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"In 1861, the Regiment was presented with six sets of pipes, made by the ‘King of the Pipers’ John Ban McKenzie, along with a pipe banner and £100 for the band fund."
FROM THE BEGINNING
The roots of the London Scottish Pipes and Drums can be traced back to the first Scottish volunteer forces that were formed during the invasion panics of the Napoleonic era. The Highland Armed Association (renamed the Royal Highland Volunteers), formed in 1797, were shortly proceeded by the formation in 1803 of the Loyal North Britons and it is in 1803 that the first ever documented evidence of pipes and drums playing together on the march is found. This marks the very birth of pipe band history.
The London Scottish Regiment was formed in 1859 and less than six months later, at the beginning of 1860, the Pipes and Drums began to form, making them one of the oldest Pipe Bands in the world and the oldest to still be playing in the uniform of its inception. The pipers were tutored by pipers from the Scots Guards, as well as the Sovereign’s Piper, William Ross, and the drummers by an instructor from the Royal Marines Band, which was a mark of the prestige and position held by this new-found volunteer regiment. Band practise first started on a Thursday evening and this unbroken tradition remains in place today.
In 1861, the Regiment was presented with six sets of pipes, made by the ‘King of the Pipers’ John Ban McKenzie, along with a pipe banner and £100 for the band fund. The presentation pipes, with a silver inscription commemorating the event, can still be seen in the Regimental Museum.
The Pipes and Drums were a fixture of Victorian society, playing at prestigious events throughout the era, include Queen Victoria’s Gold and Diamond Jubilee parades, where troops from around the Empire paraded through the streets of London, with over three million spectators in attendance. ‘Big Drum Major’ Goodman was a household name throughout this period, with a famous music hall song written in his honour. In fact, the Pipes and Drums were held in such high regard that they were often given the honour of playing London Scottish troops past on parade, where all other volunteer regiments would be played past by the Band of the Household Division or the senior band on parade.
In 1998, Pipe Major Reith and his younger brother, made further piping history by performing the first ever recorded bagpipe music for Emile Berliner on the newly invented 7 inch gramophone disc. The first track recorded was The Barren Rocks of Aden and the last Cock O’ The North, both tunes still standards of the current Band.
The turn of the century saw one piper and two drummers join three different regiments to fight in the Boer War. One of these regiments was the Gordon Highlanders, who took a contingent of London Scottish troops to South Africa, which marked the first time volunteer regiment troops were used as an organised unit in battle and played on the march by their own piper. This would be a poignant precursor to the coming events of the new century.
The beginning of the First World War in 1914 saw the London Scottish mobilised and sent overseas. Whilst virtually all Regular and Territorial regiments were banned from taking their bands with them, the Pipes and Drums of the London Scottish, being made up of men from the ranks, went along and fought side by side with their fellows. Hallowe’en 1914 saw the London Scottish become the first volunteer regiment to enter into battle at Messines in Belgium and pipers and drummers from the band were killed and injured in the fighting. They would continue to lay down their lives during the war and by early 1915, the 1st Battalion in France saw every drummer and all but two of the pipers killed, injured, captured or missing in action. A large number of others were also to receive commissions. A second Battalion, who fought mainly in Egypt and Palestine, and a third, who remained in the UK as a reserve, also formed their own Pipe Band and wherever the three Battalions were, and into whatever action, the Pipes and Drums were there in the thick of things. At least ten pipers and an as yet still to be determined number of drummers paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The interwar years allowed the Pipes and Drums the opportunity to strive to achieve excellence in their playing and performance. The Band was rebuilt after the war and expanded, with an emphasis on quality as well as standard military duties that was to culminate in 1928 with the Band winning first for March, Strathspey and Reel and first for drumming at the Cowal Highland Gathering. The Band would retain this reputation for excellence right up until the beginning of World War Two.
The outbreak of war again saw the London Scottish Regiment rise to the occasion and with them, the Pipes and Drums. Again, three Battalions were formed, two under the parentage of the Gordon Highlanders and the 3rd Battalion as part of the Royal Artillery. All three Battalions built their Pipes and Drums and ensured that they were an integral part of the fighting force. The 1st and 3rd Battalions fought throughout the Italian campaign, whilst the 2nd Battalion remained in the UK as a reserve force. Pipers and Drummers from the 1st and 3rd Battalions were killed and injured in the course of the war, whilst three bass drummers won the Military Medal.
Reorganisation after the war saw the Regiment return wholly to the parentage of the Gordon Highlanders. A highlight of this period was the signal honour in 1947 of being asked to provide the Queen Mother’s Piper. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother was Honorary Colonel to both The London Scottish and The Black Watch regiments and it was, therefore, a high honour that the first, and all subsequent Royal Pipers to The Queen Mother would come from the Pipes and Drums of the London Scottish.
Further reorganisation in 1967 would see The London Scottish become ‘G’ Company of the 51st Highland Regiment and allow the Pipes and Drums to spend more time ‘north of the border’ in the Massed Pipes and Drums with other Companies of the 51st. Change would come again in 1993, with the formation of The London Regiment and again in 2006 as The London Regiment became affiliated with The Guards Division. As such, the Pipes and Drums have come full circle in forging much closer ties with The Scots Guards, who played such an important role in their founding over 150 years ago.
The Band continues to play at high profile ceremonial and military events such as Beating Retreat on Horseguards Parade and The Lord Mayor’s Show, as well as events at the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, the Guildhall and Royal Chelsea Hospital. They also perform at civilian events such as the Caledonian Ball at the Dorchester Hotel and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, as well as touring throughout Europe and further afield.
Still wearing their unique and distinctive Hodden Grey uniforms, the Pipes and Drums of the London Scottish Regiment continue to uphold the quality and commitment that has been ever present and steadfast throughout their long and illustrious history.