Role of Pipe Major in the field

Discussion in 'General' started by Gourami, Jun 9, 2020.

  1. Gourami

    Gourami Faugh a Ballagh

    What role would a Pipe Major in the British army during WW2 played in the field and during combat?

    Would I be correct in saying that the role was an appointment, and their rank was actually sergeant?

    So, in a battle or campaign, say like the BEFs retreat to Dunkirk in the Battle of France, would a Pipe Major simply gone back to his sergeant duties in leading a squad or platoon?
  2. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    I'm sure some one will be along shortly to answer your questions. We have discussed the role of the Piper a few times before on the forum. Here is one example including a link to a BBC program about the First World War. If you use the search function in the top right hand corner of any page on the forum, you will probably find many more:

    The Pipers of the Trenches
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  3. Gourami

    Gourami Faugh a Ballagh

    Thank you!
  4. PackRat

    PackRat Well-Known Member

    A scrap of evidence from a Royal Artillery unit. In 130th (Lowland) Field Regiment, the man known to the men as 'Pipe Major McGhee' was officially a sergeant on the strength of Regimental Headquarters. Here he is on a May 1943 nominal roll, which was taken just after the Regiment escaped from the Arakan, Burma:


    There is no record of his day-to-day duties at RHQ, but (according to the Commanding Officer's account of the First Arakan Campaign) he was frequently called upon to play ‘Flowers of the Forest’ at funerals taking place just behind the forward line at Donbaik. He is mentioned a few times during the campaign, during which the Regiment was heavily engaged and briefly encircled during the British retreat:

    (December 1942)
    494 Bty left CHITTAGONG one Troop at a time. The first Troop to move was entraining when an air raid occurred. One plane dive bombed the railway station and hit a railway engine 50 yards in front of the leading vehicle of the Troop. Luckily no damage occurred to the Troop though the departure was delayed during the clearing of the line. The Bty was ‘Piped away’ to the front by Pipe Major McGhee and everyone went off in high spirits.

    (February 1943)
    The Dogras lost about 100 casualties in the last few days fighting. Lt-Col CROPPER, then Commanding Officer and a great friend of the Regt, was killed by a mortar bomb. He was buried near RHQ, Pipe Major McGhee playing the ‘Flowers of the Forest’ at his funeral, an act which I was informed was very greatly appreciated by the Bn.
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  5. Gourami

    Gourami Faugh a Ballagh

    PackRat thanks for that, great information there.

    Would the Pipe Major then always been attached to battalion HQ , or could they be out with other companies and just take up the pipes later when required?
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  7. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    The Pipe Major appears to have been associated with the signallers for non-musical duties but I've also seen references to him organising "the military day" in camp
  8. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    The Pipe Major is a position and not a rank. In my battalion, the Drum Major was anything from a Sgt to a WO2.

    In my battalion, the Drum Major commanded the Machine Gun Platoon - but that is post 1945.

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  9. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    I think George Macdonald Fraser's stories have something to say about the role of the Pipe Major. In "Johnnie Cope in the Morning" he writes about the power of that "Savage wonderful sound", the tune of that name behind which the highlanders fell on the government troops at Prestonpans.

    Perhaps the DS answer is to put fire in the soul, and fear in the hearts of the enemy.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2020
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  10. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    When he took over as Commander of 38 (Irish) Brigade in Feb 1944, Pat Scott noted:
    "In order to put the Pipes and Drums on a proper brigade footing, I asked each battalion to nominate a Pipe President to run the show. They all sent in a name but added a rider that the only way to run it was for someone at Brigade HQ, who knew about the Pipes, to take it on, otherwise a certain amount of inter Regimental suspicion would be attached to the Pipe President. As I was the only member of Brigade HQ who had the necessary knowledge, I found myself filling the job of CO Pipes and Drums. I had done a great deal of this sort of thing, and enjoyed doing it when I was Adjutant, so I rather liked the idea of having this sideline to look after. The Pipes and Drums made its debut under new management on St Patrick’s which was quite appropriate...."

    They played plenty of gigs - in Tunis, Guelma, Alex, Rome and Forli amongst various locations.

    As an example of types of role , Archie Evans, who was Pipe Major of 2 LIR, was CSM of HQ Coy in Tunisia...I've also seen mention of some of the pipers acting as SBs, some of the 1st Bn pipers being captured at Anzio.
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  11. chrisgrove

    chrisgrove Senior Member

    The problem generally is that the establishment of an infantry battalion does not (or not always) show a Pipes or Drums. If such is required, then the necessary personnel have to be taken from other parts of the establishment (strictly, illegally, but often happens). In battle, the resulting sub-unit is often used as an additional (probably small) platoon (though usually forming an (unofficial) part of HQ Company), and often as a Battalion HQ Defence platoon, commanded by the Drum or Pipe Major, whose position is an appointment (though possessing a traditional badge of appointment) and, as already pointed out, might be a sergeant, staff (colour) sergeant oe even WO2.
    dbf likes this.
  12. Hi Guys
    As a former Pipe Major of The Black Watch I think I'm qualified to answer this query.

    Pipe Major and 5 Pipers were officially "on the books" from 1854 till 1980. The remainder were hidden in company rolls.
    Pipe Major has always been a rank ranged appointment from Sgt to WOI

    The Pipe Major and the Pipers could be tasked for any duty in the Battalion.
    The Pipe Major in a Highland / Scottish Infantry Battalion was normally part of the Commanding Officers party.
    However I know of cases where the Pipers were tasked as Stretchers bearers, Snipers, Anti tank gun crews, Drivers, Cobbler... the list is endless.
    It would depend on the coming operation as to wether they were tasked for Piping duties or not
    All 4 Rifle companys had a Company Piper, the Pipe Major plus one co-located at Battalion HQ. the remainder would be tasked else where depending on manning requirements.

    In the Guards, Irish, and Corps units the taskings could and would be totally different for the Pipe Major as they were not scaled for them.

    To help answer the question about the BEF 1940;
    A Pipe Major in the 51st Highland Division would be with the C.O. (In the C.Os. protection party) until tasked by him for what ever duty he was needed to perform.

    Pipers have always been Infantrymen first and should NEVER be confused with Bandsmen.!!!!

    I hope this helps

    Alistair Duthie
    Pipe Major
    late The Black Watch
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  13. Gourami

    Gourami Faugh a Ballagh

    Excellent information. Thanks very much.

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