Bagpipers were usually the first ones out of the trenches when it was time to fight; playing as they lead the soldiers into each battle in WW1
2500 bagpipe players were in the trenches with their men.
The pipers played the clarion call to arms to the men of the British Expeditionary Forces and thus were usually the first ones “over the top.”
They stood in full view of the German lines playing their instrument, and marched through “no-man’s land” without any ammunition but their sound.
The bagpipe players carried no cutting devices when they encountered barbed wire. Enemy fire mowed them down just as effectively as they killed advancing troops.
600 pipers were wounded, 500 bagpipe players died while rallying the troops into battle.
They received an extra penny a day to play their pipes.
The last bagpipe player survivor from World War I was Harry Lunan of the 5th Gordon Highlanders. He took part in the assault on High Wood in July 1916.
He described the experience as an honor:
“You were scared, but you just had to do it, they were depending on you.”
In the first assault, he played the tune Cock o’ the North.
‘I played my company over the bloody top, right into the German trenches. It was stupid as hell…Men falling all around me, falling dead…it was bloody horrible.”
And after that?
“I just played whatever came into my head, but I was worried about tripping on the uneven ground, which interrupted my playing. The enemy fire was murderous, the men were falling all around me. I was lucky to survive. Hearing the pipes gave the troops courage.”
Lunan’ playing caused a variety of reactions from the non-British troops:
“The French enjoyed the pipes, they couldn’t get enough. They would sing French tunes and I would play them. The Germans were scared of the bloody pipes.”
Lunan died in Canada in 1994, age 98 years old.