Searching for the lost chanter of Captain Norman Torquil Macleod

77 was contacted by Torquil Macleod with a request to help find a pipe chanter belonging to his father, Captain Norman Torquil Macleod of the Seaforth HighlandersTorquil told us that his father obtained the chanter in 1919 when he was given the task to reform a new Scottish Army Pipe Band based in Edinburgh Castle. The Captain carefully chose a coccuswood chanter for his top-of-the-range ebony, silver and ivory pipes. Torquil said the chanter seemed a perfect example of the old modal scale. 

The set of pipes and chanter were inherited by Torquil’s brother, Donald MR Macleod of Duror, who sent the chanter away for a replacement silver sole to a  repairer he knew, having used the original sole for his new ‘modern’ chanter. But due to ill health, the location of where the chanter was sent has been forgotten. If anyone can help trace the location of the chanter, please email John Slavin at here. 

From the initial details that Torquil gave to, we guessed there might be an interesting story to tell about the life of Captain Norman Torquil Macleod and asked for more information.  In the story below, Torquil tells us about the military life of his father, a war hero amongst other things, and makes this reader wonder how all those adventures fitted into a single lifetime?


My father, Norman Torquil Macleod, was born on October 31, 1892, in the village of Arnol on the Isle of Lewis. He was one of nine brothers who lived together in a simple crofting ‘blackhouse’, though the house was better than the surrounding neighbours by having a built chimney instead of the peat fire in the middle of the living room.  Norman died on November 23, 1976 aged 84. 

Compared to our modern standards we could say that aspects of Norman’s young life were harsh as he would be ’strapped‘ if caught speaking Gaelic instead of English at school, and he went barefoot in summer. He enlisted under-age in the Seaforth Highlanders Militia, and after recruit training he was posted to 3rd Militia Battalion and then posted to the 1st Battalion in India. At the age of 16 he became a regular soldier.

At the start of the WWI was a clerk in the 1st Batn. and in French trenches in 1915 was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal as a Noncommissioned Officer (N.C.O.) 

On April 15, 1915 in Mesopotamia, Norman was commissioned Lieutenant in the field and awarded the Military Cross in the same month. He was wounded on two occasions and twice mentioned in despatches.

In 1918 and 1919 he served with the embryonic Royal Flying Corps in Egypt and flew 16 types of aircraft as a qualified pilot.  (He always sported his RAF wings on army uniform during WWII, and was twice photographed in kilted army uniform on Princes St., Edinburgh by passing American G.I.s). In 1919 he attended Edinburgh Castle to reconstitute the Scots Army Pipe Band, where he chose the chanter which is now lost.

•Sudan 1926

From 1920 to 1924, he was with the West Africa Frontier Force in Nigeria and besides speaking Arabic, became the only army first class interpreter in the Hausa language.  

Norman then had a short spell serving in Belfast with the 1st Battalion in 1926. When in Belfast he applied to join the Sudan Defence Force in 1927 for a two year posting. While the company was camping out in the bush in Sudan he almost died from BlackWater fever after a long ingestion of quinine to ward off malaria. His grave was dug! Someone thought to ease his passage to the next life with a little fizzy champagne from animal-pack company stores. The champagne unblocked his stomach and at last liquids got through and he survived.

•Norman’s letter of recommendation from General Sir William M. Thomson for his application to join the Sudan Defence Force. Part of the letter says: “… he distinguished himself to the extent that the Brigadier took to grabbing him for every difficult job that came along. He is quite first class and I cannot recommend him too highly. Like most Gaelic speaking West Coast Highlanders, he has a modest and attractive manner and fits in well with his surroundings. He is popular in the Regiment, both with the officers and the men… I am quite sure that Macleod will more than uphold our reputation in the Sudan.

In 1928 he retired to the officer reserve and got married to Dr Jean Victoria Rees in 1929. He then joined Canadian Airways in Winnipeg and rose in his civilian role while watching his old army companions rise to Major and Brigadier. Norman attended Manitoba University and studied higher accounting, political economy, commercial law and clerical practice. He wrote a book titled Air Transportation Costing which was published by Pitmans in 1937. He then joined British Airways in 1938.

In WWII Norman was recalled to the Seaforths and was deputy commander, ‘2ic’ 50th Seaforths. He later ‘gained his majority’ and was promoted to Major and served as Local Defence Commander, Aerodrome Defence 1941 to 1944, in Stornoway for American trans Atlantic military traffic, as well as rescue and u-boat surveillance.

•Norman pictured at the front and centre at the start of WWII

In 1945 he was appointed Administrative Officer to the Queen Victoria School for the sons of Officers in Dunblane. On demobilisation in 1945, rejoined the British Overseas Airways Corporation (B.O.A.C.) 

Norman wrote much Gaelic prose and some poetry, and was an authority and player of the Highland bagpipe. Latterly he was researching the fitting of Gaelic verses to pibroch music.  He always had to hand his practice chanter on the sideboard, and would give it a blow at the dining table.