They’re Henderson’s I think, made of Ivory and African Blackwood. They don’t make them like that anymore that’s for sure. Now, it is illegal to hunt elephant for their tusks. They were my grandfather’s Great Highland Bagpipes issued to him when he enlisted to fight in World War II. John “Piper” MacMillan from Reserve Mines, Nova Scotia fought with the Cape Breton Highlanders. They first saw European shores when then landed in Sicily and moved up the Eastern side of Italy to eventually land in Holland where they liberated the Dutch from German occupation. Those Henderson’s saw many hard fought battles. Oh the stories those old pipes could tell.
Henderson’s were a popular brand of Bagpipe for pipers of a certain era. Peter Henderson started making bagpipes in 1880. Pre- 1961 the pipes were made by him until Greig Sharp took over the business. World War II started in 1939 and had gone until 1945. My grandfather played them during the war. So what I am saying is that those pipes in my possession are a really old set. They have been completely reconditioned by the determined work of my parents to assemble a working set of pipes for their offspring (that would be me and my brothers) to learn how to play.
In the war, the Great Highland Bagpipe often instilled terror in the enemy. The Germans even had a nickname for them, which is something like screaming women or ladies or something like it. The pipers in the war did not carry a weapon, which left them as sitting ducks for the enemy. Many pipers died during World War I this way; an open target for an enemy source. The pipers always lead the way into battle, this is not something common to only the World Wars but to Scottish Tradition.
My grandfather died in 1971. I never knew him. He died before I was born. I take pride in the fact however, that I am learning to play the instrument that he played so well. I will someday play the pipes that saw World War II. As I said previously, if those pipes could only talk, the stories they could tell… and continue to tell. Their legacy lives on in two brothers and myself who will play them to a different generation of listeners. Maybe not as great as my grandfather but I will do my best.
Currently, I have joined the Cape Breton University Pipe Band. I am revisiting the beginner lessons I took as a teen. We even have a Christmas Concert this year with ticket money going to fund the CBU Pipe Band. Hope to see you all there! The kids in the band are actually really great pipers but you should hear them for yourself to make your own judgments. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12. The concert is 7-9 pm on December 7, 2017.