Malcolm MacCrimmon was born on 21 December 1918. He began his piping career early, and was a member of both the North Vancouver Pipe Band and the pipe band of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada between 1930 and 1932, when he joined the Edmonton Boys Pipe Band. In 1935, he moved to the CNR Pipe Band.
Although he was only a farmboy from Fort Saskatchewan, Malcolm MacCrimmon knew that he bore the name of a long line of distinguished pipers, dating back to the latter 1700s. He also proudly bore, according to Bercuson, the title of “9th Hereditary Piper to Clan Macleod.” He traveled all the way to Calgary upon outbreak of war, determined to join the pipe band. The Calgary Highlanders offered the only military pipe band on the prairies, unless one traveled all the way to Winnipeg to join the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
Once in the United Kingdom, MacCrimmon was quick to establish ties to his Clan. The regimental history by Roy Farran tells us that in October 1940 Flora Macleod of Macleod, wrote to the Commanding Officer of the overseas battalion
I venture to write you as the Chief of the Macleod Clan who for 300 years were proud to have a celebrated family of the MacCrimmons as their hereditary pipers. It was a connection famous in Highland history. Your young piper, Malcolm R. MacCrimmon, wrote to me to ask whether he would have my approval in wearing the Macleod tartan attached to his pipes if he were permitted by the military authorities to do so. I should of course be proud if he is so authorized and I understand (Major General) Gervase Thorpe (Colonel-in-Chief of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) is intending to discuss the matter with you.
Sentiment means so much to Highlanders and very many Canadians are of Highland origin I am proud to think.
Flora Macleod of Macleod
Lieutenant Colonel Scott wrote back to approve the practice:
In authorizing Piper MacCrimmon to wear your tartan attached to his pipes, a further interesting episode is written in the Regimental History. I thank you for your gracious permission…
This website (on which the above colour photo can be found) also provides the following information:
Ninth Hereditary Piper to Clan MacLeod. Born Dec 21, 1918. At the outbreak of WWII, a young Malcolm Roderick MacCrimmon of Edmonton signed up with the Calgary Highlanders. His Uncle Art had told young Malcolm of the great pipers who had gone before him. A piper since the age of eight, Malcolm was immediately made a member of the pipe band. George Poulter, a student of the MacCrimmon history and member of the Clan MacCrimmon Society of London lived in Surrey, not far from Camp Aldershot. Malcolm’s uncle Arthur McCrimmon arranged for Poulter to meet with young Malcolm. Years of painstaking genealogical research assured Mr. Poulter that the young Canadian soldier was indeed from the blood of Donald Ruadh. In 1942 Malcolm ventured north to Dunvegan Castle…to meet Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod and effectively reinstated the line. This was a verbal agreement, which established Malcolm R. MacCrimmon as the 9th Hereditary Piper to the Chief of the Clan MacLeod. As a Calgary Highlander, he studied at the Army School of Piping under Pipe Major Willie Ross. Malcolm was later transferred to the famed Scots Guards and again was entitled to attend the piping school located in Edinburgh Castle. It was a rare thing for a Canadian to be given a transfer to a British Regiment, the story was carried in newspapers all over the UK and Canada. At the end of the war, Malcolm took a bride (Mairi Chisholm) from Gravir on the Isle of Lewis and returned to Canada. They went into farming just north of Edmonton and Malcolm put his pipes away for a few years. Malcolm continues to play at weddings, funerals. City of Edmonton Archives, Robbie Burns Nights gatherings, Remembrance Day Services plus playing for Royal Canadian Mounted Police Mess Dinners for some 48 years plus.
More information can be found at this website, including a history by Sergeant R. B. Worthington which describes among other things the circumstances of MacCrimmon’s transfer to the Scots Guards.
The 3 1/2 years in Britain with the Calgary Highlanders increased Malcolm’s contemplation of making a life out of piping, as opposed to the frustration of just “marching and playing for the Regiment up and down the length of Britain”. He’d also encountered opposition from a senior officer who objected to the wearing of the MacLeod Clan Ribbons on Malcolm’s pipes (even though the War Office had sanctioned it). These factors resulted in a verbal exchange between Malcolm and this officer. Malcolm recalls saying ”I want to get out of here, even if it means going to Churchill to get it. The Officer commented “MacCrimmon, what would make Churchill so Official?” Malcolm responded “”Well sir, you tell me what makes him unofficial!”
With typical military dispatch Malcolm was marched out by the Sergeant Major and transferred shortly thereafter to the British Army’s Scots Guards. “Unique to the red tape of the War Office, Piper MacCrimmon was the only Canadian during the course of the war to be transferred into a British Regiment…the famed Scots Guards.”
Malcolm MacCrimmon performing for a BBC broadcast. Note the Macleod tartan ribbon on his bagpipes. MacCrimmon attended a course under Pipe Major Ross of the Scots Guards at Edinburgh Castle, and also played for the Clan Macleod at a gathering at Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Malcolm MacCrimmon photo, reproduced from the book “Alberta in the 20th Century Volume VIII”