History: P/M Speedy, Scots Guards, and a Libyan Band he Trained During WW2

Further to researcher Liz Gardner’s article on the unknown Libyan Pipe Band, I can forward the following information.

The band was known as the Senoussi Pipe Band of the Cyrenaican Defence Forces and was taught by Pipe-Major William Speedy of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards. 

By Ron Abbott

Pipe-Major 3184097 William Butler ‘Jock’ Speedy was born in Polwarth [near Duns, Scottish Borders] in 1902 and died in London in 1969.  He was P/M of the 2nd Btn. SG between 1941 and 1943.

There is an article about the band and P/M Speedy in the 7th September 1943 edition of the Berwickshire News & General Advertiser.

I surfaced this photo of the band he taught a couple of years ago and copied it for my own research purposes:

The Berwickshire News article reads: ‘The recently formed pipe, bugle and drum band of the Senoussi Arabs of the Cyrenaican Defence Forces, trained by a Scot, was greeted with rousing cheers from the Arabs when it made its first public appearance in the streets of Barce, Libya.

‘The band beat ‘Retreat’ and marched past the GOC Cyrenaica who took the salute. The band was trained by Pipe Major William Speedy, Scots Guards, whose home is at Westlock, Coldingham [Scottish Borders].

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‘This is the first official mention of the Cyrenaican Defence Force parading in public. It has been formed and trained by British officers and NCOs from locally trained Senoussis who have throughout the war, despite Italian propaganda and oppression, been enthusiastically pro-British.

‘Pipe Major Speedy joined the Scots Guards as a piper in 1925 and had seen service in China and Palestine before the outbreak of war. In the Libya campaign in 1941 he was twice wounded. In 1940 he was made Pipe Major.

‘He has had several meetings with his sister who is a nursing sister in a military hospital in Palestine.’

  • The Editor writes: Regulars at the London competition in the 80s and 90s will remember Ann Speedy. She was a lifelong supporter and sponsor of the competition in dedication to her father’s memory. We would be grateful for a picture of P/M Speedy and more on his career if anyone can oblige. The picture of the Senoussi band at the head of this article is by Frank Hurley the noted WW2 photographer.

3 thoughts on “History: P/M Speedy, Scots Guards, and a Libyan Band he Trained During WW2

  1. Dear Rob,
    Thank you for your super article answering my question! I can add a little bit of wider context from my research. As the article in the Berwick News & General Advertiser quoting Pipe Major Speedy is dated 7th September 1943, and they were “newly formed” I can place the formation a little more clearly. The Libyan Arab Force was raised on 9th August 1940 and formally disbanded on 9th August 1943. In that short period of time, it changed names several times from the British Arab Force, through various iterations of Libyan Arab Refugee and Senussi Forces. Finally on 26th March 1943, GHQ ME re-designated them the Cyrenaican Defence Force (W. H. Kingsberry, ‘The Cyrenaica Defence Force’, Royal United Services Institution. Journal, 88:551 (August 1943), pp. 210–214.).

    British involvement, with what was really an Allied Force, formally ceased on 31st August 1943, although senior staff officers remained to finish admin until 11th September 1943. At this point, what was left of the Cyrenaican Defence Force moved out of British Army control and under the command of Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (OETA) . Ultimately, it would become the nucleus of the Libyan Army when Libya gained Independence in 1951 under the leadership of King Idris el-Senussi (later deposed by Gaddafi in 1969). From your research, it would appear that the British Army left a legacy with the Libyan of a Pipe Band!

    Thank you so much for your work. If I manage to find out any more, I will update here in the comments.

    Kind regards, Liz Gardner

  2. My name is Allan Speedy and I started learning the pipes at my school in 1973 in New Zealand.

    About 1976 I wrote a letter addressed to P/M Speedy c/o The Scots Guards to inquire into my namesake.

    The letter was returned ‘Not at this address’ or something.

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