Leeds leads way for worldwide pipe band tribute to mark end of First World War

There’s something bewitching about the melodic drone of bagpipes – like the muted battle cry of some mythical beast, a constantly morphing, twisting skirl of sound which at once scours the senses like a high sharp wind and yet gives succour with its deep, resonating choral drone, as though the gods themselves had formed a choir. That, in part, is why pipers were used to lead troops into battle.

The existence of pipes with a Scottish regiment dates to at least the 1680s. At the Battle of Waterloo the pipers played inside the squares as the French advanced, while on the march they played to cheer the soldiers up. During the First World War, over 1,000 pipers lost their lives to enemy fire – an equal number will gather around the world to commemorate their centenary of the end of the war.

They will play Battle’s O’er, a traditional air played by pipers after a battle. Heralding the start of the day’s commemorations, they will play the haunting tune outside churches and cathedrals, in market squares and muddy fields, on hilltops and high streets, in valleys and village greens throughout the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and at scores of locations overseas, including Australia, Canada, the USA, Germany, South Africa, France, Spain, Denmark, Israel and Somalia to name but a few. City of Leeds Pipe Band A lone piper will play Battle’s O’er in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey, London, with others undertaking a similar performance in front of cathedrals in the UK.

At the same time, pipers everywhere will be playing the same tune in their local communities. In Leeds, Andy Tasker, from City of Leeds Pipe Band, will have the honour of piping the tune at Horsforth Cenotaph. He explained the significance of the event. “The whole point of it is that we the general public would not be here if it wasn’t for them, the fallen soldiers of that war, so we want to be there because of what it represents but more importantly, many of us have had things happen in our lives which make us grateful to just be alive, so we‘re just happy to be here and be able to do things like this.” Retired banker Andy, 61, knows this more than most.

In May last year, the father-of-two was diagnosed with bowel cancer but swift treatment at Leeds Colorectal Unit saved his life. Tonight he and his band mates will take part in an special event as guests of Leeds Male Voice Choir at St George’s Hall from 7.30pm, a prelude to tomorrow’s pre-dawn event. The fact what would have been a UK-only event is now global is due in part to the City of Leeds Pipe Band formed in 1960 by a small group of former members of the Scottish Regimental Association of Yorkshire Pipe Band, they are colloquially known as The Yorkshire Jocks and maintain strong links with Scotland, where the playing of bagpipes originated, including the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band.

Andy, who comes from a long line of pipers, one of whom was Angus Mackay, first piper to Queen Victoria, said: “The Queen’s Pageant Master contacted us to ask us to be involved and wanted it to be in England but because we had contacts with the Vale of Atholl. City of Leeds Pipe Band “Robert Procter from City of Leeds Pipe Band made contact with Stuart Letford, manager of the Glasgow-based College of Piping and the event ended up going worldwide. We were invited to take part in the parade in London but we politely declined, because we thought it was more important for us to be here, in the communities where we live and work. It’s very poignant.”