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Pìobaireachd Society, dedication to the fallen: proposals for a Piping School

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

Given the scale of the loss during World War One, public attention in Britain turned increasingly to dedicating memorials as a mark of respect to the thousands who had perished. In the following years, memorials began being constructed into the country’s landscape: from the Cenotaph in London to community-centred memorials such as in Dunvegan on Skye.

No sooner had the war finished than members of the Pìobaireachd Society began discussing appropriate ways to honour pipers who had served and fallen.

The Society, being strongly linked to the Army, began by making dedications to high-ranking officers. A salute was dedicated to Field Marshal Earl Haig, for example which he acknowledged in the letter below.

The above letter is a copy of one written on behalf of Haig, thanking the Society for the dedication. (DC80/376/44)

The above letter is a copy of one written on behalf of Haig, thanking the Society for the dedication. (DC80/376/44)

As Commander in Chief of the British Forces during World War One, Haig is a rather controversial figure for his military strategies, especially during the infamous Battle of the Somme, in which thousands of soldiers lost their lives.

Amongst the Pìobaireachd Society’s plans was the establishment of a permanent military piping school, in memory of the pipers who died. The earliest reference to the School of Piping in the correspondence is from August 1919, in which the Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial Scheme expressed his support for the proposed school.

“I may say that this idea would have my most hearty sympathy, and if it is passed by your Committee, I hope you will communicate with me officially on the subject…” (DC80/376/35)

“I may say that this idea would have my most hearty sympathy, and if it is passed by your Committee, I hope you will communicate with me officially on the subject…” (DC80/376/35) [Click to enlarge]

Correspondence from other members suggests that Edinburgh Castle was a popular option for its central location. However, as with any initiative, there were worries concerning whether or not the Scheme would be sustainable. Whilst supporting the school in principle, the following member requested that the Society considered all the financial costs that the school could entail. On a national scale, the cost of war meant that the government turned to direct taxes on property and income on a far greater scale than they had before the war. An excerpt from the next letter exemplifies the worry this caused to individuals.

(DC80/376/39)

(DC80/376/39)

“Of course the main question to be faced with these days especially, is cost: taxation is breaking us; and is likely to be higher and the cost of feeding and the necessaries of life are very high.”

(DC80/376/39)

Edinburgh, whilst being a popular option was also an expensive option. It does seem a shame that a location in the Highlands was not considered, especially given that this was where much of the Pìobaireachd Society’s teaching was based and where a number of the pipers who went on to serve in the war hailed from.

Having heard about the Society’s plans, some members donated money to the School and were keen to see it established sooner rather than later.

“I may say that this idea would have my most hearty sympathy, and if it is passed by your Committee, I hope you will communicate with me officially on the subject…” (DC80/376/35)

The correspondent informs the Society that in Jan 1919, he sent them a small cheque in aid of a projected Military School of Piping and is expressed his hope that it will be in concrete form in the near future. (DC80/377/38)

The correspondent informs the Society that in Jan 1919, he sent them a small cheque in aid of a projected Military School of Piping and is expressed his hope that it will be in concrete form in the near future. (DC80/377/38)

Unfortunately, it appears that the School of Piping, which was considered to be the most fitting tribute to the pipers who had fallen during the War, never came to fruition. The Archive Services collection of the Pìobaireachd Society’s correspondence stops after 1921 but it is likely that financial costs were a considerable factor in the decision. Rather, the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming continued to teach pipers in the British Army as it had since 1910.

The letters shown here are a few examples of the selection of letters which the Archives Services hold relating to the Pìobaireachd Society. There are of course many more and if you would like to explore the collection for yourself, please contact the Duty Archivist to make an appointment: enquiries@archives.gla.ac.uk


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