Picture Postcards from the Great War

Scottish Pipers on Postcards and

picture of Scottish bagpipes
The first clear reference to the use of the Scottish Highland bagpipes is from a French history, which mentions their use at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. The Great Pipe, or piob-mohr, at first had only one drone pipe. The second pipe was added in the mid 1500’s and the third in the 1700’s. This period saw the creation of the ceòl mór (great music) of the bagpipe, which reflected its martial origins, with battle-tunes, marches, gatherings, salutes and laments. There are many ancient legends and stories about bagpipes which were passed down through minstrels and oral tradition, whose origins are now lost.
During the expansion of the British Empire, spearheaded by British military forces it was soon realised that Highlanders made excellent troops and a number of regiments were raised from the Highlands over the second half of the eighteenth century. Although the early history of pipers within these regiments is not well documented, there is evidence that these regiments had pipers at an early stage and there are numerous accounts of pipers playing into battle during the 19th century and the Scottish Great Highland bagpipe became well-known worldwide. A practice which continued into World War 1.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Scottish Pipers appeared on many specially posed sets and series of photographic and artist-drawn 'military' picture postcards. Some of these were released before the outbreak of the 1914-1918 conflict and others during it.
piper and bandsman Seaforth Highlanders

For example, pre-war series such as the ‘Military Uniforms Series’ by Beagles, the ‘Savoy Series’ by Calder & Brown and the ‘Battle Honour Series’ and ‘Regimental Sets’ by Ritchie, Williams & Sons Ltd., all featured coloured photographic postcards of Scottish pipers, drummers and buglers

Both before and during the conflict the art publishers Miller & Lang of London and Glasgow produced numerous sets of colourful cards - many of which featured Scottish pipers.  For instance, set number 347 comprised of six cards and the titles included ‘Scots Guard – pipe Major’, ‘Royal Scots Fusilier – Pipe Major’ and ‘Seaforth Highlander – Pipe Major.’ The cards were designed to look as if they were sat in a wooden picture frame.  Another set of six cards, number 1884, featured a card titled ‘Gordon Highlander (Piper)’ .

"Piper and Bandsman" of the Seaforth Highlanders in 'Review order.' A Raphael Tuck & Sons "OILETTE" card number 9885. On the reverse is a list of battles in which the regiment took part. The final one was the last South African War, which ended in 1902. The artist was Harry Payne

 Around 1907, Miller & Lang Ltd. of Glasgow released a superb set of photographic uniform cards with a high glossy finish. There were at least 12 cards in the set, which featured Scottish regimental uniforms and at least three cards portrayed pipers and two of them are illustrated below.

Scots Guards piper postcard
Scottish piper postcard
The card on the left features a Piper of the Scots Guards. On the back of the card inscribed in pencil is this, "31st August 1907, You would not care to be a soldier or Sailor, well I own [up] to having no ambition for war but to be dressed like this, well it almost makes me wish I were a man. Look what a lot of girls I should get. I hope you are quite all right Stan and madly in love with your work still. Your loving sister Queenie." Another Miller & Lang card on the right. This one depicts a Pipe Major of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

History and Tradition series

A number of Scottish Pipers can be found in an ever-popular basic set of 120 cards that illustrated the uniforms of regular Regiments and Corps of the British Army. The set is known as the History and Traditions series.

The full set was published once each year starting in 1909 through to 1915, sometimes the postcard backs were slightly different.The series was published by Gale & Polden and the artists were Ernest Ibbetson and John McNeill. There were 114 regiments represented within the set - which the War Office authorized.

On the left side, each card had a uniform(s) illustration and on the right, a short history of the regiment, its battle honours and the regimental badge.  During the years of publication the changes in uniform fashion and new battle honours and new regiments and other changes, were illustrated on a number of additional cards.  

history and traditions postcard
"The Seaforth Highlanders." This regiment was raised in 1778 and had been in existence for over 130 years when this card was published early in the 20th Century. Although the card does not illustrate the uniform of a Scottish piper there are other cards in the series that do.

The Artist Conrad Leigh

"PIPES AND DRUMS OF THE GORDON HIGHLANDERS." by Conrad Leigh. The artist was born in Brighton, Sussex, on 27th May 1883. He is particularly well known for his sporting and military subjects, many of which were used as illustrations for books, periodicals and popular postcards in the early half of the 20th century. His work featured regularly in the Strand Magazine, The Daily Mirror, Wide World and Windsor. Valentine and Sons published the card. The company was founded in Dundee, Scotland in 1851 by James Valentine (1815–1879) and grew to become Scotland's leading manufacturer of picture postcards.

The Artist Harry Payne

Military artist Harry Payne produced a number of paintings of Scottish pipers. Well known for his attention to detail he once said, "Correctness of detail in a military picture will often sell a picture far more than any actual cleverness of painting, especially if the purchaser happens to be a military man." Payne's attention to detail and the vivid colours he used can be seen on the two postcards illustrated below.
scottish piper postcard
Harry Payne piper postcard
Two "OILETTE"cards by Raphael Tuck & Sons, who were proud to state on the reverse that the company was "ART PUBLISHERS TO THEIR MAJESTIES THE KING AND QUEEN."  The artist was the talented Harry Payne - probably the finest military uniform artist of all time. The card on the left (number 9937) was a piper of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in full uniform. The card on the right (number 0884) was a piper of the Gordon Highlanders. On the reverse of each card are details of battles in which the regiments fought. The last being in the 1899-1902 South African War.
"Hector the Hero" played by the Pipes and Drums of the band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

Pipers in the Great War

It was not only when posing for the camera that pipers appeared on commercial picture postcards. For instance, during the Great War when coming out of the trenches or performing other duties near the battle fronts, pipers were sometimes photographed by the official cameramen .

For example, in 1916, the Daily Mail newspaper issued a series of 176 cards titled The Daily Mail War Postcards which showed scenes and incidents that took place during the Battle of the Somme. The photographs had been taken by several members of the small band of official photographers who had been embedded with the British Army on the Western Front.

The first issue of cards was on 6th September and numbered 80, comprising of ten series of eight. Many of the cards were of a morale-boosting type and included studies with captions such as ‘Loyal North Lancs Regiment cheering when ordered to the trenches,’ ‘Our gallant Highlanders, who love to charge the enemy to the skirl of the pipes,’ 'Wiltshires cheering during the great advance,' and '"Black Watch" pipers playing to the captors of Longueval.' At least three cards from the series depicted Scottish Pipers and they are illustrated below.

ww1 daily mail postcard pipers

“HIGHLANDERS PIPE THEMSELVES BACK FROM THE TRENCHES." This printed-photographic card is No.2 from Series 1, in the Daily Mail collection. The caption reads: 'Our gallant Highlanders, who love to charge the enemy to the skirl of the pipes, are fond of playing their national music in lighter mood as seen in the picture.' Another source said: ‘Men of 26th Brigade, 9th Division returning from the trenches with 8th Black Watch piper after the attack on Longueval, Montauban, 14 July 1916.’

The Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

Stuart Barr

"The Gael", performed by The Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards at the Bannockburn Memorial and taken from their excellent "Highland Cathedral" DVD.

The Battle of Bannockburn  took place on 24th June 1314 and was a significant Scottish victory in the First War of Scottish Independence and a landmark in Scottish history.

The Scots royal fortress of Stirling Castle was occupied by the English and under siege by the Scottish army. The English king, Edward II sent a formidable force to relieve it. The attempt failed and his army was defeated in a bloody two-day battle by a smaller army commanded by Robert the Bruce.

The Menzies Clan still own a remnant of a set of bagpipes said to have been carried at the Battle of Bannockburn, though the dependability of the claim is sometimes debated.

Piper Daniel Laidlaw V.C.  King's Own Scottish Borderers

 It is not known if Piper Laidlaw was featured on a postcard - though he probably was. This image of him is on a cigarette card and is number 89 in the 4th series of 25 in The Great War Victoria Cross Heroes. The card was released in 1916 and details on the back describe his exploits that day at Loos and Hill 70. Laidlaw earned the nickname 'The Piper of Loos.'

Throughout the various conflicts in which the Scottish Regiments of the British Army were involved, the haunting skirl of the bagpipes raised morale among the attacking troops and frequently intimidated the enemy.

During the Great War, pipers frequently lead the troops 'over the top' and were an obvious target for enemy fire. During the conflict around 1,000 pipers were killed.

In 1915, Piper Daniel Laidlaw was 40 years old and in the 7th Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, 15th  (Scottish) Infantry Division. 

During the Great War the following deed took place for which he was awarded the V.C.

On 25 September 1915, during the Battle of Loos at Hill 70, prior to an assault on enemy trenches and during the worst of the bombardment, Piper Laidlaw, seeing that his company was shaken with the effects of gas, with complete disregard for danger, mounted the parapet and marching up and down, played his company out of the trench to the tune of "All the Blue Bonnets Over the Border." The effect of his splendid example was immediate and the company dashed to the assault.  Piper Laidlaw continued playing his pipes even after he was wounded and until the position was won.

Another piper, Harry Luann, describing his own piping experiences in the front line in ww1 said, "You were scared, but you just had to do it, they were depending on you."
Below is another postcard from the Daily Mail collection showing pipers and drummers "...PLAYING TO THE CAPTORS OF LONGUEVAL."
ww1 Black Watch pipers postcard

"BLACK WATCH PIPERS PLAYING TO THE CAPTORS OF LONGUEVAL." This printed-photographic card is number 21 from Series 3 in the Daily Mail collection. The caption on the reverse reads, "The Tommies who are seen listening to the Black Watch Pipers, had just been engaged in the storming of Longueval, which they took in 25 minutes." This was not exactly true. Although the attack on Longueval began on 14th July 1916 and by evening a large part of the town was in Allied hands, due to further attacks and counter-attacks the strategic nearby Delville Wood was not taken by the Allies until 3rd September.

The Pipes and Drums of The Black Watch.

A view of the Scottish countryside taken from across Scotland. Accompanied by the music "The Dark Isle" performed by The Pipes and Drums of The Black Watch.

ww1 postcard pipers
"THE BLACK WATCH RETURNING TO CAMP." led by pipers and a drummer.This is Daily Mail card number 114 from Series 15. It appears to be a painting from a photograph. "One of the Battalions of the Black Watch regiment to whose bravery the Germans always pay homage, returning from the trenches headed by its piper." says the caption on the back.
Another version of "Highland Cathedral" (See Home Page) this time performed by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

The stirring sound of the Scottish bagpipe is synonymous with strength, courage and heroism during war. And picture postcards tell a small part of the story.

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