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Hugh Dinwoodie article on Remembrance
It was a memorable privilege to be able to join with other past and present Merchistonians at the Remembrance Sunday Service on this significant 100th anniversary of the Armistice in 1918.

Two years ago an 11-year old pupil at Merchiston, James, had the idea of gathering 100 pipers from Merchiston over the years to parade and play for the approaching 100th anniversary of the ending of the Great War. This inspired idea today came to fruition.

I would like to try and give a personal account of the day before it escapes my memory altogether.

As Pipe-Major of the school band 70 years ago, it was with some trepidation that I put my name forward to join the proposed gathering of 100 MCS pipers, past and present, being somewhat doubtful if I would still have the lung capacity to last more than a measure or two. I thought I could hide in the second back row and just carry my pipes if the worst came to the worst.

Orders were to assemble at ‘Pringle’, where after heading for the old Sanatorium, where Pringle House now stands, I was redirected to the even newer classroom block of the same name, where I found Graham Campbell, the school’s pipe tutor, and assembling pipers. It was pleasing to find girls as both pipers and drummers with the school band. The big drummer was tall and seemed to resemble the big drummer of 1943-4 when I joined the band; but he was no relation.

The pipes were tuned individually, and we went outside to try through the ‘Battle of the Somme’, which to everyone’s slight surprise, sounded not too bad at all.

To my dismay, we were formed up in 8 ranks across the drive, in alternate files of present band members and Merchistonians, in order of seniority (in the front rank at least). So it was that I found myself in the front row, next to the present Pipe-major. (No hiding-place, and imperfections there for all to see).

We then made our way informally to the Assembly Hall for the Remembrance Service, where we were seated in two rows at the back, so that we could leave just before the end and go back down to Pringle to collect our pipes.

It was a very moving service; the School Chaplain (Nick Blair) in his address displayed the names of those Merchistonians, not listed on any memorial, but who had died within seven years of the end of the war in 1918, many from wounds long after, but who should also be remembered just as much as those who died during the actual conflict.

He also reminisced how as a young rugby player, he had been constantly exhorted to “Pass the ball, Blair – Pass it!”; and he felt this service would help to pass on these thoughts to future generations.

So he produced a rugby ball, on which he had inscribed the initials of all the fallen, turned round, and made a deft and accurate pass to the Captain of the School behind him (James Dobie), (who equally skilfully caught it), with the words “Pass it on”.

Just before the last hymn, we Merchistonian pipers in the last two rows filed out to return to Pringle where our pipes had been left (there was no room for the school band in the Hall, and who had had to watch a video-link in the Library (the old ‘Cloisters’).

We waited, outside Pringle, while the service in the hall finished. A lone piper, from the school band, emerged at the front of the school, playing ‘The Bloody Fields of Flanders’ right down the drive to join us. We then waited for the assembled multitude to emerge and gather to watch our parade.

We eventually set off, playing ‘Green Hills of Tyrol’ and ‘After the Battle’. As we stepped off, somewhat unsteadily for my part at first, we seemed not to be altogether in step. I tried to keep in step with one member of the band, but felt I was out of step with some of the pipers abreast of me, and so thought I’d be better to try to keep in step with them. I hated to think what any videos might show up. Then I decided ‘So what’ – it was the tunes, and being there, that mattered, not some long-unpractised drill. And the audience would no doubt indulge an old fossil in this regard. But I like to think that I was not too far off the tune.

The band halted a few yards short of the front of the school, just beside the flagpole, where 178 small wooden crosses, each with a name inscribed, had been planted in the grass. Standing there, we played ‘Battle of the Somme’. Next the (new) Headmaster (Mr Jonathan Anderson) and Chaplain (Rev Nick Blair) added two further crosses for two names that had only recently come to light and so had been missing from the records on previous memorials. After the short dedication of these two crosses, ‘Highland Cathedral’ came next (with the school Pipe-major playing the leading and finishing phrases solo, full band joining in to play the full tune in between).

We finished with ‘Scotland the Brave; and The Rowan Tree’, after a short and somewhat congested counter-march, back down the drive, before being fallen out back at Pringle. After taking a few photographs, I returned home.

I am one of the fortunate generation – just too young to serve in the Second War, my parents just too young to serve in the First. Any serving relatives all returned, although two were wounded. Only a cousin of my wife was killed in WW2. So it is only occasions such as this which make one realise just how much we owe to those who went before us, and give thanks.

I ask myself, would I have been prepared to do the same?

Hugh Dinwoodie (1943-1948)

 

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