From the Archives: Lodgings on a cold, cold ground

Published: December 16, 2014

We put together the following piece for the February 1998 issue of the now-defunct paper Piper & Drummer magazine.

John McLellan, DCM

It’s natural for pipers and drummers to hope the graves of our post-greats suitably reflect their contribution to the art. The great composer Roddie Campbell’s plot is pristinely adorned with living roses, the grass beautifully kempt. The piping genius G.S. McLennan’s site, on the other hand, is a disappointment: difficult to find, overgrown, and seemingly forgotten in a defunct cemetery in Edinburgh.

When we set out to find the final resting place of John McLellan, DCM, one of piping’s greatest composers, we sent our investigators to Dunoon, the Argyll town that’s synonymous with McLellan and, of course, Cowal Games.

Recognized by most as a genius of melody, “Jock” McLellan’s masterworks include “Lochanside,” “Highland Brigade at Magersfontein,” and the tune now known as “Road to the Isles,” which was originally entitled “The Bens of Jura.” He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1900 for his gallantry as a piper at Magersfontein in the Anglo-Boer Wars. In the First World War, he battled alongside Willie Lawrie in the 8th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders until Lawrie was invalided to England. McLellan took over as Pipe Major of the 8th Argylls from James Wilson in 1919. He wrote lyrics for many of his tunes, and was also an accomplished poet.

The final resting place of the great John McLellan, DCM, at Dunoon Cemetery.

On the Dunoon waterfront a commemorative plaque in homage to “Jock” McLellan cites his achievements in and contributions to Scottish music. But we really wanted to find his burial site, and, after seeing the plaque, thought that surely McLellan would have a massive monument erected to him in Dunoon Cemetery.

We were saddened to discover that the great John McLellan is indeed buried there, but in an unmarked grave. After two thorough visits, our faithful and dedicated reporters couldn’t find a marker for him, and then resorted to contacting the records office of the Argyll & Bute Council, which got back to us with information on McLellan’s plot.

According to the Campbeltown Courier of August 13, 1949 – which the council very kindly sourced for us – McLellan’s funeral was quite a grand affair: “The funeral, which took place to [sic.] Dunoon Cemetery was attended by a large and representative gathering, including a great number of ex-Servicemen. Pipers who attended played the lament ‘The Flowers of the Forest’ as the cortege made its way to the cemetery and later played ‘Lochanside’, one of the Pipe Major’s own compositions.”

According to the Observer and Argyllshire Standard of August 6, 1949, the pipers who played were Pipe-Major George D. MacDonald, Pipe-Major James Wilson, and pipers David and George Smith.

The actual plot in which John McLellan rests is marked with the stone of one “A. McK. Henderson” of the Royal Scots. Apparently, John McLellan’s grandmother, who is said to have raised him, is buried in the same plot.

We are pleased to report that, because of the Piper & Drummer’s unfortunate discovery that the great John McLellan’s grave is unmarked, a move is on in Dunoon to erect a marble stone to mark his final resting place. Readers interested in getting more information on this project are encouraged to contact the Argyll and Bute Council, Area Office, Manse Brae, Lochgilphead, Argyll PA31 8OU Scotland.

Our thanks to Jean Towie and Margaret Wilson for their help with this piece.

Update: Despite some efforts since this piece appeared 16 years ago, John McLellan’s grave is still unmarked.

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