Willie Ross teaching in Dundee

St Andrews Church (Dundee) Boys’ Brigade Pipe Band. A young Ernest Gatens is standing at the right.

By Jeannie Campbell MBE

Some time ago, Mrs Gatens from Fife donated some piping memorabilia to the Museum of Piping at the College of Piping (now at the National Piping Centre). The items belonged to her late husband, Ernest D. Gatens. Among the books and chanters were some other interesting items. Two of these, a postcard in an envelope and a photograph of a Boys’ Brigade pipe band, illustrate an interesting story.

In 1940 Ernest was one of two boys from the band chosen to have tuition from the great Pipe Major Willie Ross. The card sent to Ernest’s father says he is not to worry about his son’s meals as Mrs Ross will see that he gets food at no charge.

The front of the postcard with Willie Ross’ handwritten assurance to Ernest Gatens’ father.

The card goes on to mention a Mr Forbes who seems to be involved with organising the lessons. A search of our archive collection of cuttings provided further information. An undated cutting told us that Mr Charles Forbes of the well known Dundee firm was arranging for Pipe Major Ross to spend a month in Dundee giving intensive tuition to 12 young pipers who would be chosen by ballot.

The month-long course was to take place in July but the lessons referred to on the postcard are on Saturdays and the card is dated January 30, 1940. Perhaps after the summer course some of the boys continued their lessons by travelling to Edinburgh at weekends.

Another item in the Gatens donation is a programme from a charity concert at the Grand Theatre, Broughty Ferry on April 14, 1940. Among those taking part are Jimmy Shand, C. S. Forbes, A. J. Forbes and juvenile piper, E. D. Gatens. Also mentioned in the programme is a “Miss Pitkeathly” performing on the piano but we are uncertain as to whether she is a relation of Andrew Pitkeathly (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders; Sovereign’s Piper from 1966-1973). He was born in nearby Coupar Angus in 1928 and his family was full of pipers.

Pipe Major Willie Ross on the boards. Date unknown.