US Attorney General Talks to Piping Press – Part 2

We conclude the interview given by US Attorney General William Barr (above) when he visited the European Pipe Band Championships in Inverness last month.

By The Editor

Going back a bit, I used to play solos when I was a teenager in the early college days but after that it was all bands. I just didn’t have the time. I suppose I was quite a good player when I was young; I was well taught. When I started I was getting impatient but my teacher just kept drilling the basics into me and, as I say, when I was young I was pretty nimble fingered and did win some prizes.

I suppose I must have been pretty good to play with City of Washington, a Grade 1 band, though they were just moving up when I had to leave. It was always nip and tuck between Kenmure and us but it was definitely one of the best bands in the US.

When I went back to piping after this long break it came back just like that [snaps fingers]. The only problem was that John MacKenzie had taught me the open C, the old fashioned way he had been taught, and it took me a while to re-adjust.

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Even as a little boy learning from Mr MacKenzie I’d be out of breath and he would tell me these old stories from WW1. I wish I had recorded them. The 6th HLI, who who were Territorials, part of the 52nd Lowland division, went to Gallipoli, Palestine. That famous tune, Kantara to El Arish by Willie Ferguson, came out of that.

Then they went to France and MacKenzie as with them all the way through and so was Ferguson. I had a painting done of their first battle, the Battle of Achi Baba Nullah

They lost a lot of pipers so they had to consolidate. The 5th, 6th and 7th HLI bands amalgamated into one divisional pipe band and Willie Fergusson was the pipe major. John MacKenzie spoke Gaelic and he taught it in New York in those days. 

The painting, by Chris Collingwood, shows the attack of the 6th HLI on the Achi Baba Nullah on Gallipoli, July 12, 1915. The piper is Bill Barr’s tutor P/M John C. MacKenzie who survived and fought through the war in Palestine and France. The 5th, 6th, and 7th HLI comprised the 157th Brigade of the 52nd Lowland Division. In their first two battles on Gallipoli, the Division lost so many pipers that the battalions combined all pipers into one Divisional Band, under P/M Willie Fergusson

He was raised in Glasgow but his father had been Pipe Major of the 6th HLI. In fact his father wrote a tune, the 6th HLI Farewell to Gallipoli, in 1915. He was the pipe major but he was too old to go so his son took over at 21 years old as P/M.

His father made him wear a kilt in Glasgow and he worked in a grocery store and he’d have to climb the ladder for the produce and he said the women were always sending him up for stuff off the top shelf!

Well I’ve had a wonderful day here at the European Pipe Band Championships and though I’ve been over many times at the Worlds and played there many times with my band, this is the first time at the Europeans. I enjoy the atmosphere of these contests. The bands are just getting better and better and I love to see them improve the way they have. 

There’s one American band here today, the Mesa Caledonia from Arizona. It was good to see and meet them. There are a lot of American and Canadian bands that go to the Worlds but you don’t see them often at the Europeans. It has been a wonderful day all round.

RW: ‘You realise there is much more politics going on here today with the bands than there is in the White House!
WB: ‘The politics of the RSPBA take second place to no one!’

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2 thoughts on “US Attorney General Talks to Piping Press – Part 2

  1. As a retired law enforcement officer and bagpiper it fills me with pride to see our land’s top law enforcement officer play the bagpipes.
    The bagpipe community knows no boundaries. Way to go…

  2. Really interesting pieces and I have a family connection with the Battle of Achi Baba. My Great Uncle Private Alexander Cameron of Greenock, was killed at Achi Baba on 12 July 1915 a few days after his 19th Birthday. Alex has no known grave. My son, Cameron, and I visited Achi Baba on the Centenary of the battle on 12th July 2015 and left a memento to Alex from the family at the Helles Memorial at the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula where his name is inscribed with over 20,000 others who have no known grave.

    Alex was in the 1st/5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders which was the Territorial Battalion, based in Greenock, with men mainly from Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow. After the charge at Achi Baba, it was reported that the 5th Argylls had suffered 327 casualties in the battalion with 232 killed. Drummer Jack Currie of B Company described it thus in a letter home, “Our division made a charge for Achi Baba Hill … With bayonets fixed, we charged the Turks’ trench, which was 300 yards from our own. It was like a human slaughterhouse.” Presumably the HLI had a similar experience.

    After a series of changes of name, this Greenock Territorial Battalion became the 277 Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders whose Pipe Band, under Pipe Major John C Weatherston MBE BEM won the World Championship at Belfast in 1962.

    Iain White

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