The Gamack family of pipers


By Jeannie Campbell MBE

The 1/5 Seaforth Highlanders Welcome to France [score below] was one of many tunes featured in the Scottish Pipers’ Association’s 2014-2018 recital series, ‘Pipers and Pipe Music of the Great War.’ A “Cpl. Gamack” of the Seaforth Highlanders is credited with composing the tune, an attractive 2/4 march. Further research to identify him revealed that several members of the Gamack family served in the army but the composer of the tune was probably Herbert Alexander Gamack as he is the only one who served with the Seaforth Highlanders.

Unfortunately, a search for photographs of any members of the Gamack family has proven fruitless. If any readers know of any please let us know in the usual way.

The family’s story starts with William Ogston Gamack born in 1854 at Crimond, Aberdeenshire, the son of James Gamack, a ploughman and Mary Ogston. There were several other children in the family. By 1886, the year he married (to Mary Ann Leishman daughter of John Leishman, a shoemaker and Elizabeth Philp) he is in Stirling where is a Sergeant in the 3rd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, stationed at Stirling Castle. The marriage took place in Stirling.

Newspaper reports of the volunteer camps in August 1887 and July 1888 refer to “Colour Sergeant Gamack” of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders being in charge of the kitchen. In 1891, William was living at the Drill Hall at nearby Sauchie with wife Mary Ann and their three sons. He was described as a Drill Instructor of the local Volunteers. In 1901 he was living at the Drill Hall in Alloa with his family and was described as a Sergeant Instructor. William and Mary Ann now had five sons and a daughter Maud Agnes (who died in 1904). Another daughter, Elizabeth Philp, born in 1895 in Alloa, had died in 1896.

Click to enlarge. The tune was played by Iain Speirs during the SPA’s recital series on tunes associated with the First World War.

William and Mary Ann both died in 1907 in Alloa. Four of their five boys served during the Great War. At least three of the brothers were pipers, two lost their lives and two survived the war. The eldest son, William Ogston was born in 1888. By 1911 he was serving with the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was stationed in England. During the war he served with the 3rd Battalion. William married Minnie Ogden in Luton (a town north of London) in June 1915 and died on August 20, 1915 at Mortonhall Camp, Liberton, Edinburgh. His death certificate described him as a piper with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. (Minnie remarried in November 1916.)

William and Mary Ann’s second son, John Leishman, was born in 1889 and James, the third son, was born in 1890. James enlisted, aged 18, in the Territorial Army. In 1911 he was living in Alloa and worked as a brewer. In 1916 James married Mary McLaren in Alloa. He served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1st/7th Batt. and died of wounds in either France or Flanders on September 25, 1917. In 1921 in Glasgow, his brother, John married Mary. John died in 1970 in Alloa.

George, the fourth son was born in 1893. He served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 10th Batt and received the Military Medal for great gallantry in evacuating casualties during the storming of the St. Quentin Canal, a pivotal battle, in September 1918. George survived the war and died in 1968 in Fraserburgh.

William and Mary Ann’s fifth and youngest son, Herbert was born in 1898. He served as a Private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and later as a Corporal in the Seaforth Highlanders (presumably he joined the Argylls and either left and re-joined in the Seaforths or been transferred). Herbert, too, survived the war and in July 1919 in Aberdeen married Williamina Barbara Lamb. By this time he was was a Corporal in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, stationed at Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow. The marriage notice described him as the nephew of Mrs J. Scott and gave his wife’s address in Aberdour, Fife. Herbert died there in 1967.

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on parade on the Esplanade of Stirling Castle some time in the 1930s.

Newspaper reports over the years give a little more information on the Gamack pipers. For example, on August 16, 1913 the Dundee Courier reported on a piping competition at Kincardine where Herbert was placed second in the Strathspeys. The August 21, 1915 Stirling Observer carried a report on the military sports at Bridge of Allan, held in aid of the local Red Cross Fund. Those present included the pipers of the Scottish Rifles and the band of the Royal Engineers. There was a bagpipe competition for marches, reels and strathspeys and Herbert won. On January 15, 1916 the newspaper reported on an entertainment at which, “An excellent display of dancing was given by the boys from the Castle, and selections of Highland music contributed by Piper Gamack.” With no initial given this could have been George or Herbert.

The Falkirk Herald of July 22, 1922 reported on a local piping competition where George was placed second in the MSR. A report of the 1925 Markinch Highland Games mentions the bands taking part, including Lochore under Pipe Major George Gamack. The Evening Telegraph on May 29, 1931 reported that at the annual pipe band contest in Alloa, under the auspices of the new Pipe Band Association, the judges were listed as: J. MacIvor (president of the Scottish Pipers’ Association, Roderick Campbell (Edinburgh) and Herbert Gamack (Stirling Castle). On June 17, 1937 The Scotsman reported that George had judged the Dollar Academy OTC annual piping competitions and the Stirling Observer of On July 31, 1941  reported on a military sports event at which George was one of the judges for piping and dancing.

• Private John Gamack of the Gordon Highlanders was born in Aberdeenshire and was killed in 1915. He was not a brother of the other Gamacks but may have been a cousin as the family had originated in Aberdeenshire.