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Updated 1/19/2016


The Pipes of War

WHEREVER Scottish troops have fought the sound of the pipes has been heard, speaking to us of our beloved native land, bringing back to our memories the proud traditions of our race, and stimulating our spirits to fresh efforts in the cause of freedom.  The cry of “The Lament” over our fallen heroes has reminded us of the undying spirit of the Scottish race, and of the sacredness of our cause.

 The Pipers of Scotland may well be proud of the part they have played in this war.  In the heat of battle, by the lonely grave, and during the long hours of waiting, they have called to us to show ourselves worthy of the land to which we belong.  Many have fallen in the fight for liberty, but their memories remain.  Their fame will inspire others to learn the pipes and keep alive their music in the Land of the Gael.

The Pipes of War by Sir Bruce Seton and Pipe Major John Grant
was published in 1920.  There were only two hundred copies of this book printed, and all of the settings are original tunes composed during World War One. Most of the settings appear only in this collection.  The entire publication can be viewed online and downloaded at:

Brevet Colonel Sir Bruce Gordon Seton (1868 – 1932), C.B., the ninth Baronet of Abercorn was both the son and grandson of soldiers. He entered the Indian Medical Service as a Surgeon Lieutenant in 1892. He served on the North-West Frontier in the Waziristan campaign of 1894-95 where he was severely wounded. He also received a medal in the Tochi campaign of 1897-98. During his time in India Seton rose to hold the appointment of Deputy Director-General of the Indian Medical Service in a career that spanned over 20 years. He became a Brevet Colonel on June 13, 1913 and during the War served as the commanding officer in charge of the Kitchener Indian Hospital at Brighton. Colonel Seton eventually retired from the Army in May 1917.

During his tenure as the commanding officer of the Kitchener Indian Hospital Colonel Seton may have been a strict disciplinarian but we also see another side of the man and his attitude towards Indians.

Knowing how important a role religion played in the lives of the Indian patients at his hospital, Colonel Seton had a Gurdwara set up for the Sikhs and ensured that they were provided with the Guru Granth Sahibs. Colonel Seton also requested the Imam of the Woking mosque to visit the Kitchener hospital to discuss setting up a mosque for the Muslim patients.

When the honor of Indian soldiers fighting on the frontlines in France was questioned by the military authorities suspecting that the cases of self-inflicted wounds were more common among Indian soldiers. It was Colonel Seton who on his own initiative undertook a top-secret medical study based on 1,000 wounded Indian soldiers admitted to the Kitchener hospital. Colonel Seton chose wounds for study which were most likely to be self-inflicted: wounds to the hand, of the arm and forearm, and wounds of the leg and foot. Colonel Setons findings indicated that the incidences of such wounds were by mere chance and statistics showed that the occurrences of such wounds among the Indian soldiers were no higher than among soldiers of other British regiments in the war.

Pipe Major John Grant F.S.A. (Scot), was an amateur aficionado of the Great Highland bagpipe who, for over fifty years, composed piobaireachd and Ceòl Beag for members of the British Royal Family, important noblemen and women, and contemporary statesmen; wrote and published books on the Great Highland Bagpipe and its music; and taught students under the auspices of the [Royal] Scottish Piper's Society.

John Grant was the sixth child and fourth son of George Grant and Eliza (Elisabeth) Roy Grant, who resided in "The Bauds" on a hillside outside of the settlement of Kellas, near Dallas and Elgin, Scotland. At 17 years of age John left the farm for Elgin in order to begin a career in law. Within six months he obtained a position as a law clerk with Messrs. Stewart and McIsaac, Solicitors. Needing a hobby to occupy his leisure hours, he took up bagpiping, walking eleven miles one way twice a week to Gordon Castle in order to study with renowned Pipe-Major Ronald MacKenzie. By the summer of 1898, after only two years of study, Grant had become accomplished enough on the bagpipes to win the gold medal in a competition that fielded thirty-three entrants. In late August, Ronald MacKenzie recommended Grant to William Stirling-Home-Drummond-Moray, Lord of Abercairny (Crieff), who was seeking a full-time family piper for the Abercairny Estate. Grant accepted the position, serving in the post from October 1898 until May 1902.

Perhaps as a requirement for his employment as a legal clerk, Grant became skilled in calligraphy. His bagpipe teacher, Ronald MacKenzie, had impressed upon Grant early on in his tutelage the importance of copying and preserving ancient piobaireachd and Grant, as early as 1900, began compiling manuscripts of the "classical music of the bagpipe," for disseminating among those who were interested in them. Several such collections made their ways into the hands of members of the Highland Society of London and the newly-formed Piobaireachd Society. Because of the praise these organizations lavished on Grant for his exquisite workmanship, he decided to try his own hand at piobaireachd composition. Combining his talent for calligraphy with his knowledge of piobaireachd, on 20 July 1906 he composed "His Most Excellent Majesty King Edward VII's Salute," then prepared it as a beautifully-illuminated presentation folio to lay before the King. Edward VII graciously accepted the tune dedicated to him, thereby, in essence, granting John Grant license to do the same for others among the Royal Family, the nobility, and those of renown whom he deemed worthy of such an honor. By September 1907 Grant had composed, prepared in illuminated manuscript, and sent for acceptance, five more "royal" piobaireachds, all of which were gratefully accepted, either by those to whom they were dedicated, or a representative. In May 1908, in order to make them available to the public, he published—at his own expense--The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd: Besides the "Salute" written in honor of King Edward VII, the work included "His Royal Highness The Duke of Connaught's Salute" (i.e., Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn) "Lament For Her Most Excellent Majesty Queen Victoria,", "His Grace The Duke of Fife's Salute," "Lord Archibald Campbell's Salute," and "The Piobaireachd Society's Salute." The work had over 160 subscribers, including those to whom the tunes were dedicated, other royals, and individuals from all walks of life, including such personages as Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal.

Following successful publications of both editions of The Royal Collection of Piobaireachd, Grant decided to tackle the genre in a more comprehensive manner. The result was a 183-page volume entitled Piobaireachd: Its Origin and Construction; published at the author's expense by Aird & Coghill, Limited, Glasgow sometime in August, 1915. Known also by its Gaelic title Tus is Alt à Chiuil-Mhoir, Piobaireachd: Its Origin and Construction (hereafter POC) had an impressive list of patrons and subscribers, including Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary of Teck, Her Majesty Queen Alexandra of Denmark, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales Edward VIII, various other Royals, Nobles, and members of High Society, and—by no means least—The Highland Society of London. 

 Despite Grant's tendency to be overly Romantic in his prose, the book remains a classic. The first of its kind, it still remains the largest compendium of articles on topics relating to the "National" music of Scotland in bagpipe literature.