A contemporary account of Willie Lawrie’s death

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Pipe Major Willie Lawrie.
Pipe Major Willie Lawrie.

Tomorrow, Remembrance Sunday, millions of people around the world will commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts.

At 11:00 thousands of pipers will participate in ceremonies at cenotaphs and churches and elsewhere.

During the First World War, it is thought that 2,500 pipers served on the Western Front alone, around half of whom were either killed or injured. Some, such as G. S. MacLennan, succumbed to their woulds years after the war ended.

One piper who was killed during the First World War was Willie Lawrie, composer of The Pap of Glencoe, John MacDonald of Glencoe, Captain Carswell, Inverary Castle and Battle of the Somme among many others.

Willie was born in Ballachulish, Argyll and in 1910 became the second piper to win the Gold Medals at the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering in the same year. In 1914 he became Pipe Major of the 8th Argyllshire Battalion of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and served in France until 1916 when he was invalided to Oxford, England and died in hospital.

We reproduce here a contemporary account of the death of this fine musician:

‘Pipe-Major WM. LAURIE
The death took place on the 28th ult., in the Third Southern General Hospital, Oxford, of Pipe-Major William Laurie, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, son of the late Mr Hugh Laurie, Loanfern, Ballachulish, in his 35th year. When very young Pipe-Major Laurie joined the Ballachulish Volunteers and to improve his playing he studied under Champion Piper John MacColl, being one of his cleverest pupils. He was soon promoted and four years ago he was appointed Pipe-Major of the County Regiment. He was for some time piper to the late Earl of Dunmore and also piper to the late Colonel MacDougall of Lunga.

‘He won first prizes at all the principal Highland Gatherings in Scotland among the best pipers of the day. He won gold medals at the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban, the Northern Meeting at Inverness, with gold clasp and at the Crieff Gathering — all championship first prize honours: and also money and other prizes at Inveraray, Portree, Fort William, Cowal, Bridge of Allan etc. He held the record for the Inverness Gathering, having won on the same day first prizes for marches and strathspeys and reels.

‘Pipe-Major Laurie composed many tunes — piobaireachds, marches, strathspeys and reels. His ‘Lament for she late Lord Archibald Campbell’ is considered to be a masterpiece of the day, and he played it before the ducal party at Inveraray Castle a few years ago. Some favourite pieces which he composed are ‘Paps of Glencoe’ ‘Clach Tarick’ (Henderson’s Stone, Glencoe), ‘John MacDonald of Glencoe, ‘Captain Carsewell’, ‘Inveraray Castle’ etc

‘On the outbreak of War, Pipe-Major Laurie mobilised with his regiment, and in Bedford, where they were in training until May 1915, was one of the first to volunteer for active service. He bore the brunt of the fighting and shared the privations of the campaign with his comrades until stricken down with illness several months ago.

‘Many throughout the country and across the seas will learn with regret of the passing away of the well-known champion of the national instrument. The military authorities and the hospital staff showed the greatest kindness to Mrs Laurie while at Oxford, and everything that medical skill could do was done to save her husband’s life.

‘The remains arrived on Thursday evening, 30th ult., at his home in Loanfern, and the funeral took place next day to St John’s Churchyard and was largely attended. The service was conducted by Rev. D.McDonald, St John’s, and Rev A. S. McInnes, Glencoe. There was an impressive service in St John’s Church, the singing of the choir being very touching. As the remains passed out of the church, the ‘Dead March’ in ‘Saul’ was played by the organist. Deceased leaves a widow and three children to mourn his loss, to whom the sympathy of the community has been extended.’

• From the April 2006 Piping Times.