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Updated 05/24/2013


The Taking of Beaumont-Hamel
Pipe Major John McLellan, D.C.M.

Beaumont-Hamel is a commune of the Somme département, in northern France.  On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme in World War I, 801 soldiers of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment rose from the British trenches and went into battle at Beaumont-Hamel, nine kilometers north of Albert in France. After only 30 minutes the regiment was devastated. Only 68 men stood to answer the regimental role call the next morning. 255 were dead, 386 were wounded, and 91 were listed as missing in action and presumed dead. Every officer who had gone over the top was either wounded or dead 

In November of 1916 His Majesty King George V granted the title "Royal" to the Newfoundland Regiment. No other regiment in the British Empire was awarded this signal honors, in the two years of brutal fighting which continued before the end of World War I on Armistice Day (November 11, 1918 on the Western Front.)

To this day, Beaumont-Hamel remains the most significant single military action fought by Newfoundlanders and a turning point in the history and culture of the island. Many Newfoundlanders mark the date of July 1st not as Canada Day, but as Memorial Day, the date of remembrance for the Beaumont-Hamel battle.

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial (shown above) is a memorial site dedicated to the commemoration of Dominion of Newfoundland forces members who were killed during World War I.

The tune was composed by John McLellan during World War I.

Known to pipers as “John McLellan, Dunoon” but to friends and family as “Jock,” John McLellan was a quiet and shy man who composed some of the most enduring melodies in pipe music.
Among his greatest contributions are the retreat marches Lochanside, The Highland Brigade at Magersfontein, Heroes of Vittoria, The Bloody Fields of Flanders and The Dream Valley of Glendaruel, the competition marches The Taking of Beaumont Hamel, The Cowal Gathering, South Hall and Glen Caladh Castle, the slow air Mary Darroch, and the 2/4 slow march The Road to the Isles. The latter tune, composed around 1891, began life as “The Bens of Jura,” soon became “The 71st’s Farewell to Dover,” then “The Highland Brigade’s March to Heilbron” and later “The Burning Sands of Egypt.” What probably began as a rousing 2/4 march was gradually transformed into today’s popular song and slow march.
He was born in Dunoon on August 8, 1875 of an Islay father and Jura mother, Neil McLellan and Mary Darroch McLellan. He had two brothers and three sisters. His father died of pneumonia when John was just 8, leaving his 41-year-old washerwoman mother to raise the family, the youngest of which was just a year old.
Little is known about his early piping life, or even who taught him. This was perhaps partly because he was known to be modest to a fault and would very rarely talk about himself. Very few photos of him have come to light.
He enlisted in 1892 at age 17 with the Highland Light Infantry and went with the 1st Battalion to Malta in 1897. It was at this point that he began naming his compositions for places where he served or people he served with. He saw action in the Boer War in South Africa, where he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in the field.
He left military life soon thereafter and in 1903 joined the Govan Police Pipe Band in Glasgow before returning to Dunoon around 1905. Some of his compositions can be found in the old Peter Henderson publications as written by “J. McLellan, Govan Police.”

However, most of his tunes were first published in the Cowal Collection books. Because he never published his own collection his status as one of the greatest and most prolific and pipe music composers is perhaps not as clear as it is with G. S. McLennan and Donald MacLeod.

During the Great War he was a piper in the 8th Argyllshire Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – Willie Lawrie’s regiment – and served with the 51st Highland Division on the Western front. He and Lawrie served in the same band during the war.

He became pipe-major of the 8th Argylls in 1919 held that position until he retired in 1930.
During the 1930s, he compiled and published a book of tunes composed by members of his regiment –The 8th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Collection. He contributed 40 of the 65 tunes in the collection, and this remains the largest single collection of his work published while he was alive.
In later life he was active in piping around Dunoon, teaching the Dunoon Grammar School Cadet Pipe Band and helping the local Boys’ Brigade band.
Besides being a piper, he played the fiddle and was said to be an excellent whistle player. He was a middling painter and poet, and one of the few composers who often wrote lyrics to his tunes. In some cases he wrote the lyrics first. He was known to write light verse at the front, 100 yards from the German lines, and his poetry was often published in newspapers in the west of Scotland.
He died at 73 on July 31, 1949 at Dunoon Cottage Hospital of colon cancer and was buried with full military honors in Dunoon Cemetery. A plaque was erected in his honor in the Castle Gardens in Dunoon near the pier in 1972. His occupation at the time of his death was given as "painter-retired." His was listed as single, and had no children.