The Australian Ladies Pipe Band – Conclusion of the Definitive History

Piping historian Jeannie Campbell brings our tale to a conclusion with a recap on the car accident which cost the lives of three people, including a member of the Lawrie bagpipe-making dynasty, and injured two members of the band….

The band was honoured by a Royal Command to play before the King and Queen at Braemar on 9th September, 1926, where they marched past the royal party. One paper reported this was the first time the King and Queen had heard a ladies pipe band.

Two days later the band was back in Glasgow for a concert at Kelvingrove Park where 15,000 paid for admission – police estimated a further 7,000 tickets could have been sold.

By Jeannie Campbell

The following day band members were involved in a fatal car crash. The front page of the Evening Times on Monday, September 13 had a photograph of the wreckage and the headlines, ‘Three Killed in Motor Crash. Disastrous Collision near Bowling. Australian Lady Pipers Injured.’

It read: ‘A disastrous collision between two motor cars took place last night on the new boulevard near Bowling [a village on the Clyde Estuary]. Three were killed and two members of the Australian Ladies Pipe Band were injured. The intense darkness which prevailed at the time not only increased the difficulty of rescue work, but added to the horror of the smash.

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‘The names of the victims are: killed – Murdoch MacKenzie, Mrs Davis, Robert D Lawrie, Stepps. Injured –Matilda Wyatt (18) suffering from shock and slight injury to shoulder, Florence Yates (21) injuries to head. Both are members of the Australian Ladies Pipe Band and reside temporarily at 1213 Argyle Street, Glasgow.

‘The Australian lady pipers during their stay in this country have been exceedingly popular …… Yesterday they were the guests of a number of their friends in the city and a tour of the ‘Three Lochs’ was arranged.

‘A pleasant day was spent and everything went well until Bowling was reached in the evening about 9.30pm when the cars travelling in line were on the return journey to the city. An Austin car was leading, and it appears that when it was proceeding down the decline to the east of Bowling a Triumph car made an attempt to overtake it.

‘From some cause at present unknown the overtaking vehicle when opposite the other, suddenly swung round and crashed into the rear of the Austin. This car was hurled into an iron paling at the side of the road and the Triumph following overturned and piled upside down on top of the other vehicle

‘All the occupants of the Triumph were thrown violently in the roadway and these five persons were those killed or injured. None of the passengers in the Austin suffered injury, a fact which it is suggested was due to the heavy leather hood shielding the occupants when the Triumph crashed on top of it.’

Descriptions followed of the wreckage, the attempts at rescue by occupants of the other cars, the screams, and the personal possessions, including a Highland bonnet, which were strewn over the road. Mr Lawrie [of the famous pipe making family] was killed outright, the other two were still living but died within minutes and before medical help arrived.

The report went on….The injured were taken to the Western Infirmary in Glasgow. Mr Lawrie was in early middle age and was well known in business, masonic and bowling circles in the city. He was joint managing director and secretary R G Lawrie Ltd., Renfield Street, Glasgow, founded many years ago by his father the late Mr R G Lawrie.

He took great interest in Highland institutions generally…..and was the donor of numerous trophies and prizes given by him for the encouragement of Highland Games, dancing and pipe playing. Mr Lawrie was a member of the Society of Deacons and…. an ex-President of Stepps Bowling Club. 

The Australian Ladies outside Burns’ Cottage during their 1926 visit

Mr Lawrie is survived by his wife and two children. He resided at Stepps near Glasgow. The reporter had interviewed Mr James Lawrie, brother of the deceased. Mr Lawrie spoke of his firm having arranged a day’s outing for the Australian Ladies as a suitable close to their visit to the Glasgow area.

There were in all seven cars in the party, and the day was spent in a run round the three lochs. Mrs Robert Lawrie accompanied by her husband, went on the trip and on the way home occupied another car which was only a short distance behind the two involved in the smash. The shock of the occurrence, said Mr Lawrie, had completely prostrated his sister in law.

Australian papers later reported that three of the band were injured, two of them seriously. Following the accident the Australian Ladies continued with the tour.

The papers later reported that Miss Wyatt re-joined the company for their performance at Pitlochry on 16th September but Miss Yates was still in hospital. She was to spend 12 weeks there before recovering fully.

On 20th January, 1927 the band, ‘Ambassadors of the Empire’, returned to a rapturous welcome in Australia. They arrived at Freemantle, Western Australia, and various prominent citizens made speeches of welcome. In reciprocation the band gave an al fresco two hours’ entertainment, at the ship’s side.

The Australian Scottish Ladies Pipe Band steamed into Melbourne on 18th February, 1927. The following day, in the absence of an official welcome, D/M Darwin – with baton twirling – led the ladies in a triumphant march through the streets of Melbourne, preceded by ‘a detachment of mounted police.’

One-time detractors begged the ladies to play at fundraisers. Radio 3LO secured the band for a week of live broadcasts, and the ladies were booked for a season at the Tivoli Theatre. Six years later, in a romantic postscript, Drum Major William Darwin and Pipe Major Dolly McPherson were joined in matrimony. Soon afterwards the band set off on a tour of the Australian States, during which they were billed as the world famous Australian Ladies Pipe Band, recently returned from their World Tour.

More than 25 years later William Darwin and P/M Hugh Fraser organised another World tour, this time with a male band, The Australian Highland Pipe Band. The band members were aged between 18 and 26 and were all of Scots descent.

  • This excerpt is abridged from the writer’s book ‘Pipe Bands’. Contact her here.

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1 thought on “The Australian Ladies Pipe Band – Conclusion of the Definitive History

  1. My grandmother was in the band, and I was wondering where all the trophies are kept from their tour in 1926

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