Somme Bagpipe Sells for Deservedly High Sum

A set of pipes said to have been recovered from the fallen body of a hero piper at the Battle of the Somme have been sold at auction to an unnamed buyer for £4,600. After tax and commission the true cost will be over £5,000. The sale was carried out by Lockdales in Ipswich, East Anglia.

The pipes, with an original reserve price of only £800, are believed to have belonged to Private William Alexander Scott who went over the top on 1 July 1916 armed only with his pipes his job to provide a morale boost for his fellow soldiers of the 21st Battalion Tyneside Scottish, Northumberland Fusiliers.

The young piper made it all the way to the German front line before he was shot and killed still carrying his pipes. It was the the first day of the horrific battle. The instrument was later recovered from the battlefield and returned to Private Scott’s family. They recently sold the pipes, leather case and memorabilia, to a private collector of militaria. He in turn presented them for sale at the auction held this week.

Bidding for the pipes was intense with two interested, but unnmaed parties, fighting it out over the phone, the auctioneer’s secretary passing on their bids. Auctioneer’s commentary:

‘Lot 392, the bagpipes….great interest, lots of bids. They’re straight in at £2,600, 2-7, 2-8….£3,000!….3-3, 3-4, 3-6, make no mistake….3-8..on the phone, out on the internet…3-9, £4,000…they’re being sold, on the phone….all done?……..4-1, 4-2, at £4,200!… all done and finished then at 4……….4-3!…4-5!…at £4,500, make no mistake….being sold, be quick if you want them…£4,500…….4-6!….same bidder, they’re fighting it out…4-7?….being sold then at £4,600………………done!’

Private Scott’s family believed the pipes, engraved German silver sldes and imitation ivory probably Henderson or Lawrie, were passed down to Pte Scott by his father Alexander Scott, who was also a piper in the same regiment at the turn of the century.

Piper William Scott (l) and his father Alexander William Scott

The sale blurb read: ‘The bagpipes remained in the Scott family until they were recently sold to a private collector of militaria. The pipes are in a worn condition and come in a contemporary leather case.

‘There also also some research documents including a newspaper cutting which states how Pte Scott died leading his fellow soldiers into action unarmed.

‘He was in one of four ‘Pals Battalions’ from Newcastle which attacked at 7:30am on day 1 of the Somme offensive in roughly the centre of the British line opposite the fortified village of La Boisselle.

‘It is reported that Pte Scott made it to the German trench where he was killed, still holding his pipes. The Tyneside Scottish suffered the worst losses of any brigade on that day, losing between 2,288 and 2,438 men.

A closer view of the mounts

‘Another solider at the time described Pte Scott as a ‘good pal and faithful friend’. Piper George Griffiths said: ‘He was well liked by officers and men of his battalion. He died a hero for he played the men into action and cheered them up to victory.” Pte Scott’s body was never found and his name was added to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

Chris Elmy from Lockdales said: ‘The bagpipes were brought to one of our valuation day roadshows.

‘The owner wass a private collector who bought them from the Scott family; the bagpipes have never been up for auction before. The family had always believed they belonged to a relative who was killed at the Somme.

The Thiepval Memorial on the Somme

‘It is believed the pipes were passed down from Alexander Scott, who was a piper with the Tyneside Scottish in the late 19th/early 20th century, to his son William Alexander Scott, who also piped for the Tyneside Scottish and who was sadly killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

‘The tartan is correct for the regiment and the fact that a set of damaged pipes was kept and treasured leads us strongly to believe they were recovered from the person of William Alexander Scott. Family tradition holds that they were his. It is very unusual to see such an evocative item as this go up for auction.

‘The music of the pipes was used to raise the morale of the soldiers, and also to drown-out the sounds of the battle going on around them.’

Piper Scott’s sacrifice is recorded in ‘The Pipes of War’ by Brevet-Colonel Sir Bruce Seton and P/M John Grant

A further blurb read: ‘First Day of the Battle of the Somme interest. An original set of bagpipes believed recovered from the battlefield. The pipes are believed to have belonged to 21/1230 Pte William Alexander Scott (21st bn Tyneside Scottish) Northumberland Fusiliers, born Elswick, who died the first day of the Somme 1st July 1916.

‘His death as a piper is recorded in ‘The Pipes of War’…..originally published University Press, circa 1920. We believe it to be William Alexander due to his father being called ‘Alexander Scott’ who was also a piper with the Tyneside Scottish, it’s thought that he passed his pipes down to William to carry on the piping tradition.

‘However there is another possible Pte William Scott 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers KIA who died on the 1st Day of the Somme also. A newspaper cutting which comes with the lot states how William lead his fellow soldiers into action unarmed and was killed in doing so.’

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9 thoughts on “Somme Bagpipe Sells for Deservedly High Sum

  1. This set has full artificial ivory made of Catalin.

    Catalin wasn’t developed until 1927.
    The pipes are 30’s or 40’s era Lawrie — at this
    point in history Lawrie is known to have
    farmed-out work to the ‘near east’.
    One thing is for certain, they’re not WWI era
    bagpipes. I’m not surprised no one noticed.

    1. Hi Dave, hope you’re surviving the scourge in good fashion.
      I can’t see close enough to distinguish mount material, but if these mounts were early 20th century wouldn’t the mounts be celluloid rather than catalin because catalin would be pumpkin orange from oxidation by now, yeah? If 30s-40s era, wouldn’t the bottom mounts have the peculiar bulge from the late MacColl era? If the mounts were bakelite, then sadly yes, the era would be later. regards, rook

      1. The images are low resolution so it’s difficult to know for sure what the ornamentation is.
        The article states ‘full imitation ivory’.
        Even if the material is elephant ivory I wouldn’t date the set as pre-war.
        A dubious provenance for such a high price.

      2. The article states ‘full imitation ivory’.
        My comments are based on that statement. It’s possible they got it wrong.
        The images are such low resolution that it’s difficult to know for sure.
        Even so, I wouldn’t date this set as pre-war even with real ivory.

    2. ‘said to have been recovered’

      ‘Instrument was later recovered’

      Which is it?
      The first statement is one of belief and the second is one of fact. Belief is not knowledge.
      Knowledge can be objectively verified and

      ‘are believed to have belonged’
      ‘believed the pipes were passed down’
      ‘had always believed’
      ‘it is believed’

      In my 25 years as a pipe maker I’ve seen quite a few scams involving vintage/antique bagpipes
      but this one is orders of magnitude above all others. This set must come with its own
      ‘Time Travel’ machine. Batteries not included.

  2. Let’s hope you ever has these now refurbishes them and plays them. Unlike the owner of Donald MacPherson’s pipes who I’ve heard never plays them.

  3. PS. I would add that these pipes are Lawries. See the peculiar ‘fountainhead’ design of the top bells which is special to Lawries also the slightly thick projecting mounts which typical of pre 1920 pipes.

  4. I had placed an early bid of 4000 pounds for the set a month before the auction. I had my good friend who’s an authority of the Tyneside Scottish (Northumberland Fusiliers) who investigated the incident and we found out of all the Pipers and pipes accounted for, his body was never recovered nor his pipes. These pipes we concluded were his second set he kept at home and indeed you’ll see save for the bag, are in very good care condition. These were not the pipes taken to France. I accordingly withdrew my bid and I am sorry that the new owner has bought a set that was not there.

    I would draw your attention to the two photos of the photostat and photograph. Two entirely different people.

    If the buyer should like to contact me, I would happily supply him/her with the exhaustive research my friend had uncovered.

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