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The Gordon Highlanders


75th Foot raised

100th Foot raised

amalgamated to form The Gordon Highlanders

amalgamated to form The Highlanders


The Bands of The Gordon Highlanders

At the 1813 Battle of Vittoria, it is said, the pipes of the 92nd screamed high above the noise of the artillery bombardment and the fire of the musketry; as ever, the bagpipes were expected to terrify the enemy as much as to inspire the troops.

By this stage the military band was already in existence - a record from 1810 refers to the purchase of 'clarionetts, a bassoon, a bass drum head, a tamborrin and reeds' - and it can be assumed that the bandsmen also served in the Napoleonic wars, for shortly after Waterloo a Court of Enquiry was established to investigate, amongst other business, why some of the bandsmen lost their instruments during the battle.

Following the defeat of Napoleon, the 92nd returned home for a brief period, before being posted to Ireland and then Jamaica. In 1827 it came back to Scotland, with the Band still engaged on regimental duties, as described by Lieutenant-Colonel Gardyne in his history of the Gordons:

Soon after the death of the 4th Duke of Gordon, his remains arrived in Edinburgh ... On 12 July 1827 the remains were removed from Holyrood on their journey to Gordon Castle, being escorted by two companies of the 92nd with their band playing the Dead March in 'Saul'.

The early days of the Band of the 75th are undocumented, though the regiment was censured in 1834 for having more NCOs than was permitted in the band. The first bandmaster of whom we have any records was William Collender, appointed in January 1869. Later that year Charles Farrell took up a similar position in the 92nd.

Perhaps the most important of Sergeant Collender's engagements was playing for the visit of the Prince of Wales to Lahore in 1876. The Band and pipes also played in the Imperial Assemblage in Delhi to commemorate the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India.

The amalgamation in 1881 was not universally popular in the Army, and a stone at Floriana Barracks in Malta commemorates the event from a 75th perspective:

Here lies the poor old 75th,
But under God's protection
They'll rise again in kilt and hose,
A glorious resurrection.
For by the transformation power
Of Parliamentary laws,
We go to bed the 75th,
And rise the Ninety-twas.

The 92nd was no happier about the merger, even though the name The Gordon Highlanders was to survive. At midnight on 30 June 1881, as the old regiment ceased to exist, a torchlight funeral was staged, with a coffin containing a flag inscribed '92' being carried to its grave by officers wearing full highland dress. An oration was given by Lieutenant-Colonel George Luck of the 15th Hussars, the pipers played a lament, and the Band gave their rendition of the 'Dead March'.

Despite this initial sense of distrust, the new regiment proved successful. In the fighting on the North-West Frontier at the end of the century, Piper Findlater of the 1st Gordons was awarded a Victoria Cross for his courage in continuing to play the men into the assault on the Dargai Heights, despite being wounded in both legs. During the first battle of Ypres in the Great War, Drummer William Kenny won the same honour 'for conspicuous bravery'; as a stretcher-bearer, he rescued wounded men under fire on five occasions.

The bandsmen of both battalions also served as stretcher-bearers in the Boer War.

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In the inter-war years, both Bands spent time overseas. The Band of the 1st Battalion served in Malta, Turkey, Egypt, India and Palestine and - though it returned to Britain with the Battalion in January 1935 - it was soon off again on a trip to Brussels.

The following year, together with the pipes and drums, it sailed to South Africa, playing for six weeks at the Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg and then going on tour. Thirty-nine concerts, together with ceremonies at twelve war memorials, were played in four weeks. Whilst there, an unofficial mascot was adopted in the form of a dog, whom the bandsmen named 'Champ'. It was claimed that Champ could recognize the drum roll for the National Anthem, and would stand to attention. 'He has an ear for music and likes the bagpipes,' commented Bandmaster Campbell, in what some would regard as a contradiction in terms. So attached did the men become to Champ that permission was given for him to accompany them home.

In 1937 a visit to France saw the men attend the opening of the British Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition.

The 2nd Battalion Band was also active, playing at the 1932 British Exhibition in Copenhagen, and moving to Gibraltar in 1934. To commemorate the visit, the Danish composer Hermann Pecking wrote the march '92nd in Copenhagen', later shortened to 'Copenhagen'.

A typical programme of the era was given by the 1st in July 1936 at Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline:
Extracts from
Cornet Duet
Trombone Solo
Xylophone Solo
Vocal Solo
Regimental March
Orpheus in the Underworld
The Humming Birds
The Dragon Fly
Wedded Whimsies
Slavonic No. 1
On The Track
Misty Islands of the Highlands
Suite for Pipes and Band
Cock of the North
God Save The King

The Second World War saw disaster overtake both Battalions: the 1st was captured with the 51st (Highland) Division at St Valéry, whilst the 2nd was in the garrison of Singapore and was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1942; Bandmaster Reg Ashton was amongst those killed in the construction of the notorious Siam-Burma railway.

In anticipation of the disbandment of the 2nd Battalion in 1948, Bandmaster Bill Lemon was not replaced when he left to join the Royal Tank Regiment in September 1947.

The late 1940s saw the band active in Germany, France, Belgium and Denmark, as well as Scotland, where the Regiment received the Freedom of Aberdeen on 20 August 1949.

In 1951 it embarked on the Empire Halladale for Port Said, before moving on to Malaya. Massed band performances were given with the Seaforths and the Cameronians, but there were also military duties to be undertaken; Band Notes from the regimental journal of the period read:

At the moment of writing, the whole Band excluding the scribe are out on a forty-eight hour operation chasing the elusive Yong Hoi, the area bandit commander.

2nd Bn, Gordon Highlanders
2nd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, India, 1907
Bandmaster E Blake

Recent years have seen the Band, pipes and drums take on a highly successful tour of Japan in 1986. There was a slight hitch when Japanese customs showed some reluctance to allow two claymores, sixteen dirks and seventeen Sgean dubhs into the country, but the remainder of the tour went ahead as planned. It culminated in a concert at the British Embassy in Tokyo where the guests included the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan.

In November 1990 the bandsmen were again on an overseas tour, though this time it was to the Gulf, where they served as medical assistants with 32 Field Hospital RAMC.

The last major tour abroad came in October 1993 when a visit to Italy ended in Lucia, home of Puccini, where a concert was attended by 2500 enthusiastic fans.

In 1994, as the Regiment was amalgamated, the Band of The Gordon Highlanders disappeared into the new Highland Band.

adapted from
The History of British Military Bands,
Volume Two: Guards & Infantry

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Bandmasters of The Gordon Highlanders
Band Histories