Chanters silenced: pipers lost in the Great War
The horrors of the four-year bloodbath are well documented. Pipers and drummers pay quiet homage to those lost every time we play music that commemorates the events of the war: “The Taking of Beaumont Hamel,” “The Bloody Fields of Flanders,” “The 8th Argyll’s Farewell to the 116th Reg’t de Ligne at Basincourt,” and, of course, “The Battle of the Somme.”
To put things in perspective, combined British, French and German deaths at the Somme totaled more than 310,486. Overall losses and casualties came to more than 1.2-million. The battle lasted less than five months, and, over that time, the British and French gained little more than a patch of muddy land. Historians still debate the point of the whole thing.
As with many disasters, World War I spurred artists to create. From sadness and despair can come great poetry, visual art and creative writing. The four years of the Great War might have been the greatest in history for Highland bagpipe compositions. There’s a case to be made that composers such as Willie Lawrie, John McLellan, and G.S. McLennan achieved the apex of their creativity between 1914 and 1918.
Many pipers were lost in the war. The Highland pipes played a key role in signaling and motivating troops in battle and on long marches. Pipers were often medics and stretcher-bearers, and were wide open in the line of fire.
pipes|drums will pay tribute to their contributions in World War I by publishing notices from Scottish newspapers, reporting on the deaths of heroic pipers. These notices, carefully and painstakingly found from obscure archives, are of unassuming musicians from small Scottish towns, who died with the pipes on their shoulder.
We owe them a debt of gratitude.
The notices are not intended as a “Lost piper of the Day” feature or a political statement. Rather, they are a recognition of these pipers in a horrific conflict from which none returned unscathed. With each, we will provide a transcript.
A GALLANT MORVEN SOLDIER
Piper Alex J. Kennedy.
It is with deep regret that news has been received of the death in action of Piper Alexander J. Kennedy, youngest son of Mr and Mrs Kennedy, 98 Crookston Street, Glasgow, and late of Drumnin, Morven, who fell at Ypres on 19th October. This brave soldier enlisted in the Lovat Scouts in October, 1915, and after a period of training in England he was transferred to the Royal Naval Division, and was drafted to France, where during his short but gallant career, he took an active part in the fierce fighting at Ypres.
A letter from his Captain gives Piper Kennedy the highest character of a fine soldier, and says he died a most gallant and as manly a death as any man could die. His death is mourned by his comrades, with whom he was a great favourite. He was a most dutiful and devoted son, and was held in high esteem by all who knew him.
On joining the Army, Piper Kennedy was presented with a purse of sovereigns from his friends and wellwishers. Much sympathy is felt for his parents, brothers and sisters in their great loss.
He sleeps beside his comrades,
In a hallowed grave unknown.
But his name is written in letters of love
In the hearts he left at home.
He died at his post like a soldier brave,
He answered his country’s call;
He sleeps far away in a hero’s grave,
For his country’s cause he did fall.
Stay tuned to pipes|drums for the next in our ongoing “Chanters silenced: pipers lost in the Great War” series, leading up to November 11.