Snapshots of history surface

Yahya Hussein.

Last August we uploaded to Bagpipe.News a great article on Calum Campbell that had been written by Joe Wilson 13 years ago and published in the July 2008 edition of the Piping Times. As a teenager Calum had enlisted in his father’s old regiment, the Seaforths, before being appointed some years later as Pipe Major of the Gordons. Joe Wilson enlisted in the Gordons in 1957 and this is where he first met Calum.

By coincidence, around the time the article was uploaded to this site, Yahya Hussein, a piper and collector who lives in New York City, purchased an album of military photographs on an e-commerce website. The album, which he purchased from a piper who served in the Seaforths and who died last year in Canada, included some photographs of Calum but also of the 1st Gordons in India in the late 1890s. It is thought that the album’s original owner kept in touch with Calum after the latter left the Seaforths for Gordons.

The two photographs, below, show Calum and the 1st Gordons in Cyprus burying the regiment’s dead after the botched raid from 1956. Joe Wilson recounted this episode in his article from 2008.

The photo, below, shows the 1st Seaforths (Pipe Major William MacLeod) in Gibraltar around 1956.

There are also some fascinating older photographs in Yahya’s album. The photograph below shows the complete medal campaign entitlement to Pipe Major John Brown, 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders who led his pipers onto the Dargai campaign in 1897:

The medals seen here are, from left to right: Indian General Service Medal 1895, Queen’s South Africa, King’s South Africa, Long Service and Good Conduct.

Piper Findlater, who later won his Victoria Cross playing in that famous action, is in the group photo, below, standing behind Brown. It was Pipe Major Brown that ceded the reins to a young George S. McLennan in 1905.

Pipers of the 1st Gordons in India in 1896.

Much is known about Piper Findlater but little is known about Pipe Major Brown. Included in Yahya’s album is the following information. Brown was born in Ayrshire in 1865, the son of John and Margaret Nicol, and enlisted, age 19, in The Gordons in October of 1885 at Glasgow. He was posted to the 2nd Battalion on Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

In late 1886, having transferred four days previously to the 1st Battalion, he was sent to Malta where the battalion was stationed until 1888. In late 1888, Brown embarked for the East Indies, arriving at Colombo, Ceylon on December 6. Throughout 1889 and 90, he served for the most part with the detachment at the old Dutch fort of Trincomalee.

In January of 1892 the battalion embarked, picked up the company at Trincomalee and landed at Karachi on the 17th. From there it proceeded to Umballa and for the next few years their stations on the northern frontier included Subathu, Rawal Pindi, Thobba, a hill station near Murree, Janbatai Kotal and Umballa.

Brown was appointed Piper on January 4, 1892 but reverted to Private on February 19, 1893. The following day he was appointed an unpaid Lance-Corporal. On October 1, 1894 he was appointed a (paid) Lance-Corporal then the following August, Corporal.

He took part in operations with the Chitral Relief Force during the spring and summer months of 1895. On August 30, Brown was promoted Sergeant and appointed Sergeant-Piper (Pipe Major) of the 1st Battalion. In May of 1897 he was permitted to re-engage to complete 21 years with the Colours.

During 1897-98 he took part in the Tirah Expeditionary Force including the action on Dargai Heights on October 20, 1897. “How he must’ve cursed his luck,” stated Piper Findlater when interviewed by a correspondent while recuperating from wounds at Netley hospital. Pipe Major Brown had been instructed to superintend the bringing up of the reserve ammunition. “He was still detached on this duty,” continued Findlater, “when the order came from Colonel Mathias to charge.” This left Lance Corporal Patrick Milne in charge as senior Piper until he, too, fell severely wounded.

The battalion embarked for home from Bombay on October 7, 1898 stopping briefly at Alexandria, Egypt and and arriving at the Liverpool Docks on December 8. On the battalion’s return to Scotland, Sergeant-Piper Brown led the pipers through the streets of Edinburgh by way of Guild Street, Bridge Street and Union Street up to Castle Hill Barracks with the tune, Atholl Highlanders. When asked what tune they had played during the battle at Dargai, The Haughs o’ Cromdale or Cock of the North, he supposedly replied, “Anything you like. In the excitement of the moment, there was no time to think. The fact that it ought to have been The Haughs o’ Cromdale seemed to have been forgotten, and each man just struck up for himself. Nobody knows what was being played. It was just piping.”

While stationed in Edinburgh, Bandmaster Runciman and Sergeant-Piper Brown entertained the populace at a well attended reception with such tunes played by the eight pipers as, The 92nd’s Welcome to Edinburgh, Monymusk, Gordon’s Reel, Crags of Stirling, Marquis of Huntly’s Highland Fling, The De’il Among The Tailors, Loch Katrine and Maggie Cameron.

Also, while the battalion was stationed in Edinburgh, Brown had the opportunity to wed Miss Jessie Peddy Thomson on the October 10, 1899. The couple had six children, three girls and three boys.

Pipe Major John Brown.

In November of 1899 the battalion had left Edinburgh and embarked for the Boer War in South Africa. They took part in the drive toward Kimberly and the disastrous battle of Magersfontein on December 11. Sergeant-Piper Brown also served with the battalion during the battle at Paardeberg in February and the actions at Johannesburg and Belfast in May and August, 1900.

On return to Scotland from South Africa in October 1902, Brown remained on Home Stations, including Glasgow and Cork, Ireland until his discharge in 1910. He was promoted to Colour Sergeant on March 7, 1905 and transferred four months later on Permanent Staff (PS) to the 3rd (Militia) Battalion. In November of 1906 he received 38 deferred payment for completion of 21 years service and was permitted to extend his Army Service beyond his 21. In 1909 he was awarded the Medal for Long Service and Good Conduct, A.O. 101/1909 and again transferred on P.S. to the 6th (Banff and Donside) Battalion (TF). He took his discharge to pension at Perth on the 12th October the following year. Brown’s conduct upon discharge was noted as “exemplary.”

We are most grateful to Yahya Hussein for sending these photos and information. They tell us so much more about the exploits of these piping characters and the important historical episodes they took part in.