This lovely tune is one of the many from the pen of John – Jock – MacLellan, Dunoon. It is quite simply a beautiful 3/4 march and, like most of Jock’s compositions, stands the test of time.
In 1892, MacLellan, aged 17, enlisted with the Highland Light Infantry. He saw action in the Second Boer War (October 1899-May 1902) in South Africa, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in the field. His tune is one of many fine tunes that recall events that took place during that campaign.
The Second Boer War was also known as the Anglo-Boer War or South African War. It was fought between the British Empire and two independent Boer states, the South African Republic (Republic of Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, over the Empire’s influence in South Africa. The discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states triggered the war.
The battle that took place at Magersfontein was one of the early skirmishes of the campaign. It was fought on December 11, 1899 near the town of Kimberley in South Africa. British forces had advanced north along the railway line from the Cape in order to relieve the Siege of Kimberley, but their path was blocked at Magersfontein by a Boer force that was entrenched in the surrounding hills. The British had already fought a series of battles with the Boers, most recently at Modder River, where the advance was halted temporarily.
The British failed to perform adequate reconnaissance in preparation for the impending battle, and were not aware that the Boers had entrenched their forces at the foot of the hills rather than the forward slopes as was the accepted practice. This allowed the Boers to survive the initial British artillery bombardment; when the British troops failed to deploy from a compact formation during their advance, the defenders were able to inflict heavy casualties.
The Highland Brigade – including The Black Watch, the Gordon Highlanders, Coldstream Guards and the HLI – suffered the worst casualties. On the Boer side, the Scandinavian Corps was destroyed. The Boers attained a tactical victory and succeeded in holding the British in their advance on Kimberley. The battle was the second of three battles during what became known as the Black Week of the Second Boer War.
Following their defeat, the British delayed at the Modder river for another two months while reinforcements were brought forward. General Lord Roberts was appointed Commander in Chief of the British forces in South Africa and moved to take personal command of this front. He subsequently lifted the Siege of Kimberley and forced a surrender at the Battle of Paardeberg.
In one week, in addition Magersfontein the British suffered two more defeats, at Stormberg and Colenso. The defeats caused much consternation in Britain, particularly in Scotland, where the losses to the Highland regiments were felt keenly.
The British camps at Modder River and at Paardeberg created ideal conditions for the spread of typhoid fever and 10,000–12,000 would take ill and at least 1,200 die. The disease ultimately took more British lives during the war than were lost through enemy action.
The war ended when the Boers surrendered and accepted British terms. The former republics were turned into the Transvaal and Orange River colonies, and shortly thereafter merged with aforementioned Cape and Natal Colonies into the Union of South Africa in 1910, as part of the British Empire.
John MacLellan’s tune can be found in a number of collection including The Cowal Collection, the Queen’s Own Highlanders (Seaforth And Camerons) Standard Settings Of Pipe Music, The Gordon Highlanders, Pipe Music Collection (Vol. 1), Scots Guards Standard Settings of Pipe Music (Vol. 3) and The Bagpipe Music Of John McLellan 1875-1949 (Compiled by Dale Brown).
• Listen to Pipe Major Angus MacDonald MBE playing the tune (after ‘The Banks of Allan Water’) on volume one of the World’s Greatest Pipers series: