Piper, folklorist, singer and teacher Andy Hunter is originally from Fife but now lives in Lorient in Brittany. He is a follower of Piping Press and was impressed by the recent tune, Spean Bridge to Achnacarry, by the Cameron brothers Sandy and Finlay, written in memory of the Commandos who trained in Lochaber during WW2. Andy writes….
By sheer coincidence, I composed a 9/8 march in tribute to the French commandos and their commanding officer, Kieffer, who were also trained at Achnacarry during the last war.
I composed the march on the 6th of June last year, the Anniversary of D-Day. This French commando unit, under Lord Lovat, was the only French force to take part in the first assault on that day [J-Jour en France].
At the end of the Normandy campaign there were only 24 non-wounded or killed out of 177. They went on to fight their way across occupied Europe and at the end of hostilities had taken 40% casualties.
Their example is constantly held up to the the French public and they have become a legend in French military and civilian history. These men became thoroughly immersed in Scottish regimental traditions, serving as they did under Lord Lovat in No.4 Commando.
They admired how everything was done to the sound of the pipes. Bill Millin, Lovat’s piper, is an adopted national hero in France! Anyway, I thought it was high time they had their own tune, hence the composition. There is a possibility of it being adopted by the regiment. Here it is:
Not long after, I was invited to play the tune at the passing out parade of young commandos which I did in the company of two piping friends from Lorient, four pipers from the French Navy pipe band (Bagad Lann-Bihoué), and a serving Commando officer, one of my pupils. (See above, top).
Listen to Andy playing his tune:
What they didn’t tell me, but what I should have remembered from my days as Pipe Major of the Aberdeen University OTC Pipes and Drums, is that in the army, you spend a lot of time waiting.
So, we were on parade for two hours in freezing temperatures (not bad for a veteran in his 80th year!) but, of course, as nothing compared to the challenges experienced by Philippe Kieffer (their C.O.) and his men at Achnacarry.
Kieffer was a banker in his civilian life, but having been called up he rallied to De Gaulle in London and was very quickly impressed by the British Commandos. Churchill was keen to have an inter-allied force, so he eventually became C.O. of the group of French volunteers.
The French commando regiment is based in Lorient where I now live. They are very proud of the fact that they have been allowed to wear their cap badge on the left of their green beret (the colour is also a privilege accorded by the French Ministry of Defence) as a symbol of their origins under the British Army.
I am also very humbled by the fact that the last living survivor of this unit from the Normandy landings has recently gratefully received a recording of my tune.