Despite the inspiration of such stirring sounds, pipers and soldiers alike were among the nearly 20,000 British troops killed on that day. That grim toll included Private William Alexander Scott of the Tyneside Scottish (21st battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers), who is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France. The 21st battalion suffered 131 dead that day.
An original set of pipes believed to have been recovered from the Somme battlefield and to have belonged to Scott came up for auction at Ipswich saleroom Lockdales (18% buyer’s premium) on May 13. Estimated at £300-500, they sold to an Australian collector “of military heritage” for £4600.
Scott was born in Elswick, Tyneside. His death as a piper is recorded in The Pipes of War, A Record of the Achievements of Pipers of Scottish & Overseas Regiments During the War, 1914-18 (originally published by University Press, c.1920).
Chris Elmy of Lockdales said: “The pipes were sold on behalf of a private collector but had been purchased from the family in recent years.
“They had looked into donating them but chose to sell because there is no museum for the Tyneside Scottish (as evidenced by a letter included in the lot). Other personal effects of Scott were included in the lot.
“As far as we know, Alexander Scott (father of William) kept the pipes of his son who was killed in action on the First Day of the Somme.
“This was the story told by the family when they were originally sold.”
The pipes have the correct tartan for the Tyneside Scottish (WA Scott’s regiment) and Elmy said the overall condition “is apt for having been recovered from a battlefield”. He added that “the fact that a dilapidated set of pipes was kept and treasured would indicate sentimental value so we have no reason to doubt their origin”.
During the First World War 100 battalions had more than 2500 pipers with them. Of these, 500 were killed and 600 wounded.