History: Seventy Years on, the Bratach Gorm of 1951

The following is from an Oban Times of early 1951….

Pipers and dancers from a’ the airts, including a large contingent from Scotland, arrived at the headquarters of the London Scottish regiment in Buckingham Gate for the annual competitions of the Scottish Piping Society of London

All day long the notes of the piobaireachd, the classic pipe music of the Gael, the merrier strains of marches, strathspeys and reels, and Highland dancing entertained the audience which by the afternoon filled two large halls. The competitions continued till late in the evening. This year’s competition, the 12th in the annual series, attracted a record entry.

The piping judges were Colonel AG Davidson, Sir Douglas Ramsay, Bart., of Banff, Mr L Balfour Paul and Mr James Campbell. They agreed that the standard of playing had been very high and that it had made their task as judges an extremely difficult one.

There were entrants from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Skye. Two girl dancers from Australia competed. Competitors included five Scots soldiers at present on a six-months piping course under the instruction of Pipe Major William Ross MBE at Edinburgh Castle. The leader of the party was P/M R Crabb.

Among the leading pipers from Scotland were Donald MacLeod, Fort George, Donald MacPherson, Clydebank, R MacKay, Inverness, Donald MacLean, Portree, RG Hardie, Glasgow, and John D. Burgess, the 17-year-old Edinburgh piper who has already made a name for himself in competition with pipers many years his senior.

Eminent Scots pipers who now live in London, and are members of the London Society, included David Ross, Angus MacAulay and Andrew Bain.

In the premier piping competition for the Dr Calum MacCrimmon Bratach Gorm (Blue Banner) at least as high a standard is required as in the major contests at the Highland Games in Scotland.

There were eight competitors, all previous winners of the Inverness Medal, the Oban Medal, the Dunvegan Medal or the London Gillies Cup. The winner was a quiet-spoken Clydebank engineer, 28-year-old Donald MacPherson. John Burgess was second.

Mr MacPherson told me it was his first entry in the London competition. ‘I started playing seriously when I was 13,’ he said. ‘My father, Iain MacPherson, was a well-known player.’

Mr MacPherson, who won with MacIntosh’s Lament, added: ‘I think the standard here is on the same level as that demanded at Oban and Inverness. It is indeed a very high honour to win this Blue Banner.’

John Burgess told me that his father was also a piper, and that he himself began competing in amateur competitions when he was eight. He too is a pupil of P/M Ross of Edinburgh Castle.

An attentive listener to the Blue Banner was the donor, Dr Calum MacCrimmon, a descendant of the famous MacCrimmon pipers of Skye. A native of Skye himself, he now lives in Dagenham.

RG Hardie, winner of the Gillies Cup

Another coveted award at the competition was the William Gillies Memorial Challenge Cup in an Open Piopbaireachd competition. There were 22 competitors and the competition began at 10.45 in the morning and lasted until 5pm.

Again a west of Scotland piper, this time RG Hardie, was the winner and John Burgess was again second. David Ross gained third prize and Donald MacLeod was fourth. The holder, Corporal A Pitkeathly, did not enter – he is in Korea.

John Burgess had a success in the Open March, Strathspey and Reel. Angus MacAulay was second, Iain MacAulay, Manchester, third, and Andrew Bain, fourth.

A party of boys from the Royal Caledonian Schools, who came with their instructor, Pipe Major C Turnbull, had successes in two competitions. The London Highland Club Challenge Cup for amateur piobaireachd was won by William Young, and second place, which carries the Ram’s Horn Snuff Mull Challenge Trophy, was won by his schoolmate Gordon Speirs.

William Young also won the Highland Society of London Targe for amateur march, strathspey and reel, and Andrew Coultar of the Caledonian School was second.

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