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Maple Leaf Pipers

Introduction: Development of Highland Piping in the Netherlands

by John J. van Ommen Kloeke

 Some 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 (1642). 

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 trade. 

Ill. 2: 1974 Leiden tercentenary parade. with "Scottish Mercenaries", re-enactment. 

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. 

 Ill. 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 present form.

 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 etcetera).

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 Parade.

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.

This is 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.. 

 Ill. 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.