(Post updated with colour photo):
Pipe Major John Whyte is thought to be the last piper to be killed during the Second World War. Whyte, from Coupar Angus in Perthshire, was Pipe Major of the 79th (Scottish Horse) Medium Regiment Royal Artillery and was killed in Germany on May 5, 1945 – he received his fatal wounds only two hours before the cease-fire order. He was 23. His number was 409597.
Whyte is buried at Becklingen War Cemetery in Niedersachsen in Lower Saxony, Germany, which is a couple of miles from Fallingbostel where many Scottish soldiers would later be stationed post-War, regiments including the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Royal Highland Fusiliers and The Black Watch.
Today, on the 75th anniversary of VE Day today, Bagpipe.News is appealing for further information on Whyte. The information we have is quite scant and we only have one photograph of him, the one above.
In a report in the Dundee Courier of May 15, 1945 it is stated that Whyte’s mother lived at 19 Strathmore Avenue, Coupar Angus. Whyte’s wife and their two sons were living in Norwich at the time.
The report also states that before the war Whyte had been the Duke of Atholl’s piper.
It would certainly seem that Whyte was a member of the Atholl Highlanders, the Duke of Atholl’s private regiment. Graham Jack, the Regimental Sergeant Major, tells us that in 1938, 10 pipers joined the Atholl Highlanders, one, as recorded in the regiment’s Description Book, as being a “John White, Coupar Angus”. However, there is no further information in the book.
Mr Jack says: “If it is the same John Whyte, and if his military career is correct, he would only have been 16 years of age at that time he went in to the Highlanders. As to whether he was the Duke’s personal piper, I’m not so sure as Pipe Major Peter Wilkie was the leading piper at the time and in his absence William Logie was (joint) Pipe Major.
“Pipe Major Wilkie joined the Highlanders in 1921 and became Pipe Major in 1936. He was also Pipe Major of the Scottish Horse and so I wonder if some wires are possibly crossed?
“From inference, I would not think that John Whyte would have been the Duke’s piper, given there were two possible Pipe Major’s at the time, but I could be wrong. It might be possible that he worked on the estate, but if so, as was the case, the address would have been a local one in the Description Book.
“Incidentally, also in the same intake of 1938 were Alec MacRae who became Pipe Major of the Atholl Highlanders in 1970 and Allan Cameron, who was Pipe Major of the Vale of Atholl until 1974 when Ian Duncan took over.”
Piping historian, Pipe Major Alistair Duthie (late The Black Watch) said: “Coincidentally, Alec MacRae served in The Black Watch during the conflict and Allan Cameron served in Whyte’s regiment, the 79th (Scottish Horse) Medium Regiment Royal Artillery. Whyte took over from Peter Wilkie as Pipe Major of the regiment. Whyte almost certianly was taught by Andrew Pitkeathly’s father who lived two miles along the road from Coupar Angus in the small village of Kettins.
“John Whyte received his Territorial Efficiency Medal in 1944 which means he must have done at least 15 years in the Territorials. He will have joined the Scottish Horse as a Boy Piper around the mid-1930s. That fits with him joining the Atholl Highlanders because at that time if you were in the Scottish Horse band you were also in the Atholl Highlanders. The Scottish Horse was the [9th] Duke’s regiment and its headquarters was at Dunkeld. Basically, he aligned the two.”
We are not aware of the exact number of pipers killed or wounded during the Second World War but estimate the figure to be at least 10,000.
Can anyone provide us with more information? Surely, Mr Whyte is deserving of a memorial of some description? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
*This Sunday (10th) perhaps it would be an idea for pipers to play Atholl Highlanders at 11:00 as a mark of respect to Mr Whyte?