John Nevans is the current piping instructor at Lathallan School’s pipe band, having held the post for fifteen years. In this article he reveals the war herosim of the band’s founder, Mr Harry Stott….
Lathallan School sits at the base of a sloping coastline surrounded by natural woodlands, yards away from the rocky shoreline of the North Sea. Close to the fishing village of Johnshaven, the school occupies the building known as Brotherton Castle and has done so since 1949.
In 2024 the band will reach the 60th anniversary of its formation in 1964 under piping instructor Mr Harry Stott of Johnshaven and drumming instructor Mr Jock Clarke of Brechin.
By John Nevans
Though Mr Stott is named in the school yearbooks, little was known about him until one of those moments occurs when a link from the past opens up through a person in the present.
Our Information Technologist Mr Myles Beattie is Harry Stott’s great nephew. Myles and his mother, Mrs Joanne Beattie, supplied a very interesting history of Harry Stott and some of the previously unknown, but remarkable, events of his life.
Harry was born on 18th July 1893 at Townhead Road, Fettercairn, Aberdeenshire, to Jane and David Stott. Harry worked as a gamekeeper to a Miss Scott of Brotherton Castle.
He moved to a gamekeeper’s job in the Borders but had not been long at it when war broke out and, aged 19, he enlisted in the 6th Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. There he learned to play the pipes and joined the regimental band.
During the First World War pipers frequently ‘went over the top’ first to encourage the soldiers out of the trenches. In the KOSB it was normal to play the regimental tune All the Blue Bonnets are over the Border interspersed by Highland Laddie.
The KOSB were fighting at the Battle of Loos which took place in France from 25th September to 8th October 1915. It was the biggest British attack of 1915, the first time that the British used poison gas, and the first mass engagement of New Army units. 21,000 men were killed in the battle and 7,000 of them were Scots.
On the first day KOSB Pipe Major Robert MacKenzie went over the top and started to play the regimental tune. He was struck by enemy fire and fell, shot in both legs. He was aged 59.
Though gassed by the British gas which blew back from the German lines, he managed to crawl back to his trenches and was taken to hospital at Dannes Camieres.
Harry Stott, acting as a stretcher bearer, took the pipes from P/M MacKenzie and, without fearing the consequences, leapt from the trench and struck up Highland Laddie. He fully expected to be shot and was amazed he wasn’t.
Back at the hospital Pipe Major MacKenzie had a leg amputated but died from shock on 8th October 1915, one of the oldest soldiers to be killed in the war. He is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, France. He was deserving of the Victoria Cross.
The 6th Battalion suffered heavy casualties at Loos, and later fought on the Somme. In August 1916 they were at Vimy Ridge. In April 1917 they attacked at Arras and in September back at Ypres where they assaulted the infamous Zonnebeke redoubt.
Harry Stott survived all of that but lost many friends and remained angry at the way pipers were sacrificed. Because of this he never wore a kilt again despite regularly being called on to play the pipes. The only exception was on his wedding day.
He and and his wife Belle, whom he had met at Brotherton Castle before the war, were married on 13th July 1919 at Johnshaven Church with Harry wearing his uniform for the last time. They moved to Dunbartonshire where he worked first as a gamekeeper then as a policeman till he retired when he and his wife returned to Johnshaven.
Meanwhile, in the early hours of the 2nd September 1949, Lathallan School, which was then situated near Largoward in Fife, had suffered a devastating fire. Landowner Charles Alexander who had recently bought the Brotherton Estate offered the castle to the school initially to rent but later sold it to the Board of Governors.
Several years later, on Remembrance Sunday, the then headmaster heard Harry play the pipes at the local war memorial. On talking with him the idea of forming a pipe band at the school arose.
So it was that every Thursday for the rest of his life Harry went to the school and taught the pupils who wanted to be in the band. They played at many events always with Harry in attendance. He never asked for, or received, any payment for his services.
After the war he had received a set of pipes which Robert McKenzie’s wife donated to him. Myles now has that set of pipes.
They are of particular interest. On first glance they seem like a well-made set of early Peter Hendersons, ebony with ivory mounts and nickel silver ferrules. There is a degree of ‘bloom’ on the combing which is the result of them being tucked away for many years.
Judging by the decoration of the wood and the ivory mounts, they might have been manufactured in the late 1800s. Apart from their value as an antique set of Hendersons, which most enthusiasts would give their eye teeth for, they seem pretty basic.
It is only when you pay attention to the commemorative plaque mounted on the bass stock that the history of this set of pipes fans into flame. The plaque reads:
‘Presented in memory of Pipe Major R McKenzie, NCOs and Men of K.O Scottish Borderers who fell at the Battle of Loos 25th of September 1915.‘
It seems fitting that P/M MacKenzie’s pipes were awarded to the man who selflessly stepped up and took his place on the battlefield. Whether or not these are the same pipes he played on that dreadful day we cannot say, but perhaps there is someone out there who can throw some more light on this fascinating account.
Hary died on 10th December 1972 at the Royal Infirmary in Aberdeen predeceasing his wife by two years. His legacy lives on in the many awards won by Lathallan School Pipe Band and this is a fitting memorial to a brave man.
History presents the case of Piper Daniel Laidlaw, ‘The Piper of Loos’, who acted as did Pipe Major MacKenzie and Piper Stott. Piper Laidlaw was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery, Pipe Major MacKenzie was believd to have been recommended for the same honour but it was not granted posthumously until 1921.
Piper Stott’s actions, like so many of the men of that time, went unnoticed in official terms, but the fact that these pipes have become a family heirloom means that someone somewhere knew what he had done and had seen fit to make sure this instrument went to the man who deserved to have them.
Lathallan School recognises this act of gallantry by one of the pillars of its establishment and will preserve the memory of Piper Harry Stott within its annals and records.