It’s not every day one can hear bagpipes. Sure, you can hear them at a Highland games or Scottish/Irish festival. Some people loathe bagpipes. Not me, I love listening to them; must be my Scottish ancestry. Sept. 25 was a special day for me.
The unit’s performance is “an expression of admiration and appreciation of our alliance,” said British Army Lt. Col. William Swinton, a liaison officer in Strategic Plans and Policy Office of the Joint Staff.
“We came to (the District of Columbia) for a specific reason,” Colonel Swinton said, “to demonstrate the admiration the British military has for the U.S. military.”
Wow, the band did not disappoint. It had eight pipers, seven drummers and four sword dancers. Each song brought rousing applause from folks who had been eating their lunch in the courtyard or lured outside by the pipes and drums.
Their uniforms, precision and musicianship were amazing. It reminded me of the time I saw the Royal Marines and Black Watch in Chicago during their Bicentennial tour of America in 1976. One thought came to my mind. Their 20-minute performance was almost over and they still hadn’t played the traditional bagpipe anthem “Scotland the Brave.” Next to “Amazing Grace” (which they didn’t play), “Scotland the Brave” is my favorite bagpipe tune. Would they play it? Surely, they would. No sooner had I thought that when the drummers rolled and the pipers began playing that awe-inspiring song. The band next rolled into “God Bless America,” to demonstrate the camaraderie between the United States and United Kingdom. Perfect.
The unit is the oldest infantry battalion in the British Army, Colonel Swinton said. Each member is a soldier and not a permanent musician. They return Sept. 28 to their base at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, England, to begin training for a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan. “These are front-line soldiers who will be fighting with U.S. Marines in Helmand (Province),” Colonel Swinton said.
Interviewing some band members afterwards was a bit difficult. I could blame it on the loud ambient noise in the courtyard café. But, in truth, my problem was with my inability to understand their Scottish accents. I especially had a hard time catching the spelling of the pipe major’s name. I eventually gave up and turned my notepad to him. He wrote out Brian Heriot. I was able to understand him when he talked about their month-long tour.
“The American crowd seems to love the bagpipes,” Sergeant Heriot said. “Everyone seems to have a Scottish ancestor.”
Thank you, 1st Battalion soldiers, for the show. Truly appreciated it. Stay safe while in Afghanistan.
Master Sgt. Stan Parker took some excellent shots of the performance. (British band performs in Pentagon courtyard). There is also a YouTube video of “Scotland the Brave” and “God Bless America” of their performance. (video here)