If you wake to the sound of bag pipes in Greater Trail very early Sunday, don’t feel ire.
Feel honoured, feel thankful.
On Nov. 11 at 6 a.m. – as part of a worldwide event – members of the Trail Pipe Band will be playing “When the Battle is O’er” to mark the actual hour that Armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, ending the First World War.
The song is a retreat march, played for soldiers when returning to their barracks or camp at the end of the day. The tune became part of the piping repertoire played by young men, armed only with their bagpipes, as they led troops onto battlefields in the “War to End All Wars.”
Pipers will be playing the song in their own homes throughout Greater Trail that morning in remembrance of 100 years since the Great War ended.
Pipe Major Gordon Titsworth will be proudly piping the battle march from the deck of his Annable home.
His knowledge about the role of pipers during wartime and this song, in particular, dates back 60+ years to when Gordon was a child growing up in Trail.
“It’s a very commonly played tune, I remember learning it as a kid back in the 50s,” he began.
The pipers who would have played the song to fellow soldiers on the front lines, courageously went into battle armed only with their instruments.
“So they were a target because the enemy knew they were, in fact, encouraging their own soldiers to fight on,” Titsworth said. “And, at the same time, the pipers were telling the (soldiers) that what they were doing, was right.”
Emboldening soldiers to march on and face the enemy with courage came at a great cost to the bagpipers.
“In fact, in the Second World War, they weren’t allowed to lead the troops into battle,” said Titsworth. “That’s because they had been so devastated in the First World War. So they became moral boosters. And still are, there were pipers in the world wars and also in the Gulf War, Desert Storm.”
The use of pipers in the First World War was often criticized due to the belief that the sound of the bagpipes would not be heard during the battles, and that the pipers were too vulnerable since they did not have a weapon to defend themselves with against the enemy fire.
The commanding officer in several Canadian battalions would allow pipers to march to and from the front, but they did not allow them to play during the battles as there were too many piper casualties. The pipers who did play during the battles were faced with gas attacks and constant gunfire by enemy troops.
Casualties of Canadian pipers during the first war is estimated to be over 1,500.
The Battle is O’er was penned by Pipe Mayor William Robb of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (1863-1909). The tune later gained acclaim outside the military when Scottish singer Andy Stewart put lyrics to notes in 1961.