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Instruments of War.


In the photo above, Bud Hansen leads a group of USMC pipers with his drum, June 16th 1943. Northern Ireland There are various accounts of how the US Marines corps pipe band became established in Northern Ireland. The Pittsburg Press from August 30,1944 recall the story as follows. The band had it's beginning in January 1943 when Navy Capt Van Leer Kirkman told a group of Marine and Navy officers gathered with the Royal Ulster Constabulary at Londonderry Guild Hall: "My Marines can do anything." "Everything but play bagpipes." jeered the (RUC) commanding officer. Capt Kirkman turned to Lt. Col. James J. Dugan in charges of the Marines detachment and declared: "I want a bagpipe band Colonel and I'll supply the instruments if you supply the men." In less than 4 months, on May 12th 1943 a parade was held in the Guildhall Square to commemorate the first anniversary of the Marines arrival. The day was also notable for being the first public performance of the US Marine Corps Pipe and Drum Band. Seemingly, the Marines could do anything.


Why Instruments of War? The evidence for pre-Roman era bagpipes is still uncertain but several textual and visual clues have been suggested. The Oxford History of Music says that a sculpture of bagpipes has been found on a Hittite slab at Euyuk in the Middle East, dated to 1000 BC. Several authors identify the Ancient Greek askaulos with the bagpipe. In the 2nd century AD, Suetonius described the Roman emperor Nero as a player of the tibia utricularis. Dio Chrysostom wrote in the 1st century of a contemporary sovereign (possibly Nero) who could play a pipe (tibia, Roman reedpipes similar to Greek aulos) with his mouth as well as by tucking a bladder beneath his armpit. It has often been suggested that the bagpipes were first brought to the British Isles during the period of Roman rule.


For hundreds of years the bagpipes were used in warfare by the British Army, from Waterloo to the Boer War the pipes went everywhere – inspiring and boosting morale. It is now 1916, the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen has been raging on for 2 years now, The Battle of the Somme is about to be fought, the men involved do not forsee the carnage they will witness. The plan for many companies is to be led into the attack by pipers, in the hope that it will rally the men and prepare them for fighting. The men rely on you to inspire them, they rely on you to be the first one out of the trench and to lead them into the attack. The pipers job is dangerous, no guns, no weapons, just the pipes.


Pipers were present in clan battles nearly 3000 years ago and continue to be present in war today. There were pipers in both World Wars, the Gulf War, Desert Storm, the Boer War and more.


The bagpipes were used as an incentive to battle, motivation for the troops, and intimidation of the enemy. They celebrated victories and mourned the fallen. Drums were used as a motivation and for communication. They signaled orders, tactical maneuvers, and firing of weapons.

Pipers were not only soldiers, but morale boosters. Thousands of pipers died while playing their men into battle, as they could not carry a weapon and their pipes at the same time. This was a great act of bravery. Below is one such example of this bravery.


James Richardson, or Jimmy as he was known, was born in Scotland and moved to Chilliwack, BC with his family at a young age. He had won 3 gold medals in piping competitions in BC. He was noted for his bravery at a young age when he tried to save a drowning boy.


Enlisting in the army in 1914, Jimmy was assigned to the 16th Infantry Battalion Expeditionary Force. He served in Belgium and France as a soldier, piper, and cook.


On one occasion, Jimmy advanced alone beyond Canadian lines into a thick dark forest. He stumbled upon a farmhouse and realized that he was surrounded by German soldiers. Although he tried to hide in the grass, a German officer signaled the others in his direction. Bravely, Jimmy quickly shot the officer and ran as fast as he could back to his own camp. He informed the others and the artillery quickly took care of them.

The Battle of Somme in 1916 was one of the bloodiest battles in WWI. Jimmy was at the Regina Trench. On October 9th, he was granted permission to go in with a planned assault. In the early morning, the Canadians, including Jimmy, left the safety of the trenches and advanced upon the Germans. They came upon heavy barbed wire stretching 400 yards. It hadn't been cut by artillery as they had planned. Heavy gunfire came from the German lines and the Canadians scattered for cover. The outlook was grim. Jimmy asked the Sergeant Major if he should play his pipes and was confirmed.


According to the official citation, Piper Richardson piped up and down outside the wire, playing his pipes with "the greatest coolness". Inspired, the Canadian soldiers rushed the wire with fury, overcame the obstacle, and captured the position. Later, Jimmy was sent to take a wounded soldier and prisoners back to camp. After about 200 yards, Jimmy realized that he'd left his pipes behind and insisted on recovering them. He never returned. Jimmy was buried at Adanac Military Cemetery, France. He was 20 years old. Jimmy was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest honor. He is the only Canadian piper to receive this award.

In 2000, a project at a private school in Scotland sent out an email to identify the tartan on a set of old, mud and blood covered pipes with a bullet hole that had been kept in the school for over 75 years. The pipes had been found after the Battle of the Somme and were kept as a souvenir. It was discovered that the tartan belonged to the 16th Canadian Expeditionary Force. A collective effort of research led to conclusive evidence that these were the pipes that Piper Richardson had gone back for and never returned. The pipes were returned to British Columbia in 2006 and are on permanent display in the British Columbia Legislature.


Article Credit: Kinnaird Bagpipes

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