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From band member Russell Smith :: We are all aware (or should be) we are observing the 100th anniversary of WWl. The 18th of June is the 200th anniversary or the battle of Waterloo.

What is so significant about Waterloo and the Napoleonic wars in particular is when pipers in Highland regiments became quite prevalent and prominent. Pipers in the British army date back to the 16th century but documentation of the wide use and importance of pipers was really not recognized until the Napoleonic period. There are very few pipes that were played at Waterloo still in existence. Below is an interesting article of just one of the few Waterloo pipes left.


This set of bagpipes was used by regiments of Highlanders in the British Army. The age of the pipes is uncertain, it has been confirmed that they are definitely old enough to live up to the inscription on its brass plaque which states: “…played at the Battle of Waterloo…”
This set of bagpipes was used by regiments of Highlanders in the British Army. The age of the pipes is uncertain, it has been confirmed that they are definitely old enough to live up to the inscription on its brass plaque which states: “…played at the Battle of Waterloo…”

From Waterloo 200 :: The MacKillop family has owned this set of bagpipes for several generations. A long-standing tradition associates these pipes with the 79th (Cameron Highlanders) Regiment of Foot, a regiment who fought with distinction throughout Wellington’s final campaign against the French. For their meritorious actions the 79th earned the rare honour of being praised by Wellington in his Waterloo dispatch. Sadly the name of piper who played this set of pipes at Waterloo has been lost to history.

Each of the Highland Regiments who served during the Napoleonic wars carried at least one set of pipes into battle. At Waterloo there were three other Highland regiments brigaded with the Camerons. The sound of their bagpipes echoing over the battlefield boosted the morale of the regiments. This tradition was continued until the Second World War after which the use of bagpipes became ceremonial. However, in 1967 when the 1st Bn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders commanded by Lt Col Colin Mitchell (Mad Mitch) re-occupied the Crater District in Aden, he was accompanied by his piper playing.

Pipers were particularly vulnerable on the battlefield and were often some of the first casualties, like Piper George Clark. Clark served under Wellington in Portugal where he was wounded in the leg. However, despite his injury he continued to play. Many other pipers defied the enemy with sheer bravado like Piper MacKay of the 79th. At Waterloo, with his regiment formed into a square and facing the onslaught of the charging French cavalry, MacKay bravely left the safety of the square to march around his comrades while he played the Pibroch, War or Peace, indifferent to the dangers he faced.

The story of these pipes does not end on the field of Waterloo. Pipe-Major Angus Paul MacKillop of the 79th Regiment of Foot continued to carry them during the Victorian era, and played them proudly on campaign in Egypt and Sudan during the 1880s and 90s, just as the unknown piper did at the Battle of Waterloo.

200 years later…we are fortunate to still have bagpipe masters like Roddy MacLellan — keeping tradition alive by creating a custom bagpipe, based on “the Waterloo Bagpipe” in the National Museum collection in Scotland. Shown here in cocobolo with Antiqued imitation ivory — Roddy can make this bagpipe with either the MacLellan or the Antique bores.  For more information visit Roddy’s website @ highland-pipemaker.com/waterloo_bagpipe.htm

As for the tune — The Battle of Waterloo — “…the Battle of Waterloo, fought in June 1815, brought to an end 23 years of intermittent war with France. The gallantry and discipline of the Scottish Regiments, together with the appalling casualties they suffered, have earned this historic victory a special place in the military annals of Scotland. The Allied army included three of the four kilted Highland Regiments in the Army at the time: the 42nd Royal Highlanders, 79th Cameron Highlanders and 92nd Gordon Highlanders. The infantry of the line included four other Scottish Regiments: 3rd Bn 1st Royal Scots, the 71st, 73rd and 91st Regiments. Other Scottish troops present were the 3rd Foot Guards and the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons. The tune is old, and PM Donald MacLeod got it from Stewart Salmond, who probably learnt it from PM Angus MacLeod, Dundee.”

The tune does have an ominous feeling to it. Keeps going back to G. Darn! Another tune I have to learn.   As best as can be determined, the tune was written long after the battle, but how long after is unknown. I have a feeling (that I am quite unable to confirm) that it entered the piping repertoire in the 1830s or 1840s or perhaps even later. To me, the tune has a decidedly Victorian sound.

The composer is unknown, and is best attributed to the well known and prolific Anon or Trad. Donald Macleod et al likely arranged the music in the version we now play, but almost certainly did not compose it. The tune has more than a passing resemblance to an equally old Irish melody ‘Napoleon Crossing the Rhine’ usually played as a hornpipe or reel on various instruments including the fiddle, banjo and accordion. A fair number of ‘Scottish’ pipe tunes originated in Ireland and I would not be at all surprised if this was the case with ‘The Battle of Waterloo.’



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