Open Letter to RSPBA Officials on Worlds Winners and Setting the Record Straight

5th HLI, World Champions at Cowal in 1908

Dear Sirs, With the support of our many readers, Piping Press this week published a full list of World Championship winning bands from the pre-SPBA and RSPBA era. We believe these bands and their achievements deserve to be recognised by their inclusion in the Worlds programme produced every year for that great championship at Glasgow Green.

We appreciated that these titles were won under the umbrella of the Cowal Championship, but the winners were considered by everyone at the time as the de facto World Champions.

It is on the pillar of their success that the Scottish Pipe Band Association was formed and we believe that their inclusion in the programme would both enhance the Championship by informing the public of the depth of our tradition, and also underline the Association’s standing as the guardians of our pipe band heritage and all that is good about our movement.

Below is the list of winners and you are free to use it and the introduction if you so choose.

Yours, R Wallace, Editor

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World Champion Bands (Cowal)

The year 1906 saw the introduction of the band contests at the Cowal Gathering in Dunoon. From the outset this Gathering was considered by bands and their supporters as the World Championship, albeit that that title was seldom used by officialdom. We believe it is right and proper that these bands and their pipe majors be recognised not only for their success but for the way they pioneered and consolidated our movement in the years before the establishment of the Scottish Pipe Band Association, later the RSPBA, in 1930.

1906 1st Vn. Bn Highland Light Infantry – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1907 3rd Bn. Lanarkshire Vn. Regiment – P/M Edwin MacPherson
1908 5th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1909 Stonehouse Pipe Band, Lanarkshire – P/M Hector McInnes
1910 5th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry (2) – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1911 5th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry (3) – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1912 5th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry (4) – P/M John MacDougall Gillies
1913 7th Vn. Bn. Highland Light Infantry – P/M Farquhar MacRae

World War I 1914 -1918

1919 Edinburgh City Police – P/M Hugh Calder
1920 City of Glasgow Police – P/M William Gray
1921 City of Glasgow – P/M William Fergusson
1922 City of Glasgow (2) – P/M William Fergusson
1923 City of Glasgow (3) – P/M William Fergusson
1924 Millhall Scout Pipe Band – P/M George D MacDonald
1925 Clan MacRae Society – P/M William Fergusson
1926 Millhall Scout Pipe Band (2) – P/M George D MacDonald
1927 Maclean – P/M William Sloan
1928 Maclean (2) – P/M William Sloan
1929 Glasgow Corporation Tramways – P/M Gavin L Robertson
1930 Millhall Scout Pipe Band (3) – P/M George D MacDonald
1931 Glasgow Corporation Tramways – P/M Peter Fleming
1932 Clan MacRae Society (2) – P/M John F Nicoll
1933 Clan MacRae Society (3) – P/M John F Nicoll
1934 Clan MacRae Society (4) – P/M John F Nicoll
1935 Maclean (3) – P/M William Sloan
1936 City of Glasgow Police (2) – P/M John MacDonald
1937 City of Glasgow Police (3) – P/M John MacDonald
1938 City of Glasgow Police (4) – P/M John MacDonald
1939 City of Glasgow Police (5) – P/M John MacDonald

World War II 1939 -1945

1946 City of Glasgow Police (6) – P/M John MacDonald


Winning Pipe Majors

1947 saw the introduction of the SPBA Worlds but the current Cowal World Champions, City of Glasgow Police, were ordered by the Chief Constable to play at Cowal and not at the new championship held at Murrayfield in Edinburgh.

On this issue respected piping historian Jeannie Campbell writes: ‘I think John MacDonald should be credited with a World Championship win for Cowal 1947, making six in a row. The bands which competed at the World Championship at Cowal in 1947 were banned from the SPBA event held in Edinburgh a week later.’

City of Glasgow Police under P/M John MacDonald were the last band to win the Worlds when held at Cowal

The question arises would Chris Sutherland’s Bowhill have won the first ‘official’ Worlds had Glasgow Police been present? Or would Glasgow Police have won at Cowal had Bowhill been there?

We will never really know but I believe Jeannie is right. We should credit both bands. I have updated the Worlds-winning P/M’s list accordingly:

Richard Parkes 13
Ian McLellan 12
John MacDonald 6
Terry Lee 6
John MacDougall Gillies 5
RG Hardie 5
Robert Mathieson 5
Iain McLeod 5
Tom MacAllister Jnr. 4
JK MacAllister 4
Willie Fergusson 4
John Nicholl 3
Jackie Smith 3
George MacDonald 3
Willie Sloan 3
Tom MacAllister Snr. 2
Bob Shepherd 2

Donald Shaw Ramsay 2
Stuart Liddell 2
John Weatherston 1
Terry Tully 1
Nat Russell 1
Bill Livingstone 1
Willie Gray 1
Ewan MacPherson 1
Gavin Robertson 1
Hector MacInnes 1
Farquhar MacRae 1
Hugh Calder 1
Peter Fleming 1
Chris Sutherland 1
Ryan Canning 1
Alex Macleod 1

Looking down this list, a number of interesting points arise. Only one pipe major achieved Worlds success with a different band, though given John MacDougall Gillies did it within the HLI, that may not really count. John Weatherston came close with the 277 and Red Hackle as did Donald Shaw Ramsay with Edinburgh Police and Invergordon and Robert Mathieson with Polkemmet and Shotts.

One of the most remarkable feats is that of Terry Lee in bringing a band all the way from the west coast of Canada, year after year, and picking up the ultimate accolade on six occasions, all within a relatively short number of years. This puts Terry at tied third in our list of all time greats. Who knows how many he would have achieved had he been based on this side of the ocean?

SFU pipe major Terry Lee winning at the Worlds 2005

The MacAllister dynasty is the only father-son success with 10 over the piece. RG Hardie holds the record for a civilian band ‘wins-in-a-row’ with five. Strathclyde Police top that with six and we could include the same band under John MacDonald who had six wins though interrupted by WW2. Being generous, we can make that seven if we accept Jeannie’s premise.

The most successful band of all time is Glasgow/Strathclyde Police with 20 Worlds wins (if we include Cowal 1947), a record I am sure P/M Richard Parkes and Field Marshal Montgomery will have set their sights on.


4 thoughts on “Open Letter to RSPBA Officials on Worlds Winners and Setting the Record Straight

  1. This is good news indeed that the RSPBA should recognise those winners pre 1947. There are however a couple of correction that need to be made for the winners in 1907 and 1923.1907 winners were the 7th Batt Scottish Rifles.1923 winners were The Clan MacRae

    The Cowal Championship was so named from 1947 but was known as The World Pipe Band Contest, which was established at Cowal in 1906.

    I have in my possession the book of the official selection of MSRs to be played for the World Pipe Band Contest at Dunoon in 1932. If any evidence is required, I am happy to email a copy of the cover and inside page.

    1. Please do forward the book of the official selection of MSRs for 1932. Do you have any written confirmation regarding the 1907 and 1023 winners as our information is as published.

  2. Hopefully the marketing and media group will be receptive to this suggestion. The pre-1947 champions were the best of their day and include names that should not be forgotten e.g. the Glasgow Tramways (later Transport), Millhall. Maclean etc.

  3. Thank you, to your interested readers I will pass this’request’ on to our Marketing and Media group here at the RSPBA for consideration.
    Kevin Reilly
    Chairman
    The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association

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