Famous Pipers: More on Captain John A MacLellan MBE

Additional information on Captain John MacLellan who featured in our post last week. This is from the programme notes for last year’s ‘Captain John A MacLellan MBE Piping Championship’ produced by the Army School:

John A. Maclellan was born in Dunfermline, Fife, in July 1921. He attended Fort Augustus Abbey School and joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a boy piper in 1936. In 1941 at age 19 he was named Pipe Major of the 9th Battalion , Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, the youngest man ever named Pipe Major in the British Army.

He would subsequently serve as Pipe Major with the 1st Seaforth Highlanders, the Lowland Brigade and the 11th Seaforths. He was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 1 with his appointment in 1954 as Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st  and 11th Seaforths and served in Germany, Egypt and Gibraltar. In 1946 he attended the Pipe Major’s course under Willie Ross and graduated with a Distinguished Certificate.

Captain John MacLellan at Fort George

He would later be sent for piobaireachd instruction to John MacDonald, Inverness, then the Piobaireachd Society’s official instructor. He won all of the major prizes and to this day he remains the only piper ever to have won piping’s ‘grand slam’ – the Open Piobaireachd at Oban, the Gold Clasp at Inverness and the Former Winners’ March, Strathspey and Reel at both gatherings in the same year, 1958, a record unlikely ever to be matched.

When he took over from the great Willie Ross in 1959, the Army Piping Class was being restructured as the Army School of Piping. Over the next 17 years he ran a centre of excellence at Edinburgh Castle with a long line of superb Pipe Major candidates studying under him.

IN 1963, with much of his best work still ahead of him, he was awarded the MBE for his contribution to the improvement of Army piping. Five years later he was appointed to a commission in the Queen’s Own Highlanders, becoming the first Director of Army Bagpipe Music.



During the 1960s and 70s he published six books of bagpipe music, many containing his own compositions and arrangements. He also turned to piobaireachd composition in which he excelled being thought by many to be the best composer of piobaireachd during the latter 20th century.

His Phantom Piper of the Corrieyairick (winner of the 1969 Saltire Society Award for piobaireachd composition) has entered the repertoire as a staple along with others such as Farewell to the Queen’s Ferry, A Welcome to Patrick Struan, the Salute to the Great Pipe and the Edinburgh Piobaireachd.

From 1978 to 1981 he and his wife Christine published the popular and influential ‘International Piper’ magazine. Captain MacLellan also became a pioneer of piping summer schools, travelling to set up and teach schools in South Africa, Australia the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

One of Captain John’s books. It contains the celebrated ‘Phantom Piper of the Corrieyairick’ piobaireachd

His home in Dean Park Crescent in Edinburgh saw many piping visitors and he was a great supporter of overseas competitors attending the major events. During this time he was also a prolific performer and contributor to the BBC’s piping programmes.

In 1962 he had proposed the idea of amalgamating the Army School, the College of Piping and the Piobaireachd Society under one umbrella to form the Institute of Piping which now includes the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, the National Piping Centre and the Army Cadet Force Pipes and Drums and comes under the umbrella of the Piping and Drumming Qualifications Board offering qualifications in piping and drumming at all levels.

Shortly after retiring from competition he devoted much of his time to the Piobaireachd Society and his work would form a significant part of his piping contribution during the rest of his life. He became Honorary Secretary of the Music Committee, one of the most influential and important appointments in piping, responsible for all aspects of publication, set tunes and judging. He was awarded the Balvenie Medal for his services to piping in 1989. John MacLellan died at his home in April of 1991 at the age of 69.

• We would be interested to hear from anyone who studied under Captain John at the Army School. Email pipingpress@gmail.com.


One thought on “Famous Pipers: More on Captain John A MacLellan MBE”

  1. Hello, I live in Australia and believe one of my husband ancestors David Herbert Huie played the bagpipes. We were wondering if you have any record of him? A fellow just contacted us by e-mail that has bought David’s bagpipes and case. We would love more information about him and a photo if anyone has one. Kind regards Nola Huie

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