History: Army Regiments and their Pipers – Part 6

This is the concluding excerpt from writer Alistair Aitken’s detailed look at the Scottish Regiments of the British Army and their association with pipers and pipe bands. He begins with the Scots Guards. We wish to acknowledge the assistance of Major Steven Small, Director of Army Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming, for his assistance with this series. 

The Scots Guards

The Scots Regiment of Foot Guards had its origin in the civil wars of the 17th century, and its existence can be traced back to 1639.  In that year Archi
bald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell, raised a Regiment of Foot to join the Covenanting Army.  The regiment was stationed in small detachments throughout the western Highlands for the next three years. In 1642 King Charles l approved the transfer of the regiment to ‘King’s Service’ when it became known as the ‘Lyfe Guard of Foot’ and thereafter served in Ireland for seven years.

In 1661 the regiment was granted the title ‘The Scottish Regiment of Foot Guards’ by King Charles II, and it was used to fight against the Covenanters in Scotland including at the Battle of Rullion Green in 1666 and the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679.  In 1713 the regiment became known as the Third Regiment of Foot Guards.  In 1830 King William IV restored to the Third Guards a Scottish title, and the following year the regiment became known as the Scots Fusilier Guards.  In 1877 the name of the regiment was changed by Queen Victoria to the Scots Guards.  Thereafter the regiment served in Dublin, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa.

The regiment’s first engagement in World War 1, in 1914, was at Mons as part of the British Expeditionary Force, the second at the First Battle of the Marne and then at the Battle of the Aisne and the First Battle of Ypres.  In 1915 the regiment saw action at Neuve Chapelle and Loos and in 1916 on the Somme.  In July 1917 the regiment began its involvement in the Third Battle of Ypres and later that year at Cambrai.  In March 1918 it saw action in the second Battle of the Somme and in subsidiary battles at St Quentin, Bapaume, Arras and Albert. The regiment also took part in the final stages of the war on the Western Front before joining the British Army of Occupation in Cologne and returning home in 1919.

The regiment was deployed in Shanghai and Hong Kong between 1927 and 1929.  In 1933 the regiment formed an alliance with the Winnipeg Grenadiers of Canada.  1935 saw deployment to Egypt and Palestine.  Following the outbreak of World War II the 1st Battalion saw action in Norway as part of the 24th Guards Brigade.  The 2nd Battalion, as part of the 22nd Guards Brigade, took part in fighting the Italians in Egypt and thereafter in Libya.  The regiment also saw action at the Battle of Halfaya Pass against Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

The Battalion was also involved in Operation Battleaxe to relieve the city of Tobruk.  In 1942 they saw heavy fighting against German forces and suffered heavy casualties before being reformed in Egypt.  Thereafter the 1st and 2nd Battalions saw further action in North Africa.  Both Battalions were back in the UK by 1946 and in 1948 the 1st Battalion assumed the role of Guards Training Battalion, a role which lasted until 1951.  The 2nd Battalion then saw further deployment in Malaya.

In 1951 the 1st Battalion was deployed to Cyprus and then to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt.  In 1952 the regiment formed a new alliance with the Royal Australian Regiment. The 1st SGs subsequently also saw service in Kenya, Malaysia, Borneo, the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland.  During the Falklands War they were at South Georgia and the Battle of Mount Tumbledown.  During the 1980s and 1990s the regiment served in Hong Kong, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, West Germany, Canada, the Gulf and the Persian Gulf.  Since the new millennium the regiment has seen service in Ireland, Sierra Leone, Germany and Iraq.  Under the British Army reforms in 2006 the Scots Guards remained as a single battalion regiment.

Pipers and Drummers in the Scots Guards have traditionally been deployed with their battalions on operations and there are many stories of them leading the troops into battle.  They are also fully trained as Guardsmen and perform that role when necessary.  More recently, when on operations and exercises, they have been employed as Medics and Armoured Fighting Vehicle Drivers or Commanders, and they can attain skills as a Combat Medical Technician.  During the Falklands War in 1982, the Pipes and Drums of the 2nd Battalion were deployed with distinction in the Reconnaissance Platoon.  During the Gulf War in 1991, the Pipes and Drums of the 1st Battalion were deployed as a Machine Gun Platoon, with six members attached to each company.

The Scots Guards’ contribution to piping and pipe bands is unsurpassed. The regiment has produced three volumes of pipe music which have proved enduringly popular over the years. The regiment’s list of pipe majors contains some of the most famous names in piping, from P/Ms Willie Ross, JB Robertson, and Peter Bain to P/Ms Angus MacDonald, Dixie Ingram, John Slattery, the Roe brothers, James Banks, and many more. Their collective contribution to piping cannot be underestimated and this proud tradition continues to this day.

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

In 1678 three independent troops of dragoons were raised in Scotland to quell the Covenanters.  At that time dragoons were mounted infantrymen armed with sword and short musket.  In 1681 King Charles II ordered General Thomas Dalyell of The Binns in West Lothian to raise more troops to form a regiment to be known as the Royal Regiment of Scots Dragoons and which was later to win fame as the Royal Scots Greys.  In 1694, before embarking to Flanders, they were reviewed in Hyde Park, London, by William lll. The entire regiment rode the grey horses from which the name of the regiment was derived.

The Greys served in most campaigns in which the British Army was involved, the most famous being the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  The regiment was also involved in the Crimean War in 1854, the Boer War, World War 1 and were part of the Eighth Army during World War 2.  Post-war years saw the regiment in various locations before, in 1971, amalgamation with the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’ Dragoon Guards) to form the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys).  The regiment was subsequently equipped with Challenger tanks and has seen action in both Gulf Wars.

Cavalry regiments traditionally did not have pipe bands but the Royal Scots Greys established an unofficial band while serving in India in the 1920s. In 1946, after World War 2, a pipe band again became part of the regiment when Pipers and Drummers of the Lothians and Border Horse, under Pipe Major Gray, were posted to the Royal Scots Greys on the disbandment of the 52nd Lowland Division.  In 1947 the band was officially recognised by the War Office and King George VI, the Colonel in Chief, and the wearing of the Royal Stewart tartan by the pipers sanctioned.
Over the years the RSDG band has had an impressive reputation publicly and competitively, reaching, for a lengthy period, Grade 1 status in the RSPBA rankings.  In 1972, under Pipe Majors James Pryde MBE and Tony Crease, the band had a number 1 record in the charts for five weeks with a recording of the air ‘Amazing Grace’. The impact this recording had on bringing pipe bands and pipe music to the attention of the worldwide public deserves to be recognised as the defining moment that it was. The band’s subsequent 2008 recording ‘Spirit of the Glen’ was nominated for the Classical BRIT Awards.  In 1982 the band, under Pipe Major John Allan, were Grade 2 World Champions and were upgraded to Grade 1 the following year. There they remained for just under 10 years.  In 1987, under Pipe Major John Bruce, the band gained 5th at the British Championships, 4th at the European and 10th at the Worlds.  In 1990 the band was deployed to the Gulf as tank crewmen as part of Desert Storm.

Current Scottish Regimental Structure

In 2006 Scottish Regiments were restructured to form The Royal Regiment of Scotland consisting of five Regular Battalions and two Territorial Battalions comprising:

Regular Army

1 SCOTS: The Royal Scots Borderers (comprising the former Royal Scots and Kings Own Scottish Borderers)
2 SCOTS: The Royal Highland Fusiliers
3 SCOTS: The Black Watch
4 SCOTS: The Highlanders
5 SCOTS: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

Territorial Army
6 SCOTS: 52nd Lowland TA
7 SCOTS: 51st Highland TA

The Scots Guards and Royal Scots Dragoon Guards continue to exist as separate regiments.

6 thoughts on “History: Army Regiments and their Pipers – Part 6

  1. The Territorial Army became the Army Reserve in 2014. 6 and 7 Bns are correcly:

    6 SCOTS, 52nd Lowland, 6th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
    7 SCOTS, 51st Highland, 7th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland

  2. It is my understanding that my grandfather, and 1-4 times great grandfathers were Pipe Majors in the Highland Regiments of the British Army. Can you tell me if there are lists of the names of the PMs dating back to the 1800’s? If so, where can I go to view the names?

  3. Im trying to trace my grandfathers medals my late father I was told gave PM Willie Ross medals to the scots guards museum is this correct

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