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THE NORTH NOVA SCOTIA HIGHLANDERS

 


Cap Badge, Shoulder Titles and Collar badges of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders
(Credit for photographs of the badges goes to Clifford Weirmeir, with his splendid website about the Irish regiment of Canada)

 


L to R: P.M.Ross Stone-Donald Cooper-(lady 1)-Joe Beaton-Peter Dominique-Russel Yorston-C.C. Cottenden-(lady 2)-Harry MacLellan-Hugh MacIntyre-?x?-Robert MacBeth

Piper Robert MacBeth (also see his photograph from 1992 below) in his correspondence sent us a photograph very much like this, but this time of the full band and he gave us all the names of the members of the North NovaScotia Highlanders pipe band on it (Look further on, below here).
About the above photograph he said: “that is me on the extreme right; best looking chap?”

In the first letter (of Nov 20/1990) Robert MacBeth wrote to us:
- I myself was piper with the North Nova’s, only 2 of us left now. If there is anything I could help you with, do not hesitate to drop a letter, maybe I will know, maybe not. So far my memory is OK. I was over on the veteran trip to Holland in the spring, stayed at a farm near Almelo, was at the big day in Apeldoorn. Had a great trip, unbelievable.

- I had a visit from Grant Muir this summer, first time since the war had seen him, he lives about 1500 miles from me. Had a wonderful 1˝ - 2 hrs. talk about the other days – better in 1 way – hell of a lot worse in others. He is now a retired Presbyterian Minister. He became chaplain of the 48th Highlanders after the war, I think he said 10 years. We are the last 2 of all the pipers!

Left to right: Piper Hugh MacIntyre and Pipe Corporal Duncan MacIntyre (no relation).

About the photograph immediately above here, In the letter (of Nov 20/1990) Robert MacBeth wrote to us:
- Now the  photographs from Baarn, I don’t recall them being taken, but I am there proud as a peacock. The two single men are Hugh MacIntyre and Duncan MacIntyre. Both from the island of Cape Breton.. Duncan was our best piper, very fine man, he was our lance jack, looked after the piping, as our Pipe Major, fine man, no piper, was no help in the music and the other fellow – Hughie – just a learner. They both died within the last 5 years. He would be wearing the North Nova Hat badge. The Cumberland badge was obsolete in 1936. Badge the same, only the name changed.

- On the P.M. Stone. He was the militia P.M. before the war so he had the seniority. As for piping knowledge 000. Duncan was an accomplished violin player. Was an old time ear player piping before the war. After he joined up he learnt music, became a very fine piper. As far as music he kept the band within reason. Stone was a very top class man, never made to be a piper, looked after us A-1.

 - As for the training most of the boys were pipers before joining up. Many different styles, ear pipers etc., many different degrees of teaching. Pipe bands were not any way near the high standard of today.

- There are many arguments here on the old pipers here. My own opinion, is that with no [teaching] no music, very poor equipment, some no doubt were kind of pleasing to listen to, but there must have been an awful lot of racket by times. Basically no technical knowledge as we know nowadays at all.

- I got my basic from a man by the name of Sandy Boyd. Plus a year or so with Donald Ramsay. I play the older open style, not as fast as the modern style.

- On the Gaelic. I do not speak it. Study it a lot, read it a little bit. We were a Gaelic speaking family as was everyone in this area of the province. Roughly 150.000 people in 1880-1900. Now it is down to, dare say 1000 at the most. Only 100 with decided on it, Shame.

 

Billboard from the British 49th. Infantry Division "Victory Variety" show where these photographs were taken and where two bands played (the Canadian North Nova’s and the Scots Fusiliers from the 49th.Div or “Polar Bears”), with text in two languages, reading:

Tonight 7 o'clock Maarschalkerbosch:

- Two orchestra's,

- Spanish dances

- Cartoonist, piano solo's

etc., etc.

Sponsored by C Squadron, 49th. regiment reconnaisance corps

Compere Sgt. Ridgeway

- Dancing on the lawn

 

In his letter (of Feb 1/1991) Robert MacBeth wrote to us:
- I have a photo of the band taken the same day as these 2. Will send later (shown below here). Am in the process of lining things up. That is me on the right  of the picture (see the first photograph, above here). Next to me is the only one living, just retired as a Presbyterian Minister. I guess it is because we were probably among the younger of the pipers.
- On the uniform the North Nova’s wore the Murray of Atholl tartan. Everything else was as for the Black Watch except cap- and collar-badges. Some units carried the hair sporran. We did not. In fact many times on massed band wore no sporran. 
When we did not wear the plain army green hose tops, we wore Murray of Tullybardine Hose Tops and Murray of Atholl Kilt.

- Talking of reeds, for my part I use Henderson reeds mainly, they seem to have the older tone which we seem to like. A man gave me a Warnock, didn’t like it at first but turned out very well with a bit of work, also a couple of McAllister. Yesterday I got two new from U.S.A. Appear very well made, once I have worked them over will let you know. I prefer heavy reeds, work them down to light to suit me. Better than buying. It takes time but I have plenty of that. The straight commercial are becoming a crude lot. Canadian reed-makers I don’t think up to par. Takes a lot of experience to develop. I am very interested in the U.S.A. ones I have just received.

- As you mentioned, considerable difference in setting pipes for bands or for solo. I have little use for bands, the sound of the drum within 10 km. of a set of pipes is too close for me. As you can see, I am 100% traditional. As far as so many of the new fangled tunes, if you can’t whistle them, don’t play them. Most of them will not be around very long.

- I called the Campbell pipe makers. Their pipes are nylon, I am still a wood man. Will be always. Very good friends of mine. Nice people.  I still feel Robertson chanters were possibly the best made, at least for me.

- The original N.N.S.H members left alive in Nova Scotia right now are just Duncan MacIntyre, Donald MacLeod and Donald Cooper.

Left to Right, Back row: P.M. Ross Stone, Joe Beaton, Donald Cooper, Grant Muir, Russel Yorston, Hugh MacIntyre, Harry MacLellan, Donald MacLeod, Elmer Farrel.
Left to Right, Front row: Robert MacBeth, Peter Dominique, C.C. Cottenden, L.Cpl.Duncan MacIntyre.

 

 

Tera & Robert MacBeth, and Robert MacBeth at the memorial on Armistice Day, November 11 1989.

Below Here are some more remarks of interest from the letters written to us by Robert:

-  As I was saying, on our trip in 1990 we had a wonderful time in Holland. It has sure changed since wartime. As everywhere. The only place that I recognized was the crossroads in the village of Holten which is now close to the cemetery. We were on the move coming back to some place near Deventer. We  were held up there a long time. The whole 4th. Canadian Armoured Division passed, they had priority anyway. Our division #3 took off north.

- When they took a town they sent us in, to play up and down the streets, many places, Leeuwarden (*see photo of this below here), Dokkum, Groningen, Winschoten. We ended up at Norden, Germany. We were in Baarn 2 or 3 times for short spells.

- The Dutch people just went extremely exited any place we were, almost unbelievable. The North Nova’s & the other pipe bands of the 3 Div. were usually massed on these trips. Whatever, quite an experience, will not forget!

 


*April 16, 1945: The combined pipe bands of the Canadian H.L.I. and the North Nova's play after the liberation of the city of Leeuwarden, (the capital of the Dutch province of Friesland) by the 3rd. Canadian Infantry Division. Front Row, left to right: Leading Pipe major Corstorphine (H.L.I.) wearing a 4 short white tasseled black sporran, Pipe Corporal Duncan MacIntyre (N.N.S.) wearing a leather sporran, Pipe major Ross Stone (N.N.S.) wearing a leather sporran like all the other N.N.S. pipers and drummers. Behind him, in the second row, the  H.L.I. of Canada's Pipe Corporal wearing a 3short white tasselled black sporran, all other H.L.I. pipers wore white horsehair sporrs with 2 long black tassels.

 

This reprinted article from the Montreal Standard, originally from directly after the Normandy invasion illustrated how many casualties, in the beginning also including from the Pipes & Drums as stretcher bearers, were suffered by the North Nova's. Replacements for trained pipers were hard to find. . .

- There were 4 pipers of the original pipers that left Canada in 1941 still there at the end. The rest of us were reinforcements at different periods, mostly in Holland when the army was based in the Nijmegen area late ’44, first time they got settled down. I myself was an armourer in the ordnance corps, nice soft job in England until drafted to the North Nova’s, having had a bit of piping before I joined the army, I was very glad I had it, much better in war pipes instead of machine gun, safer too.

-  In the old system the pipers were trained stretcher bearers, but from invasion time the regular company bearers took over. Much of the piper’s work depended on the commanding officer. Some were rough on pipers, others though otherwise. Some pipe bands were cut down quite heavily, a couple never recovered fully. Sometimes I think orders came from on high to give us a break, so after that we had it quite good. 38 men went thru the Nova pipe band during the war.

- The repertoire of the pipe band was basically Books 1 & 2 Army Manual, plus a few out of Willie Ross, I think 1 & 2 was all of the books out then. The manuals had the drum beats in them. 

 

- The older pipers had mostly been to the school at Edinburgh Castle, during their long stay in England. That pretty well stopped in Europe, so I missed that.

- We all as a whole played issue pipes: mostly Henderson’s, Lawrie, lower pitch chanters of those years, more volume than today’s setup. I still prefer that & I still use the  lower pitch . Drones take long tongue reeds. Much deeper tone & volume. Bridle on the tenor 2" to 21/8" tongue length.

- I am basically a solo piper, I despise the sound of a drum within a mile of a set of pipes, so you can see I am definitely not a band man. Play in older style than the new & fast pace used today.

- When we formed up in massed band, we just fell in – no particular order, so in your photo’s (of The Hague Victory Parade) could be anywhere.

- Whatever all the best to you & family, if health stays good, will see you 1995 on the 50th anniversary. As ever,
Bob MacBeth.

From a 1945 Newspaper Article about Pipe Major Stone building up the North Nova Scotia Highlanders pipeband anew
after it having been decimated by the Normandy invasion and campaign:

- TAKES NEW LEASE ON LIFE IN HOLLAND -

Truro Man Re-moulds "'Bush Exiled" Pipe Band

By SGT. JIM BOWES (Maple Leaf Staff Writer) WITH THIRD CANADIAN DIVISION-

There are some soulless citizens who maintain that the bush is the only place for a pipe band. At the risk of causing gnashing of teeth and beating of gums in their ranks, let it be recorded that the pipe band of the North Nova Scotia Regiment refused to be confined to the bush - and actually took a new lease on life in Holland. For weeks, while the unit was stationed in bush country near New Millingen, Holland, the eerie notes of Scottish refrains echoed through the forest as Pipe Major R. M. Stone, Truro, worked patiently to mould a new pipe band. (P.M. Stone is the son of Mrs. W. C. Mills, Shubenacadie, and his wife and daughter, Barbara Ann. live in Truro) .

Filling holes left in the band by casualties and repatriation drafts, Stone combed holding units, hospitals and the battalion for untried replacements, trotted them off to the bush, and a month later came back to civilization with a pipe band. In his sojourn among the trees the pipe major, oldest member of the regiment left on the continent, trained an entirely new drum section of seven and eliminated the wheezes of "salvaged" pipers, who were a little on the rusty side.

On the Road

Since the kilties swished down the street for the first time after their return from "exile", they have been on the road constantly in Germany, Holland and Belgium. When "at home" the band turns out nightly at battalion headquarters for Retreat. Their evening appearances have caused so many traffic jams on the nearby Utrecht-Zeist highway that extra provosts have been detailed to handle the crowds.

The veteran pipe major has had many proofs of the power of his pipes and drums, but none quite so convincing as the request of a Dutch father-to-be that the band be on hand to greet his wife when she walked out of hospital with her new-born.

Stone claims more men have passed through his band than any other pipe band in the Canadian Army. Since the unit was mobilized, 48 pipers and drummers have come and gone. Not a few were lost in action - three days after D - Day. the band of 14 had been reduced to four men. Equipped with a new set of drums, and outfitted in new kilts, the band is readying for the biggest engagement of them all - the parade down the main street of Amherst, N.S.

The North Nova Scotia Highlanders pipe band at Maple Leaf Stadion – Nijmegen 1945. (Photograph courtesy of Drs. H.M.A. Koenders)

There are some images from youth that a person will carry with himself for a whole lifetime.
(see the photograph above)
Drs. H.M.A. Koenders, who was a boy of about 9 years old at the time, mid 1945, still saw the pipe band walk on the Hazekampse weg in Nijmegen, and told:
“I can still see them in my mind’s eye; they made a lasting impression on me. From that moment on my interest in the Scots was aroused.”