Pipe Tunes of World War II – Conclusion

The third and final part of Harry Stevenson’s very well received series….

Japan had entered the war in December 1941 with an unprovoked attack on the United States Navy at Pearl Harbour and also by occupying British, Dutch and United States possessions in the Pacific and Far East. 

Burma fell to the Japanese, and with their next objective the conquest of India, the 14th Army composed of British and Indian divisions, under the command of General William Slim, was tasked to prevent this.

HArry Stevenson
By Harry Stevenson

Two famous battles at Imphal and Kohima led to the defeat of the Japanese. Kohima, in Nagaland on the Indo-Burmese border, has been described as the most barbaric battle of the Second World War. This famous epitaph is inscribed on the Kohima Memorial:

When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today.

These next two tunes relate to Kohima: the Heroes of Kohima, by Bombardier J. Stewart, and Captain John Young – Assam Regiment by Pipe Major Peter MacInnes of the Scots Guards.

The second tune was the result a competition run by Robert Wallace when he was editor of the Piping Times for a fitting tune to commemorate Captain Young’s heroic bravery. Captain John Young was commissioned in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, but was Company Commander of A Company, 1st Battalion, Assam Regiment.

Alone in the jungle, his company of just over 100 men were ordered to halt the Japanese advance on Kohima and to fight to the last man and bullet. For three days and nights Captain Young and his men held off attack after attack by a Japanese battalion.

With radio contact lost and realising that their position was hopeless, he ordered his men to break out at night and make their way back to the regiment at Kohima, thus saving their lives. But no order was disobeyed. Captain John Young stayed to fight on alone and thus would be the last man.

Undecorated war hero Captain John Young

Ultimately overwhelmed in the next onslaught, John Young was buried with full military honours by the Japanese in the style of an esteemed Japanese soldier. He received no military honour but there is memorial plaque in the west end of Glasgow in street where he was brought up.

The final push to liberate Burma began with the combined British and Indian forces crossing the Chindwin River. Over the Chindwin was written by Pipe Major Evan MacRae of the Cameron Highlanders. He won the Gold medal at the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban in 1982 playing A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick.

P/M Evan MacRae

The next tune from the campaign against the Japanese is a lovely 4/4 march, The Heroes of Rimau, written by Sandy Forbes of the Royal Armoured Corps in memory of  ‘Z Force’. This special unit was made up of a group of 23 British and Australian personnel and led by Colonel Ivan Lyon of the Gordon Highlanders. Their job was to carry out sabotage on Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour.

On their second raid they were betrayed and perished at the hands of the Japanese, thirteen in battle and ten by later execution. Sandy Forbes also served with the Seaforth Highlanders and was a member of the famous Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band.

The penultimate tunes are two 2/4 marches as yet unpublished, the 51st Highland Division’s Welcome to Egypt and Alexander William Craig, Seaforth Highlanders. The first tune was written by Pipe Major William Davidson of the 7th Battalion Black Watch RHR. Known as ‘Bunts’, he came from Lochgelly in Fife.

Our more senior members [of the Blackthorn Pipers’ Society] will remember Alex. He was born in Galloway in South West Scotland. He joined the 2nd Seaforths and was taken prisoner at St Valery in 1940. After the war he was a merchant seaman on the Larne to Stranraer ferry and lived in Larne. He survived the sinking of the ‘Princess Victoria’ in January 1953.

For many years he taught the pipers in the Ballyboley band, including Roy McAnally who was the Ulster senior solo champion and  Brian Kidd the Senior Pipe Major of the Royal Irish Regiment.

On the 15th August 1945, and after the dropping of two atomic bombs by the United States, Emperor Hirohito announced that Japan would yield to avoid further causalities. Japanese officers officially surrendered on the 2nd September 1945. The war was over.

Joe Massie, who served in the Scots Guards, wrote The Guns have Ceased. Joe was one of three brothers serving with the Guards, but his oldest brother was killed just before the war in Europe ended. In later years he played with the Killoch Colliery band, and was appointed Pipe Major of the Liverpool Irish Regiment.

Our final tune is The 51st Highland Division by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. Born in Stornaway in Lewis, he joined the 2nd Seaforths in 1937. At St Valery in 1940 he was taken prisoner, but managed to escape and get back to Britain. Apparently when challenged when on the run he answered in Gaelic so was thought to be an immigrant worker and therefore a German ally.

He was a formidable piper, composer and teacher, winning eight Gold Clasps at the Northern Meeting, publishing six collections of light music and another of his own piobaireachd compositions. His tunes include Flett from Flotta, the Hen’s March, Susan MacLeod, Cockerel in the Creel, MacLeod of Mull, Crossing the Minch and many, many more, and all popular with pipers, fiddlers and accordionists. His piobaireachd tutorials on compact disc are a must for students of the Great Music.

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4 thoughts on “Pipe Tunes of World War II – Conclusion

  1. The pic of P/M Evan McRae is not him … he was in a band with my father Bill Stanley and i have many pics of them together.

  2. To Harry Stevenson,
    I have read your article “Pipe Tunes of World War Two” (conclusion). May I congratulate you on a fascinating and well researched article, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I had heard of some of the tunes and it was good to hear them being expertly played.
    I was especially interested in the unpublished tune “Alexander William Craig, Seaforth Highlanders”. I would be grateful if you could help me find a copy of the tune.
    Well done and thank you.

  3. To Harry Stevenson

    I have the pleasure to thank you for these threefold pages about piping in WWII
    Great job that you did, I already knew a handful of the published tunes, but as one learn everyday, and despite having played the pipes for 50 years, I have had knowledge of tune that I did not know till now
    I wish you happy feasts on this finishing year

    Jean Michel

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