Bruce Thomson, 1930-2020

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Bruce Thomson, MD, died at home in Crieff, Scotland aged 89 on January 13. Bruce was a piper and pipe composer of considerable merit. He made around 450 tunes in his lifetime including the Haddington Turnpike and Tommy McDonald of Barguillean, played by Shotts & Dykehead at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2008 and 2009.

A celebration of his life will take place at Fowlis Wester Church, near Crieff PH7 3NR on February 8 at 11am. All are welcome. Donations in lieu of flowers to www.parkinsons.org.uk/donate.

Bruce was born in 1930 in Assam, India, the son of tea planters. Aged six, he was sent to Scotland for his education. At the age of 13, at Glenalmond School in Perthshire, he won the school’s piping competition and became the Pipe Major of the school pipe band. The instruction came from Black Watch Pipe Majors from the Queen’s Barracks in nearby Perth. Recalled Bruce: “One of my real thrills was to meet and talk with the then Queen when Glenalmond came of age. She was a real lover of the pipes and always went out of her way to hear them. I am, of course, talking of the then Queen Mother who was the wife of George VI.”

Bruce wearing his Glenalmond College Pipe Major uniform.

He left Glenalmond at 18 and joined the Royal Army Corps of Signals then later transferred to the Gordon Highlanders. At Fort George, the regimental HQ barracks, he was taught by Pipe Major Donald McLeod who encouraged the young officer in his composing; several tunes of his were already winning prizes in competitions

On completing his National Service, Thomson went to Keble College, part of Oxford University. He graduated with an Honours degree in History.. He returned to Oxfordshire and became an assistant to one of two principals in a general practice in Eynsham. He then went further south to a practice in Horsham, Sussex, where he would spend the next 30+ years. 

Whilst in Horsham, he taught himself the accordion, aged 38, and with fiddler friend became the core of a local band that played at dances in the locality.  

Bruce also boxed and played rugby for Oxford University, played rugby for Scotland. He composed and published 450 tunes which he said is, “plenty for an instrument that has only nine notes.” He was also a member of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society. His compositions have appeared in collections by the Gordon Highlanders and the Scots Guards, in the Piping Times and in his own books, the Pass of Brander and The Sma’ Glen.

Bruce lived in Crieff for 20+ years. In recent years he had problems with Parkinson’s Disease. He is survived by two sons and seven grandchildren.

A full obituary appears in next month’s Piping Times