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Pìobaireachd Society WW1 material: Encore

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

Over the past few weeks, I have been researching the Pìobaireachd Society’s correspondence from the war years. It has been a fascinating way to get a sense of home life during the four long years of war and its effects on one society: from the financial restrictions to the effects of conscription. Even the appearance of the letters speak loudly of the context: a strong black line around the outline of the letter indicated a period of mourning, as my supervisor Rachael told me.

Lieutenant Col. John Grahame of the Highland Light Infantry writing to the society requesting 3 or 4 pipers. He expresses concern at the fact that they currently only have one piper, “and without pipers a Highland Regiment is like Hamlet without the Prince!” (DC80/373/15)

Lieutenant Col. John Grahame of the Highland Light Infantry writing to the society requesting 3 or 4 pipers. He expresses concern at the fact that they currently only have one piper, “and without pipers a Highland Regiment is like Hamlet without the Prince!” (DC80/373/15)

My first main post outlined the correspondence relating to the Society’s preparations to train pipers with view to their serving in the army. This aim was ubiquitous in their correspondence, even in peacetime. The pride and importance associated with it was real- something which is more difficult to understand today having experienced two World Wars and since learned of the experiences of those on the front line.

As the war progressed, the amount of correspondence becomes thinner, which in itself is an indication of the effects of war on the running of the society. My next post told of the financial difficulties in being able to continue to run piping classes. Yet more importantly, members revealed the reality that many prospective teachers and pupils were serving abroad. Unfortunately, there is no correspondence from members who served on the front line. The impact of war for many of them, on an individual level is now understood to have been emotionally draining and long-lasting.

My last main post showed that plans were drawn up soon after the war to commemorate the pipers who had fallen, mainly through the establishment of a Military School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle. Unfortunately, this main centre never came to be though pipers continued to be taught in classes across the country.

This is my final post on the Pìobaireachd Society’s World War One material. I have really enjoyed my placement at the Archives Services and really appreciate the time and assistance by everyone here in helping me. I would highly recommend you take the opportunity to visit if you can. Please contact the Duty Archivist to make an appointment: enquiries@archives.gla.ac.uk

letter-fan

 

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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)

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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)

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Preparing for war: the training of army pipers

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

During the War, the running of the Pìobaireachd Society carried on as in times of peace and matters including the payment of membership fees continued to be flagged up in letters. Annual subscription to the Society cost £1.1s (or a Guinea) and this was used to help towards the publishing of pìobaireachd books and the provision of lessons.

“We will be obliged if you will inform us if you are making special arrangements with reference to the Subscriptions of any of your members who may be serving out of this country in His Majesty’s Forces.” (DC80/372/74)

“We will be obliged if you will inform us if you are making special arrangements with reference to the Subscriptions of any of your members who may be serving out of this country in His Majesty’s Forces.” (DC80/372/74) [Click to enlarge]

Yet, with the possibility of war being over by Christmas looking less likely, the Society was encouraged to suspend membership and refund those who were serving in the forces. Over time, this must have put the Society in greater financial difficulty.

A more pressing matter, however, was the training of army pipers, as had always been a priority for the Society. Letters of correspondence suggest that the Highlands and Islands were where the bulk of activity took place, with classes in Inverness and Uist amongst those mentioned. A high standard of playing was expected of the pupils, as this next letter shows.

The tutor of the class in Inverness, John MacDonald, informs the Society that the class had been “rather slow in picking up the different movements of Pìobaireachd” but are “now making quite good progress.” (DC80/372/4)

The tutor of the class in Inverness, John MacDonald, informs the Society that the class had been “rather slow in picking up the different movements of Pìobaireachd” but are “now making quite good progress.” (DC80/372/4)

You may be wondering why it was felt so important to train pipers for the army.

As highlighted in my introductory post,  pipers have a long tradition of leading the rest of the army into battle. Off the battlefield, they are also known to have provided entertainment to other soldiers. Indeed, some of today’s most well known tunes such as The Battle of the Somme and The Bloody Fields of Flanders were written in the trenches. A solo piper would also play when laying the fallen to rest and this symbolic role continues to this day. The next letter highlights how pressing it was felt that the Society continued to supply pipers to the army.

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The Pìobaireachd Society: Introduction to the WW1 material

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

Between 2014 and 2018 marks the centenary of the First World War and public attention has turned increasingly to remembering events both at home and abroad. Here at the University of Glasgow, names continue to be added to the Roll of Honour, telling the stories of those in the University community who fell during the war.

Yet what was life like for those at home during these tumultuous years? How did life change and what challenges did they face?

As part of my placement with Club 21, I’ll be researching the effects of World War One on the Pìobaireachd Society. Pìobaireachd (or Ceòl Mòr, literally meaning ‘big music’ in Gaelic) refers to the classical side of piping, consisting of a theme (ùrlar) and variations of this theme.

Formed in 1903, the society is still going today and aims to promote the classical side of pipe music through collecting pìobaireachd manuscripts and the publication of books. You can read more about them here.

The Pìobaireachd Society received payments from the War Office for the tuition of pipers, as this letter shows. (DC80/372/21)

The Pìobaireachd Society received payments from the War Office for the tuition of pipers, as this letter shows.
(DC80/372/21) [click to enlarge]

The Archives Services holds a number of the Society’s letters: correspondence between the members that was written between 1903 until 1921. They were found amongst papers relating to the Garscube Estate that was owned by Captain Campbell of Succoth, who was also an active member of the Society. They offer a fascinating insight into the daily workings of the society and I will be focusing on the correspondence during the war years.

Pipers were very much seen as being the backbone of the Army: often, they were the first to march ‘over the top’, piping the rest of the soldiers into battle. This had been going long before 1914, especially in Highland Regiments. As we will see over the next few weeks, it continued to be a priority for the Pìobaireachd Society to teach men to a high standard of playing to provide this service in battle.

We will also find out the impact of the war on the Society and its members and their plans to commemorate the fallen when the war was over.

Letter to the Society from December 1914. Regrets to inform them that he’s ending his membership, “owing to financial considerations due to the war.” As the war progressed, more letters similar to this followed. (DC80/372/78)

Letter to the Society from December 1914. Regrets to inform them that he’s ending his membership, “owing to financial considerations due to the war.” As the war progressed, more letters similar to this followed. (DC80/372/78)

Keep an eye out for more blog posts about the Pìobaireachd Society during World War One in the following weeks. In the meantime, if you would like to visit the collection for yourself or have some information about the society that you would like to share, please contact the Duty Archivist by emailing: enquiries@archives.gla.ac.uk.