Pipers killed / VE Day 75 / PM Whyte


We are grateful to Pipe Major Alistair Duthie for sending us some statistics on the number of pipers killed or wounded during the Second World War. On Friday we estimated the figure to be 10,000. However, the true figure is a little less.

Mr Duthie made the following calculation:

“If we take the number of infantry battalions with a Pipes and Drums component – British Army 85+; Canadian Army 20+; Indian Army 20+; Nepal (Gurhka battalions) 10+; Australian 5+; South Africa 3+; New Zealand 3+ – this totals 146. If we then take an average of 20 pipers+ per battalion over the six years of the conflict (at least 10 battalions went through 70+ pipers = 700) then we arrive at a figure of 3,620 pipers serving. The casualty rate (Killed, Wounded and PoW) averaged approximately 60% (it was 70% in The Black Watch) which gives us a figure of 2,171.

Pipe Major Grisdale, the Sovereign's Piper, at the top of Windsor Castle's iconic Round Tower on May 5.
Pipe Major Grisdale, the Sovereign’s Piper, at the top of Windsor Castle’s iconic Round Tower on May 5.

“However, if we add in the Airforces, Navys, Commandos, Parachute Bns, Artillery, supporting corps of the above countries, and other arms – 150+ units x 20 = 3000+ – then the figure of pipers serving comes to 6,620.

“Donald MacPherson [pictured above], for example was a piper in the RAF. He was wounded in an arm in Italy.

“This is an estimate and is probably at the lower end of the scale. It would be virtually impossible to arrive at the exact figure, though,” said Mr Duthie (see video, bottom).

Meanwhile, a total of 1,164 pipers worldwide registered their participation in Friday’s VE Day 75 commemoration. The country with the most registrations was England with 322.

VE Day 75 was cancelled in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic but pipers were encouraged to participate by playing Pipe Major William Robb’s When The Battle’s Over on their doorsteps or in their gardens just before 3.00pm.

Robert Proctor, one of the organisers of the piping element of VE Day 75 said: “We know there were many more involved. Some registered as bands and there were multiple pipers under one name. No army bands registered but we know some participated.

One participant was Pipe Major Richard Grisdale, the Sovereign’s Piper. The Queen asked him to play from the top of Windsor Castle’s iconic Round Tower on May 5. The top of the tower is 65.5 metres from the ground.

Joan and the children.

Our story about Pipe Major John Whyte, who was possibly the last piper to be killed in the conflict was seen by his niece Mary Stirring from Coupar Angus who writes: “John Whyte was my uncle although he died long before I was born I heard many stories about him when I was growing up he was known as Bunty … we were never sure about him being the Duke of Atholl’s piper but was in the Atholl Highlanders.”

Our story was also seen by Colin Ramsey, Pipe Major Whyte’s son, who writes: “The photo of my mother, my brother Barry and myself was taken in Norwich, Norfolk. Barry was not John’s son. My mother first married Donald Horace Ramsey in Norwich, in about October 1937. Donald was a member of the 7th Battalion Royal Norfolk Regiment and was killed in an air raid whilst performing  coastal protection duties at Happisburgh, Norfolk on the 18th December 1941. Barry was born in October 1940.

“My mother then married John, my father, on 24th November, 1942, at St. Annes, Episcopal Church, Coupar Angus, Scotland.  I was born on 8th January, 1944 at Norwich, Norfolk, England.

“When my father was killed I was about 16 months old. He was indeed buried at Becklingen War Cemetery, Soltau, Niedersachsen, Germany. Grave reference 10.F.11.  I have visited this Cemetery on several occasions.”

• At 11:00 this morning, Alistair Duthie played Atholl Highlanders at the cross in Dunkeld (the Scottish Horse’s HQ) in tribute to Pipe Major Whyte:

Also playing in tribute was young Archie McNab of Methven in Perthshire. Archie’s father is Alistair ‘Bongo’ McNab, Leading Drummer of the Atholl Highlanders: