History: Famous Composer John Balloch

My great grandfather was John Balloch [above], the composer of such popular tunes at the 25th KOSB’s Farewell to Meerut and Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen. His son Donald, my grandfather, was also a piper.

Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen is a well known beauty spot near Greenock where P/M Balloch settled before WW1. There may be other unattributed tunes of his in the Royal Scots Collection by James Robertson.

By Stuart Herron

His entry in ‘The Piper in Peace and War’ (1927) by CA Malcolm reads: Balloch, John – The noted composer of The 25th KOSB’s Farewell to Meerut, joined the army in 1878 as a piper ….. and played his pipes with the leading company in the battle of Tel-el-Kebir during the famous charge, and right through the Egyptian Campaign 1881-84, was conspicuous as a piper.

Was transferred as pipe-major to the 1st Battn. KOSB in 1886, and led the pipers of that battalion on the expedition to Upper Burmah [sic]. Retired 1899, and became pipe-major to the 5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Greenock).

In 1914 rejoined his old regiment and was posted Pipe-Major 8th Battn. KOSB, with which he served in France from July 1915-18, when he was invalided home. In addition to his 25th K.O.S.B.’s Farewell to Meerut, Balloch has to his credit Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen, and a retreat he has named Sunset on Flanders.

A 1935 edition of the regimental magazine ‘The Borderer’ has this on him: He was born on November 29, 1860 at Burnfoot, Falkirk, son of William Balloch an iron moulder, and Helen (Oswald) Balloch.

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Though he retired as a Pipe Major around the turn of the century and opened a tobacconist shop in Greenock, he and his older son Donald enlisted when the Great War started in 1914. John was 54 and Donald was 17 and they served in the trenches together. He also had a second son, Ian Allister, born in 1901. John Balloch was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1932.

After retirement he was in much demand as a teacher and judge. He introduced the combination of pipe-organ and Highland bagpipe at a concert in Greenock Town Hall and was piper to the Greenock Highland Society, Inverkip Society, and Pipe-Major of the Greenock Police.

Have a listen to the 25th KOSB’s as played by Muirhead & Sons…..

The Greenock Telegraph: ‘Seeing him now, as he goes about in his quiet civilian dress, with hardly a trace of the traditional stride and swagger of the piper, it is hard at first to realize that there goes one of the best-known pipers in the Army, a man who has seen active service in several wars….

‘Only very reluctantly could he be persuaded to give a ‘Telegraph’ representative some details of the things he has seen and done in a long and adventurous life. Balloch first ‘took the shilling’ in 1878, and in 1882 he went out with his regiment to the Egyptian War…

John Balloch (left) at Greenock Highland Games in 1935 with son Ian and grandson Donald, my father

‘While in India he took a keen interest in rifle-shooting, and [won] the prize for the best shot in his Regiment. By the time Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated [June 1887], Balloch was selected to take charge of the massed pipers.

‘The pipes have been Balloch’s life-long interest — playing, teaching and composing for them. In India he even taught the Gurkhas to play the pipes. ‘I have never come across more apt pupils,’ he said. ‘They played like regular Highlanders..’

‘Since he came to Greenock, Pipe-Major Balloch has had a busy life, and few events of a public or military character have taken place in which his figure was not a conspicuous one. He had a long association with the 5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and in his time was one of its most popular recruiting sergeants. Highland Gatherings in the Town Hall found him always there…’

P/M John Balloch died on September 3, 1947, at an old folks home in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. He was 86. He is buried in a cemetery at Port Bannatyne, Bute. I visited his headstone some eight years ago.

  • The author lives at Muckhart near Dollar in the shadow of the Ochil Hills.

2 thoughts on “History: Famous Composer John Balloch

  1. I knew a grandson (?), also John Balloch, who ended his army career as a Lt Col in The Royal Corps of Transport. After retirement, he became commandant of Browndown army camp in Hampshire. I last met him in Gosport in 1982. I remember Colonel John fondly as a very kindly gentleman who was a competent piper, too.

    1. Correct… I. Met John Balloch around 1973. John was a Major in 154RCT, my father Jim Fleming was the Drum Major. John brought the pipes in one Sunday and I along with my brother got to play them.

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