History of the Pipes and Drums

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.  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 forbearers.

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.