthew Sung, Torquil Roy-Lewis and David Maitland-Biddulph. The boys warmed up with some 3/4s before playing a very musical medley. It is very pleasing to see the high standard of school piping with many now competing at the major pipe band events. This was a very welcome addition to our evening and something we hope to repeat in the near future.
The post pie piper was Peter McCalister. Peter put together a small program of music relating to past events and provided an informative hand out that is included below. During his performance he played Flowers of the Forrest and the members present observed a minutes silence. Peter conclude this marvellous salute to the past with the Urlar of Lament for Red Hector to the Battles. Peter’s pipe was, as usual, first class and he has had a very successful competitive season. Congratulations Peter and many thanks for the excellent tribute.
The Bloody Fields of Flanders (P/M J MacLennan, DCM)
The total number of military and civilian casualties in WWI was over 37 million. There were over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. About two-thirds of military deaths in WWI were in battle, unlike the conflicts that took place in the 19th century when the majority of deaths were due to disease.
“Flanders”, like “The Western Front” or even simply “France,” were terms sometimes used to describe the entire conflict that the troops in the trenches had to endure. The official Battle of Flanders is a prolonged one in 5 separate parts, incorporating many other names, now infamous:
- 1st Battle of Flanders (October – November 1914) = The 1st Battle of Ypres – a battle fought during the Race to the Sea
- 2nd Battle of Flanders (April – May 1915) = The 2nd Battle of Ypres
- 3rd Battle of Flanders (July – November 1917) = The Battle of Passchendaele/3rd Battle of Ypres – an Anglo-French offensive.
- 4th Battle of Flanders (April 1918) = The Battle of the Lys (4th battle of Ypres)/Operation Georgette – second part of the German Spring Offensive.
- 5th Battle of Flanders (September – October 1918) – The 4th Battle of Ypres – a Belgian-French-British offensive during the last Hundred Days of the War.
The recurring name of Ypres demonstrates the frustration of both armies who were fighting repeatedly over the same patch of ground, where thousands had died before them. My own great-uncle Harry died there, and is remembered to this day by our family as a great loss – being young, charming, unmarried, and an only son.
Major Byng M Wright’s Farewell to the 8th Argylls (John MacColl)
The 8th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was a Territorial force, mobilised at Dunoon on the outbreak of WW1. They travelled to training at Bedford via Dunblane in August 1914 and embarked for France in May 1915, ending the war south of Leuze, Belgium.
Their list of battle honours in WW1 is very extensive:
- 1915 – Festubert
- 1916 – Somme, Pozieres and Ancre
- 1917 – Arras, Scarpe, Pilckem, Ypres, Menin Road and Casmbrai
- 1918 – Somme, St Quentin, Bapaume, Rosieres, Lys, Hazebrouck, Bethune, Marne, Soissonnais-ourcq and Terdenois
Casualties for a single battalion are hard to calculate – overall the Argyll’s lost nearly 7000 men in the War, though the total number who served is unknown: many battalions were disbanded and absorbed into other units, as the number of men left alive became too small to allow a battalion to continue.
A war diary is available on the net to see details of each day as it was recorded by hand – attached is a copy of page 1. Some details are hard to decipher, but at Bedford there is a suggestion in the bottom right hand corner that the “latrines were inadequate, no screens provided”, and at very end “an outbreak of …… ……. occurred”. The hard-to-read words might be “squalor fines” but that does not seem to make sense – alternative suggestions from Eagle Pipers are welcome.
Capt Colin Campbell (P/M Donald MacLeod)
There are so many famous soldiers with this name that it would be hard to pick which one Donald was referring to. I see the suggestion on the Eagle Piper’s website, here are some more ….
- Colin Campbell, born 1766, (later Lieutenant-General) who ran away from Perth Academy age 16 to join a vessel bound for the West Indies, then sailed for India as a midshipman, and was appointed a lieutenant in the Breadalbane Fencibles in February 1795. He served under Wellington in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain and France, becoming Wellington’s commandant at Waterloo. He and Wellington were the only two men on the general staff to escape the day uninjured.
- Colin Campbell (later Field Marshal and 1st Baron Clyde 1792-1863) who rose from humble beginnings, led the Highland Brigade in the Crimea and was in command of the ‘Thin Red Line’ at the battle of Balaklava. Later he commanded the relief army in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. His nickname was “Sir Crawling Camel” (for his methodical but very effective approach).
- More likely it is another 20th century person personally known to Donald.
Cabar Feidh (arr. John MacFadyen)
“Cabar Feidh gu Brath” (the Deer’s Horns for Ever”) is the motto of the Queens Own Highlanders, coming at the end of their regimental toast:
Land of the hills, the glens, and the Heroes;
Where the ptarmigan thrives
And where the red deer finds shelter.
As long as mist hangs o’er the mountains
And water runs in the glens,
The deeds of the brave will be remembered.
Health and success forever
To the lads of Cabar Fèidh
Cabarfeidh gu brath!
The Flowers of the Forest
Although the original words are unknown, the melody was recorded in 1615 in John Skene of Halyard’s Manuscript as “Flowres of the Forrest”, although it might have been composed earlier. Several versions of words have been added to the tune, notably Jean Elliot’s (1735) lyrics below. She published it anonymously and it was at the time thought to be an ancient surviving ballad. However, Burns suspected it was an imitation, and together with Ramsay and Sir Walter Scott eventually discovered its author.
Due to the content of the lyrics and reverence for the tune, many pipers will only perform it in public at funerals or memorial services. I myself have refused to play it at times, when requested to do so outwith these events.
The first verse of the song contrasts happier times with grief at the losses at the Battle of Flodden, 1513. Estimates of Scottish casualties in this dreadful battle vary between 5,000 – 17,000, including the King, James IV.
I’ve heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lassies a-lilting before dawn o’ day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
“The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away”.
Dool and wae for the order sent oor lads tae the Border!
The English for ance, by guile wan the day,
The Flooers o’ the Forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The pride o’ oor land lie cauld in the clay.
HMS Renown was the lead ship of her class of battle-cruisers of the Royal Navy built during the First World War. Renown, and her sister HMS Repulse, were the world’s fastest capital ships when they were built.
Renown did not see combat during WW1 – but frequently conveyed royalty on their foreign tours and served as flagship of the Battle-cruiser Squadron, when the ill-fated HMS Hood was refitting.
In WW2, Renown was involved in the search for the Admiral Graf Spee, participated in the Norwegian Campaign, the search for the German battleship Bismarck, the Battle of Cape Spartivento, several Arctic convoys in early 1942, and transporting Winston Churchill and his staff to and from conferences with various Allied leaders.
Transferred to the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean, she supported numerous attacks on Japanese-occupied facilities, in Indonesia and various island groups in the Indian Ocean.
Renown was sold for scrap in 1948.
Turf Lodge (P/M Angus MacDonald)
In the shadow of Belfast’s Black Mountain lies the Turf Lodge housing estate, which for most of its 50-year history has been the scene of much poverty and social unrest. Originally, the estate was built to house people from the overcrowded terraced housing of the Lower Falls. It was not unusual for these old one- and two-bedroom houses to accommodate twelve people.
In the beginning, residents were delighted with their new houses. Sadly, it soon became apparent that all was not as idyllic as the residents thought. With no shops, schools, public transport or even any roads – and a population of young families with children – life could be tough.
With the onset of the Troubles, the impact on Turf Lodge was immediate. Residents’ narratives have been recorded:
“Turf Lodge literally blew up, emotionally and socially and every other way.”
“I remember going to Mass and seeing men standing on the corner with machine guns.”
“Every male over sixteen was screened [by the Army] in Turf Lodge within an 18-month period – either in the street or going to the houses – so everybody knew the inside of a barracks.”
The British Army famously bought one of the top flats in a tower block in the middle of Turf Lodge, and set up an observation post there.
Over 3500 people died in the Troubles, and many more (possibly over 100,000) were injured.
Lament for Red Hector of the Battles
And from the Troubles of 1970’s Belfast … to myth and legend in Scotland: warfare does not seem to have gone away much, during human history. Red Hector (Eachainn Ruadh) died in the Battle of Harlow (near Inverurie) in 1411.
The 6th chief of the MacLeans of Duart, Hector early distinguished himself by daring exploits, and was noted as being one of the best swordsmen of his time. He became so celebrated as a swordsman, that many knights came from distant parts to measure weapons with him.
Red Hector was lieutenant-general under his uncle Donald of Islay during this, his last, battle. He was ultimately slain by Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum in a ferocious hand-to-hand struggle, which was described as ‘a noble and notable single combat,’ at the end of which both men lay dead. Hector was carried from the field and buried on the Island of Iona. Thereafter the MacLeans of Duart and the Irvines of Drum began a custom of exchanging a sword each year, on the anniversary of the battle.
The Battle of Harlow made a big impression on the people of Scotland at the time, and for generations afterwards, being very bloody (1400 men died in a short space of time) and yet with little consequence for either side. The tune therefore may have been composed some time after the event, but still it must be one of our earliest piobaireachds.
Next up was Donald McLeod who tapped into the evening’s emotion by starting with the HLI Crossing the Rhine by Donald Shaw Ramsay and The Heights of Cassino by PM Dan MacRae – 2 classic 6/8 marches inspired by WW2.
‘The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was a costly series of four assaults by the Allies against the Winter Line in Italy held by Axis forces during the Italian Campaign of World War II. The intention was a breakthrough to Rome.
At the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans holding the Rapido, Liri, and Garigliano valleys and some of the surrounding peaks and ridges. Together, these features formed the Gustav Line. Monte Cassino, a historic hilltop abbey founded in AD 529 by Benedict of Nursia, dominated the nearby town of Cassino and the entrances to the Liri and Rapido valleys, but had been left unoccupied by the German defenders. The Germans had, however, manned some positions set into the steep slopes below the abbey’s walls.
Fearing that the abbey did form part of the Germans’ defensive line, the Allies sanctioned its bombing on 15 February and American bombers proceeded to drop 1,400 tons of bombs onto it. The destruction and rubble left by the bombing raid now provided better protection from aerial and artillery attacks, so, two days later, German paratroopers took up positions in the abbey’s ruins. Between 17 January and 18 May, Monte Cassino and the Gustav defences were assaulted four times by Allied troops, the last involving twenty divisions attacking along a twenty-mile front. The German defenders were finally driven from their positions, but at a high cost.’
Donald then played An Eala Bhan and Tha mi Duilich, Cianail, Duilich. He stopped and gave us a bit of background on the tunes and what they meant to him. He did this after every set of tunes and it more than added to the ambience of the evening.
‘Both tunes were written by North Uist Bard Donald MacDonald (Domhnall Ruadh Choruna) – so called because his great Grandfather fought at the Battle of Coronna in 1809 during the Napoleonic War. ‘
An Eala Bhan’ (The White Swan) talks of his longing for his first love back in Uist whilst suffering the hell of trench warfare. Whilst ‘Tha mi Duilich, Cianail, Duilich’ (I am Sorry, Mournful Sorry) is an angry, sorrowful reflection of seeing his friends and so many other men killed in the trenches. Donald survived the war and died in his native Uist in 1967.
Donald continued with the MSR-Knightswood Ceilidh / Susan Macleod / Sound of Sleat.
‘Donald Macleod of course wrote the first two tunes. He was captured along with the rest of the 51st Highland Division at St Valery in 1940. This rearguard action almost certainly occupied the advancing German forces long enough to enable the evacuation at Dunkirk to take place.
The captured troops were placed on a forced march back to Germany but by all accounts this was fairly shambolic, allowing men to slip away. Donald Macleod self-effacingly said that he was thrown back as a tiddler (on account of his height). However, many Gaelic speaking soldiers slipped away and managed to avoid detection by using the language when challenged and were apparently mistaken for Romany Gypsies by German forces. Donald made his way back home and subsequently played on the assault craft over the Rhine in the final advance into Germany.’
Donald ended with An Ataireachd Ard (The Ceaseless Surge of the Sea)
‘My own great uncle Kenneth Macleod joined the Royal Navy in 1915. He was washed overboard and drowned off Ireland in December 1916. One of 4 brothers, the other 3 survived service although another uncle, Murdo, was gassed. My Grandfather, William Macleod, born in 1900, joined the Seaforths but fortunately just missed active combat service. I still wear his Seaforths cap badge with pride to this day whilst competing.
Great Uncle Kenny was seldom more than a name from the far off past, a bronze plaque from King George lying dusty in a cupboard, one young face in a book ‘The Record of the Men of Loch Broom 1914-1918’ which documents the terrible destruction of an entire generation of men from a small highland community.
The tune conveys a great deal more than words ever could. Tha mi duilich gu dearbh.’
As Donald put the pipe away it was clear that this had been a very personal tribute. Thus without further ado we had the evenings piobaireachd, The Groat, played by Duncan Beattie. Duncan has also had a very successful competitive season rounding it off with an outstanding haul in London. Duncan has assured us that he will be along more often next year. That would be most welcome.
The final player of the night was Andrew Gray who started with Flett from Flotta and The Battle of Waterloo. He then kicked into some fast and furious light music that lifted the spirits and sent us off into the night with a spring in the step.
What a marvelous evening!