The Australian Ladies Pipe Band – The Definitive History Part 2

In December 1925, New Zealand officials cabled their Australian counterparts asking whether there were any objections to granting passports to the band members so they could proceed to Canada and elsewhere.

Australia responded that passports should not be issued unless there was evidence of parental permission for the under-age members of the band. 

By Jeannie Campbell

Furthermore, each musician would have to pay a £50 repatriation bond as surety in case the tour proved financially unviable. Seven ladies, including Pipe Major Jessie Young, and four minors, returned to Australia.

Two months later, determined to fulfil their engagements, 10 band members set sail for England under a newly appointed Pipe Major, Dolly McPherson. Tour leader D/M Darwin boldly notified the Australian High Commissioner in London of the band’s impending arrival on 8th April, requesting support and an audience with Their Majesties King George and Queen Mary.

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The High Commissioner, anxiously requesting advice from Canberra, was told to do nothing to help what was seen as an ill-advised venture.

There were 11 in the final party, seven pipers and three drummers, who wore the Cameron tartan, plus D/M Darwin, the only man in the group, who wore the MacDuff tartan.

They represented every state in Australia with the exception of South Australia. The selection process for the tour had included playing a test before two judges, P/M Hugh Fraser and P/M M MacPherson. The chosen girls were Pipe Major Dolly McPherson, Pipe Sgt. Ailsa Buchanan, pipers Gertie Oliver, Tilly Wyatt, Mary Jack, Flora Ash, Rosa Lee, Drum Sgt. Florrie Yates, Drum Cpl. Laura Bate and drummer Molly Innes.

During its time in Scotland the band performed concerts in Kelso, Motherwell, Bridge of Allan, Auchterarder, Kirkcaldy, Perth, Kingussie, Arbroath, Elgin, Alyth, Aberdeen and Pitlochry. Their performance included pipe band selections, pipe solos, staff swinging, drum salutes, dances, songs and recitations.

The concert in Taunton, Devon, in the southwest of England, was reported fully in the local paper and a similar programme was probably presented at the various Scottish venues. The newspaper article stated:

‘The band’s numerous and varied programme……included … ‘Just a Sprig of Golden Wattle,’ sung and composed by D/M William Darwin, Highland Reel, P/M Dolly McPherson, Pipers Gertie Oliver, Tilly Wyatt and Mary Jack; song, ‘Loch Lomond’, Sailor’s Hornpipe, Piper Gertie Oliver; elocution, ‘Britain’s Call and the Answer of the Anzacs’, staff swinging (with pipe accompaniment)…….Grand Finale, Australian Ladies’ Pipe Band; ‘Auld Lang Syne;’ ‘God Save the King’.’

The Ladies aroused great interest at Cowal

On their arrival in Glasgow on Thursday, August 26, en route to Cowal, they had been welcomed at the station by 42,000 enthusiastic citizens and the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band, the champion band of Scotland, under their P/M William Fergusson, which played them to their hotel. It was P/M William Fergusson who composed the famous march, The Australian Ladies, which in his book has the alternative title, The Exiles’ Return.

On the Friday morning they continued on to Cowal where they were greeted by the pipers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. While in Dunoon they were the guests of Sir Harry and Lady Lauder. At the Cowal Gathering they played in the band competitions and three of the girls played in the solos.

The girls were dressed in a smart velvet tunic and kilt of Cameron tartan. They led the march past of 1,000 pipers before the prize giving, and they won against 40 of Scotland’s foremost male bands, the Murray Cup, (the World’s Championship) for band discipline.

Newspapers reported that ‘great interest was centred in their presence at the Gathering, and the girls in return displayed great interest in the proceedings’.

  • To be continued.

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