Pipers Play Their Part in Remembering the Fallen

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday and pipers and pipe bands around the world will be playing musical tributes to the fallen of past and present wars.

Over in Northern Ireland earlier this week (on Monday) Raffrey Pipe Major Francis Strain (Ulster Defence Regimental Association, Belfast) was the lone piper at the official opening of the Belfast Field of Remembrance.

John Kelly reports: A short act of remembrance was led by the Rev Canon Samuel McVeigh MBE (Northern Ireland Chaplain of the Royal British Legion), Rev Dr Isaac Thompson (Regimental Chaplain, Royal Irish) and Lt Col Alex Bennett (38 Brigade Senior Padre).

Rev Canon Samuel McVeigh, Lt Col Alex Bennett and Rev Dr Isaac Thompson leading a short act of worship at the official opening

Following the service, buglers played the Last Post and Reveille and Francis played while crosses in tribute to the fallen of two world wars and every conflict since were placed at the Field of Remembrance. It is situated on the Donegal Square West side of Belfast City Hall, adjacent to the Cenotaph.  The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nuala McAllister, also took part in the commemoration.

Lone piper Francis Strain

Remembrance Sunday is particularly poignant this year given the 100th anniversary of the end of Battle of Passchendaele in WW1. More pipers died in this war than in any other due to the gallant, but disastrous, practice of piping troops ‘over the top’. The following excerpts from ‘The Pipes of War’ by Seton and Grant will give readers an idea of pipers’ bravery amid the horrors of the trenches:

‘It was during the Ypres fighting, where gas was first used against us, that an incident occurred of which the facts are as stated, but unfortunately it has been found impossible to get the names of the men concerned. The men looking into the storm of shells ….. and at the awful cloud of death now almost on them, wavered, hung back – only for a moment. And who will dare to blame them?

‘Two of the battalion pipers who were acting as stretcher bearers saw the situation in a moment. Dropping their stretcher they made for their dug-out and emerged a second later with their pipes. They sprang on to the parapet, tore of their respirators and charged forward. Fierce and terrible the wild notes cleft the air…after fifteen yards the pibroch ceased, the two pipers choked and suffocated, staggered and fell…



‘…….The attack…..on the Hohenzollern Redoubt was accompanied by fearful casualties, with uncut wire in front in an atmosphere heavily laden with gas, exposed to machine gun fire in front and flank, the 6th KOSB, 10th and 11th HLI and 9th Seaforths were decimated. The KOSB were played over the top by their veteran Pipe Major Robert MacKenzie, an old soldier of 42 years service. He was severely wounded and died the following day…..

‘…The heroism of the pipers was splendid. In spite of murderous fire they continued playing. At one moment, when the fire of the machine guns was so terrific that it looked as if the attack must break down, a Seaforth piper dashed forward in front of the line and started Cabar Feidh. The effect was instantaneous – the sorely pressed men braced themselves together and charged forward. The Germans soon got to realise the value of the pipes and tried to pick off the pipers…

‘….The Tynesiders were on our right and as they got the signal to advance I saw a piper, I think he was the Pipe Major, jump out of the trench and march straight towards the German lines. The tremendous rattle of the machine guns completely drowned the sound of the pipes, but he was obviously playing as though he would burst the bag and faintly through the roar of battle we heard the mighty cheer his comrades gave as they swarmed after him.

‘How he escaped I can’t understand, for the ground was literally ploughed up by the hail of bullets; but he bore a charmed life and the last glimpse I had of him as we too dashed out, showed him still marching erect, playing on regardless of the flying bullets and of the men dropping all round him…….Of the two battalions, 10 pipers were killed and five wounded and Pipe Major Wilson and Piper G Taylor both got the Military Medal….’

This page from the book tells its own story:Read more on pipers and pipe music from WW1 here.