By Steve Engelhardt, drummer with Tempe, AZ Police Pipe Band
(reprinted with permission)

    A two-minute Journey into the Culture of Bagpipes

    Unarmed Heroes……Pipers Leading the Way

    What do invading Roman Armies, Hungarian Hussars (cavalry), the American Revolutionary War, the Falkland Island War, the current War in Iraq, untold hundreds of battles, and the Alamo (yes, that Alamo in Texas) all have in common? Bagpipes leading and inspiring the troops.

    In addition to inspiring your own troops (and usually scaring the daylights out of the enemy) bagpipes were used to control troops. Since they can be heard over the din of battle and as far as 10 miles away, they were used to control infantry and cavalry.

    Standish O’Grady wrote about the Irish Battle of Curlews in County Sligo in 1599; “But the piper went on before his men, and piped them into the thick of the battle. He advanced sounding his battle-pibrock (song), and stood out in the ranks of war as men fell around him”.

    When the Irish battled the Scottish Armies of Sir William Wallace at Falkirk in 1298, they marched in behind the pipes. The Scottish saw the martial effect on the Irish troops, and they too started bringing the pipes to the battlefield and into history. The first recorded history of the Scots using the pipes in battle was in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn leading King Robert the Bruce’s army.

    For 300 years, the English Army has used fearless Scottish troops to lead them into battle behind the pipes. The history of the bravery of battle-field pipers is filled with extraordinary acts. At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the 79th Cameron Highlanders were attacked by French cavalry and formed a square. Piper Kenneth MacKay, showing no fear, marched out of the square playing the tune “War or Peace (Gogadh No Sith). His stirring rendition strengthened the resolve of the troops who defeated the French “Old Guard”. King George III presented him with a set of silver pipes for his bravery.

    In WWI over 3,000 pipers died. The Germans hated them primarily because they knew what came with them, fierce Scots. Prior to an attack the pipers climbed out of the trenches and marched back and forth to inspire the troops. The Germans shot the pipers (sometimes designating snipers especially for this duty) quicker than they did officers. As a result of huge losses, the English have banned pipers from this duty.


    The highest award for valor in the British Army is the Victoria Cross. Three pipers have won it. Those stories are for another time.

    Oh yeah, that Alamo thing…….a diary entry from that battle, stated:

    Sixth Day, Sunday, February 28, 1836
“Fannin starts for the Alamo and then returns to Goliad. Mexicans cannonade ail day. Crockett with fiddle, Mc Gregor with bagpipes, stace musical to cheer Texans. Drizzles.”

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