Pipes and Drums – History

The current day Calgary Highlanders comprise an authorized reserve regiment of soldiers in the Canadian Forces. In the long tradition of Canadian Highland Infantry, our soldiers are foot soldiers – light infantry – and the Regiment is authorized to raise and support a complement of pipers and drummers. There have always been musicians in the Regiment. Since its early inception in 1910 from the 103rd Calgary Rifles, musician soldiers have played with the unit. In WWI the unit became the 10th Battalion CEF and saw severe action in France. Once designated as a highland unit in 1921, the Pipes and Drums have been an integral part of the Regimental family. Through WWII to the present day, a complement of pipers and drummers has always accompanied the soldiers of the unit. It is not surprising then that the Pipes and Drums have their own story to tell, woven within the larger story that is The Calgary Highlanders. The Regiment’s musicians provide a richly-textured soundtrack to enhance all aspects of regimental life, playing at weddings, funerals, formal dinners, parades, and ceremonies of remembrance.

Known officially as ‘The Regimental Pipes and Drums of the Calgary Highlanders’, the pipers, drummers and dancers of the Band perform at a variety of venues for a variety of purposes (military functions, parades, public and private performances and competitions). With the removal of the regular force presence from Calgary, The Regimental Pipes and Drums are one of the very few remaining reminders of Calgary’s military tradition and history in the city. The Regimental Pipes and Drums are part of the living history of the Regiment. When the band is on parade, the Regiment is visible. When the band performs well, the Regiment is honoured. In order to promote and perpetuate the Regiment, The Regimental Pipes and Drums maintain a high standard of performance, dress, and deportment. In order to do this on a continuous, sustainable basis, the Band has created a supportive infrastructure and sustainable funding. Consistently strong leadership, well-defined training plans, and a variety of performance demands are seen as essential components to maintaining high levels of interest and commitment. The Regimental Pipes and Drums are comprised of military and volunteer musicians and performers.

In 2010, the Regiment’s 100th anniversary was celebrated. In this landmark year the Regiment honoured a century of service to our country and the community of Calgary. It was this community that formed the 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles) on April 1st, 1910. At the outset of the First World War the 103rd contributed the bulk of soldiers to what became the 10th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (The Fighting Tenth) and served in the trenches of France and Belgium. Among their many distinguished acts of bravery and sacrifice, Calgary’s fighting men were among the first Allied troops to encounter chlorine gas in the Ypres salient near an oak plantation at St. Julien known as Kitcheners’ Wood.

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When French troops broke and ran in the face of this terrible weapon, Calgary’s fighting men were ordered to counter-attack at night, directly into the withering machine gun fire of the enemy. The French General Ferdinand Foch referred to this action as the “single most gallant act of the war”, and earned the soldiers of the Regiment the singular and rare distinction of wearing a single metal oak leaf on each shoulder.

The pipes they skirled at Kitcheners’ wood
Playing the call to steady the blood
The Maxim rattled, but still we stood
Repelling the gas with a piss-soaked hood
The weight we bear with the leaf we wear
Reminds us of our brotherhood

In 1921, keeping with the ancestry of the city and its people, the 103rd Calgary Rifles became The Calgary Highlanders and in 1925 affiliated itself with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Scotland. A Regimental Pipes and Drums was formed under Pipe Major William Buchanan and enriched its ties with the community by participating in many civilian and military functions. The soldiers continued to train and uphold the high standard of discipline and skill in keeping with that of the Canadian military and their forebearers.

On September 1st, 1939, The Calgary Highlanders received a telegram with a single word: “Mobilize”. Arriving in the United Kingdom during the Battle of Britain, the Regiment joined with The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada from Montreal, and Le Régiment de Maisonneuve from Quebec City to form the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade. Under Pipe Major Neil Sutherland the Pipes and Drums were a proud and integral part of the Regiment and won numerous piping competitions while stationed in Scotland during the first part of the war.

The band members served valuable duties on and off the field of battle. The Regiment fought many challenging and arduous battles after D-Day in North-west Europe, fighting through Normandy, Northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. As did their comrades in the First World War, the men of The Calgary Highlanders distinguished themselves among the Allied infantry regiments earning 22 battle honors at great cost. Walcheren Causeway typified this bravery and fortitude. The port of Antwerp, whose approaches were guarded by Walcheren Island, was required to shorten Allied supply lines. The Scheldt was heavily fortified and defended, and the only route open to the Allies was a small road (known as the ‘Sloedam’ to the Dutch) over a mile long through mud and water impassable to men, vehicles and boats. As with their comrades at St. Julien the only tactic available was a direct frontal assault. The ‘Sloedam’ was assaulted on Hallowe’en night 1944 and taken after two Highlander attacks.

We lodged our colours, trained for the worst
In battle found our worthy post
With pipe and drum, stretcher and spade
There we toiled bringing ammo and aid
We piped you awake, we piped you to bed
With Flowers of the Forest we buried our dead

Soldiers of the Regiment have kept the history of dedication and service alive, volunteering for missions with NATO and the United Nations in many countries throughout the world including Cyprus, the Golan Heights, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, the Middle East and currently the war in Afghanistan. These soldiers train, serve on missions and return to make the community even stronger, always a foot in both worlds, the military and civilian. The story of The Calgary Highlanders is woven into the fabric and history of this city we call home and are named after.

This 100-year legacy lives on today and the Regimental Pipes and Drums play a prominent part in it. The role of the band is not just to perform at military and civilian functions but to weave our music, our history, our traditions, our legacy and our voice into the fabric of Calgary and Canada, to keep alive the story that is The Calgary Highlanders. The band motto is “To promote and perpetuate, with pride and honour, the Regiment of The Calgary Highlanders”. The members of the band (military and civilian volunteers) truly feel the privilege of contributing to an organization that is rich in its history and allows us to perpetuate the music and dedication of the long line of pipers and drummers who have come before us.

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Edinburgh Tattoo, 2000

By Mike O’Connor
When we first heard that the band was invited to play for the 2000 Edinburgh Military Tattoo, it was with a mixture of disbelief and nervousness that we began our long journey toward fundraising and learning the music. Many long hours of dedicated practice were devoted to rising to the challenge, both in becoming proficient with the scores, and honing our dress and deportment in a manner befitting the best traditions of the Canadian Military.

When we arrived at the Calgary Airport on July 23rd, our disbelief turned to euphoria as the event we had worked so hard toward was finally at hand. We pulled into Redford Barracks in Edinburgh in the early evening the next day, which is the home parade square of our sister regiment, the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The following week was spent practicing for the Queen Mother’s birthday performance, nicknamed “the Big Blaw.” We only had four days to play together as a massed band, together with other regiments from all over Scotland and the Commonwealth, so our days tended to be rather long. The dress rehearsal was, for most of us, the first time we had ever been in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle; an awe-inspiring experience for all. Since the Regimental Pipes and Drums of the Calgary Highlanders were the largest single Canadian contingent in the performance, some members of the band were designated to flesh out the ranks of other Commonwealth bands. On performance night, Her Majesty the Queen Mother saw the bands of the Royal Victoria Rifles from Australia, The Wellington and Tarranakie Regiment from New Zealand, The Cape Town Highlanders from South Africa, and Canada’s own Cameron and Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) bolstered by members of the Calgary Highlanders.

After the performance, all the other bands were given a well-deserved weekend off, while we boarded a bus to the hometown of Drum Major Jim Stewart. En route, we put on a minor performance on the shores of Loch Fyne for the local community, followed closely by a reception at Inverary Castle. That was truly our first taste of true Highland hospitality, as we were presented with individual gifts, fed and watered to our heart’s content, and treated like royalty. After a week of British Army mess hall food, the catered lunch and bar was a welcome change! We were then herded back onto the bus for the journey to Lochgilphead.

This lovely “wee” town nestled in a glen at the apex of Loch Fyne opened its welcoming arms to us. The Drum Major’s emotional return home began as he led the band down the main street to the square in front of the town’s war memorial, where the Canadian flag was flying in the breeze in our honour. We then put on a performance that was received with ovation and hearty cheers. As the sun set o’er the Loch we were invited as the guests of honour at the Grand Ceilidh put on by the people of the town. There we were wined, dined, danced and entertained to the small hours of the morning. It was with a sad heart (and more than one aching head) that we boarded the bus back to Edinburgh, to begin work in earnest for the Tattoo.

The following week was by no means less arduous than the last. We fought through twelve hour days of endless repetition and adjustments to the music, most of which was undertaken in the midst of torrential downpours and continually bellowing British NCO’s. The hard work was worth the effort though, when on the first night of the Tattoo and the massive doors to the ancient castle burst open with the entrance of the pipe band, the proudest members of the largest assemblage of military pipers and drummers in the Tattoo’s history were those members from Calgary. For many of us, a lifelong dream was realized as we crossed the drawbridge and marched smartly onto the esplanade of Edinburgh castle. We performed the show 27 times, and each time we maintained that same level of pride.

Over the course of the next five weeks in Scotland, we were honoured to participate in many other special events. The Millenium March saw the streets of Edinburgh flooded with massive pipe bands; rumour has it that there were over ten thousand participants on parade.

Under the hill where the Wallace monument stands proudly, we competed at the Bridge of Allen Highland Games. To promote the Tattoo, the pipes and drums played several small shows throughout Edinburgh, and even one in the Glasgow Cavalcade.

On one afternoon, we were provided with a bus to travel to the Regimental Museum of the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders housed in Stirling Castle. Our sister regiment was kind enough to invite both the Calgary Highlanders and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada to their Sergeant’s mess for dinner and drinks. There we were honoured with a presentation of the band’s own paining of the “Thin Red Line,” which now hangs in the Pipe Major’s office.

Our trip was not all work though. After settling into the routine of the Tattoo performances, we had our days free to ourselves allowing us to take in the sights and sounds of Edinburgh. At the time, the Edinburgh festival was in full swing, attracting all manner of performers and visual art from all over the world. It was possible to walk along the street and not hear the same language spoken by the passing tourists for blocks on end. The nightlife was exotic, the culture and history fascinating, and the people we met will be remembered in friendship forever. We were also able to maintain the well-known Canadian reputation for being friendly, professional, and lots of fun at parties. There were many nights in the NAAFI (a junior ranks club for all intents and purposes) where it was the Canadians, and particularly the Calgarians, that were the first to make friends, the first to start having fun, and usually the last to leave any good time. It can truly be said that it was the experience of a lifetime.

We in the band would like to thank the Regimental funds foundation for its tireless effort and support in making this trip happen, as well as the members of the Regiment for their support. In fact, in the year 2000, close to six hundred thousand people saw the Regimental Pipes and Drums in live performances in Canada and Britain. The reputation of the Calgary Highlanders was maintained with pride and dignity in its best tradition. The band stands ready to represent and serve the Regiment at home or abroad.

Under the hill where the Wallace monument stands proudly, we competed at the Bridge of Allen Highland Games. To promote the Tattoo, the pipes and drums played several small shows throughout Edinburgh, and even one in the Glasgow Cavalcade.

On one afternoon, we were provided with a bus to travel to the Regimental Museum of the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders housed in Stirling Castle. Our sister regiment was kind enough to invite both the Calgary Highlanders and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada to their Sergeant’s mess for dinner and drinks. There we were honoured with a presentation of the band’s own paining of the “Thin Red Line,” which now hangs in the Pipe Major’s office.

Our trip was not all work though. After settling into the routine of the Tattoo performances, we had our days free to ourselves allowing us to take in the sights and sounds of Edinburgh. At the time, the Edinburgh festival was in full swing, attracting all manner of performers and visual art from all over the world. It was possible to walk along the street and not hear the same language spoken by the passing tourists for blocks on end. The nightlife was exotic, the culture and history fascinating, and the people we met will be remembered in friendship forever. We were also able to maintain the well-known Canadian reputation for being friendly, professional, and lots of fun at parties. There were many nights in the NAAFI (a junior ranks club for all intents and purposes) where it was the Canadians, and particularly the Calgarians, that were the first to make friends, the first to start having fun, and usually the last to leave any good time. It can truly be said that it was the experience of a lifetime.