By Robert Wallace
Pipe Major Donald Maclean, Seaforth Highlanders, was a noted piper and composer during the mid-20th century. He won both Gold Medals (Oban, 1951, MacDonald’s Salute, and Inverness, 1953, Black Donald’s March), and was renowned as a performer of light music.
He was born in 1908, the sixth of eight children. He began piping after following the example of his brother Murdo who took up the chanter to offset the debilitating effects of a WW1 lung injury. Donald, always a strong sense of humour, was known to march round the kitchen with a black cat under his arm as a bag and coal tongs as drones.
‘Big’ Donald Maclean as he was sometimes described, was an outstanding composer of pipe music, his most famous tunes being the Heroes of St Valery and Major Manson at Clachantrushal, erroneously called Major Manson’s Farewell to Clachantrushal in the Scots Guards Bk 2.
In civilian life he became pipe major of the Glasgow Transport band, gave lessons to many pipers, including double Gold Medallist Hector MacFadyen, and was President of the Scottish Pipers’ Association for a time. Though he never married, Donald Maclean lived life to the full, searching out the craic, a dram and a tune whenever possible – and not necessarily in that order or frequency. There is a story that he and John Burgess were travelling together to the games in South Uist. When they got to Lochboisdale they were surprised to read a newspaper headline stating ‘Maclean and Burgess reported to be in Russia’. Donald turned to John and said ‘I thought the boat journey was longer than usual!’ The bill poster referred, of course, to their notorious namesakes, the post-war Communist spies, Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess.