Maple Leaf Pipers
Introduction: Development of Highland Piping in the Netherlands
John J. van Ommen Kloeke
twenty pipe bands in the Netherlands, plus an unknown number of
individual solo pipers; isn't that rather amazing for such a
relatively small country, although densely populated ?
Ill. 1: Dutch pipers in religious procession at Molenbeek
Well of course there can be several possible explanations, but
for one: it is not just because Dutch holiday-goers have
encountered the pipes in Scotland for the first time. Otherwise
in all the much bigger countries around, sending at least as
many vacationers to the British Isles, there should be even more
pipers, which is not the case.
No, the explanation may more readily be found in Dutch recent,
and even more distant, history.
Of course looking at old Dutch paintings by the well known Dutch
masters, one will see an abundance of all kinds of bagpipes as
depicted in Praetorius's "Syntagma Musicum" (described in my
earlier article for the Piping Times, April 1990). (see Ill.1)
After all the Dutch geographical position will show that this
country is most likely exposed to cultural influences from all
around, lying at a crossroads of the trade routes by sea and
land, which greatly justifies the country's role in economy and
Ill. 2: 1974 Leiden tercentenary parade. with "Scottish
During more turbulent periods of their history the Dutch have in
the past, almost traditionally, hired foreign soldiers to do
their fighting for them, even on Dutch soil. In this way the
oldest connections go well back for several centuries when we
had for instance Scots mercenaries defending the town of Leyden
against the Spanish, until liberation in 1574. This fact is
still proven by several street names, remembering for instance
an Andrew Scott, in the "Andries Schot-kade". Some years back,
when the tercentenary of this event was celebrated, the Leyden
City Pipe Band was dressed in, as much as possible, a dress of
the period, as shown on a photograph here. (see Ill.2)
Also, in one of our oldest castles, the "Muiderslot", where a
Scottish garrison used to be in bygone ages, recently a mural
painting was discovered during restorations, showing Highland
soldiers in the dress of the time.
This fact was also celebrated by the (Rotterdam City) Saint
Andrews Pipe Band, giving a concert at the commemorative party
by the Dutch "Caledonian Society", a group of Dutch nationals
priding themselves on Highland descent. (see Ill.3) During the
same period of fighting in the Netherlands, the province of
Friesland was host to several Highland mercenary regiments.
3: Muiderslot, March 1989: Dutch-Scots, with pipers in the
background, remember their heritage.
Also, for some time the British army had troops on the Dutch
islands opposite the important harbour of Antwerp, which was
then, after all, one of their main competitors in world trade.
So there has certainly been some Scottish, and even Highland,
influence in Holland's distant past.
But more important, even more recently, during the two world
wars the Dutch got to know the Great Highland Bagpipe in its
During the first world war, when the Netherlands were
officially neutral, they were obliged to detain any foreign
soldiers straying over the border in military prison camps till
the end of the war. In this way, during that period in the Hague
a group of British P.O.W.'s formed a pipe band, which on
occasion would play through the city (on Church Parade
Of course this was only very locally known, and although
mentioned in a Dutch book on the history of military music,
relatively soon forgotten by the inhabitants of The Hague.
More recent however, is the second world war, and in particular
the period of the liberation by the 21st Army Group, consisting
of the 1st Canadian Army and the 2nd British Army.
During the hostilities, when British and Canadian pipers
symbolised the newly reclaimed freedom with all its emotions,
and in the year after the German capitulation, when the West
finally was liberated just before being starved to death, more
lasting ties were laid between the Dutch and the Canadians who
were stationed all over the Netherlands, before they could be
repatriated to Canada. Liberty-ships from Canada would arrive
crammed with relief goods and reconstruction equipment, and the
ships, being empty, could take troops back on the return home.
This way it took more than a year until the last soldier was
able to travel back home to Canada.
During this period, they helped rebuild our country, and of
course, with as many as sixteen units with pipe bands, the Dutch
were treated to a lot of piping, on church (and other) parades
and sports events alone. For instance the combined pipe bands of
the 48th Highlanders of Canada and the Seaforth Highlanders of
Canada (both in First Canadian Infantry Division) played at the
nationally known Feyenoord football stadium in Rotterdam on June
9, 1945, when the First Canadian Division Team Sports
Championships were held (from Canada's Weekly, June 29, 1945,
p.360). The entire battalion of the 48th Highlanders, with Lt.
Col. J.R.C. Counsell, Commanding Officer the 48th Highlanders of
Canada, was at the meeting, to congratulate their sports team
winning the event, so Rotterdam certainly got used to seeing
something previously unknown to them: the kilt. And there were
many more events like this in other places in 1945 and 1946,
where the Dutch could enjoy the swing of the kilt to the
captivating sound of pipes and drums.
Ill. 4: The boy on the left walked along with P/M Edmund Esson
(Canadian Seaforths) for miles. The Hague, 21 May 1945, Victory
Anyway, a most remarkable fact is that all the people I met in
this country when looking for bagpipe tuition some thirty years
ago, had heard their first Highland pipes during the liberation
by Canadian and British troops, or in the year afterwards, when
Canadian pipers were stationed in Dutch communities.
Ill. 5: November, 1944. Pt. Dewar of Glen Nevis, Ont., shows
these Dutch kiddies the working of a bagpipe., while Pte. J.A.
MacKenzie of Toronto demonstrates what happens when you blow
into the pipes (Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry Highlanders).
Ill. 6: April 17, 1945, Groningen. This wee lassie never heard
sweeter music in her life (Pipe band of the Essex Scottish, P.
M. R. Stocker).
On photographs of the numerous parades that were held, such as
the big "Victory Parade" in the Hague on 21 May 1945 (see Ill.4)
one will see countless small Dutch boys and girls, fervently
walking beside the pipers, with an obvious desire to be in their
place (and this was not just because they were starved, and the
soldiers were carrying chocolate bars and candy, I was assured
by some of those one-time boys I recently interviewed).
One only has to look at the photographic evidence to see what a
deep impression the music did make (see Ill. 5&6).
Two of those then little boys, in fact, would eventually form
one of the very first pipe bands in the country, which would in
turn inspire other (drum - or fife-and drum, traditional in
Holland) bands to take up the pipes and change into a Scottish
style Pipe Band. Those in turn, would disseminate pipers who
spread solo-piping, or form new pipe bands in turn.
the story of the Y.M.C.A. pipe band, and later on the formation
of the Dutch branch of the R.S.P.B.A., solo piping and the Dutch
branch of the College of Piping: the Solo Piping Association of
the Netherlands, and more recently: the Pipers' and Pipe Band
Association of Amsterdam.
Also, the Black Watch of Canada taught the pipes to the Police
Pipe Band in Tilburg, North Brabant, but sadly their activities
seem to have stopped long ago.
Those were the pipers who paved the way for piping in the
Netherlands and neighbouring countries, even though many of the
younger generation of pipers are not even aware of this.
At this moment there are several groups of pipers and drummers,
such as the "48th. Highlanders of Holland, and the "Seaforth
Highlanders of Holland Memorial P.&D." Of course, at the present
time, most strongly expressed gratitude is due to the College of
Piping and the R.S.P.B.A. from Scotland, who are always doing so
much to support pipers and bands in this country..
7: Apeldoorn, May 1990, Liberation Parade. 45 years later, the
Dutch have not forgotten their liberators. P.M. Ross Stewart and
other 48th. Highlanders Veterans get a tremendous
reception. The poppies worn indicate that later they will visit
the graves of fallen comrades.