September 14, 2018

Chanters silenced: pipers lost in the Great War

November 11, 2018, will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I – the Great War, the war that was supposed to end all wars.

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.



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.



  1. This is an amazing installment, thank you for doing this. I remember when I was just starting on the pipes my dad was PM of a small Legion band in Northern Ontario, He came up with the idea that we would get the names of all the fallen soldiers in that area and visit each and every cemetery where they rest. A group of veterans worked hard to fix up these stones and in some cases old wooden crosses. We would play the pipes as someone read out the names of each soldier buried. I was given the task of playing the solo component of amazing grace and the little band would come in as is in normal cases. Every weekend during one summer we did this, It was one of the most emotional things I can think of in my life so far. I also remember that as a kid I wasn’t really supposed to go into the legion but the veterans always said “the young piper is exempt from the rules today”. Once inside the old veterans would tell me stories from war times, they would sing old war songs and it was really unbelievable. I thanked each and every one of them. Most if not all are gone now, but one day I will make my rounds again and pay tribute to those guys. They are the most important people in our lives. I think it was likely 10+ cemeteries we visited, that is a lot of egg salad sandwiches, I don’t know if it is just me but Egg Salad sandwiches seem to be the popular choice at legions during ceremonies and sometimes tuna, and always cut into small triangles. Thanks again for this article. very nice job. Steven Tripp.



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