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The Great War: Impact on the Pìobaireachd Society

Blog posted on behalf of Club 21 placement volunteer Karen Oakley:

By 1916, war intensified on all fronts and to replace the high number of casualties, Britain introduced conscription, targeting men aged 18-41 years. For the Pìobaireachd Society, as more men left home to fight, it became increasingly difficult for them to justify continuing to teach piping lessons. Funding for these lessons was helped in a large part by outside organisations such as The Highland Society of London, who were under their own financial pressures due to the war, as these two letters from 1916 show.

 Left: “It seems possible that the activities of the Society (Highland Society of London) may be necessarily suspended during the present War and that consequently expenditure may be suspended necessarily.” (DC80/371/11)    Right: The Colonel Commander of the Royal Military School of Music regrets to inform the Society that he was unable to get money from the Treasury to fund piping courses.  “I fear until peace is restored and conditions once men become normal it is no use hoping to have men to send to be instructed in piping” (DC80/371/23)

Left: “It seems possible that the activities of the Society (Highland Society of London) may be necessarily suspended during the present War and that consequently expenditure may be suspended necessarily.” (DC80/371/11)
Right: The Colonel Commander of the Royal Military School of Music regrets to inform the Society that he was unable to get money from the Treasury to fund piping courses.
“I fear until peace is restored and conditions once again become normal it is no use hoping to have men to send to be instructed in piping” (DC80/371/23)

The correspondence would suggest that it was around this time that the Pìobaireachd Society stopped offering piping classes. It is very difficult to be certain of this, as correspondence for 1917 is very thin on the ground. This in itself accentuates the impact of the war. It appears that only once the war was over did activity pick up again, as the following letter from an ex-Pipe Major of the Scots Guards, William Ross, shows:

Ross, writing six months after end of the war, understands that the School of Piping is to re-open and is offering to his services to teach. (DC80/376/14)

Ross, writing six months after end of the war, understands that the School of Piping is to re-open and is offering his services to teach. (DC80/376/14)

In the aftermath of war, teaching and other engagements such as sending pipers to compete in the Highland Games resumed, yet the impact of four long years of war was felt by the Society. In all, over 1000 pipers were lost during the First World War. Amongst those who fell were Pipe Majors. Without them, who would teach the next generation of players? A copy of this letter from the society to Lieutenant General Davies, expresses such concerns, as well as the mental health of the players who had survived:

“It is of first rate importance that piping in the Highland Regiment should go back to the old lines and that many horrors and innovations, which have arisen… should be dealt with drastically.”

The society were concerned that not enough Pipe Majors were coming through the ranks. “There is no doubt that in the five years of the war many of the pipe Majors have been killed or have retired, and that the number of suitable pipers coming forward is not what it should be.” (DC80/376/23)

The society were concerned that not enough Pipe Majors were coming through the ranks. “There is no doubt that in the five years of the war many of the pipe Majors have been killed or have retired, and that the number of suitable pipers coming forward is not what it should be.” (DC80/376/23)

Such was the impact of the war that the Society’s correspondence in the two years after the war largely concerned discussions on how best to commemorate the fallen, which will be explored in detail next time. Hope you can join us then.


As always, we would love to hear from you if you’ve got any information about the Pìobaireachd Society or you would like to visit the collection for yourself. Email the Duty Archivist: enquiries@archives.gla.ac.uk


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