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8th Battalion K.O.S.B. Farewell to Winchester
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8th Battalion K.O.S.B. Farewell to Winchester

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Another fine bagpipe tune from the WWI era is the “8th Battalion K.O.S.B. Farewell to Winchester.” This is an example of a tune used to commemorate a milestone in a battalion's history that is not a battle.

At the start of the First World War, the British Army was made up of about 250,000 regular troops. Over half of these troops were stationed overseas in other parts of the empire. The army was supported by the Territorial Force, Army Reserve (made up of retired soldiers,) the the Special Reserve. While on paper the Army, Territorials and Reserves contained over 700,000 men, only 150,000 were available for service.

After the United Kingdom declared war on Germany it formed, and sent to France, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF.) This force contained most of the 100,000 experienced British soldiers available. The law prevented members of the Territorial Forces from being sent overseas unless they volunteered. Only about 10% did so.

In 1914, a plan was formed to create a second army. Rather than having new recruits sent piecemeal to replace depleted existing battalions, new battalions would be formed under existing regiments.

The British Army recruited soldiers on the Regimental Basis. As men joined they were sent to a regimental depot to start their initial training. From there, they would move to other camps to get their advanced training before being sent to the war.

The 8th Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers was part of the first wave of this new, second army. The men were recruited from, and based in, Berwick-upon-Tweed, the northern most town in England, just south of the Scottish border. The battalion first muster was in September of 1914.

The initial training in Berwick lasted almost three months. Great Britain was facing a shortage of materials needed to equip soldiers so for most of those three months, the recruits wore their own clothes. The only uniforms belonged to the Officers and training NCO’s from the Army Reserve. There were only a handful of outdated rifles for the entire battalion.

An interesting note is that as part of a lowland regiment, the battalion was not authorized the formation of a bagpipe band. Instead they were meant to have a drum and fife band.  The officers made the decision to not draw the instruments from ordnance. Instead the officers used their own, private money to purchase a bass drum, eight side drums, and six or eight sets of pipes.  One member of the battalion would describe crowds of men flocking to the drill square to listen to the band when they played retreat.

In February of 1915, the 8th Battalion, along with the 7th, were moved to Winchester, Hampshire in the south of England. During the war, Winchester became one of the main troop depots where finial training would take place before shipment overseas. Over 2 million men passed through the camps in Winchester by the end of the war.

It was in Winchester that the 8th Battalion was finally issued its full uniform and equipment. It was a good time for the men of the battalion. Due to bad weather in the camps, most of the men were stationed in the city. Rather than the wet, cold and muddy camps, they had warm beds in chapels, schools, and Masonic halls.

In April of 1915, the 7th and 8th Battalions marched out of Winchester. The men hoped to be heading for France, but it was off to another training camp instead, this time Parkhouse Camp. It was here that they first started to face the realities of war.

By June they would be in France and their first action in the war was in the Battle of Loos. Due to heavy losses in both the 7th and 8th Battalions after Loos, they were merged together to form the 7/8 Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borders. During Loos, of the 23 pipers in both battalions, four were killed and 10 wounded. Within 18 months, all the pipers will have been killed or wounded.

The town embraced the soldiers. There were many restaurants and bars for the men. After daily training they could spend time relaxing in town. Rifle drill, maneuvering, trench building, and other essential skills were honed during their time here. There was a great love of Winchester in the men of the 8th Battalion. One soldier later said that “the generosity of the people was all that could be desired…”

The tune, “8th Battalion K.O.S.B. Farewell to Winchester” was composed by Pipe Major Robert Halliday. The tune appears in the book “Pipes of War” published in 1920. It is a somewhat jaunty 6/8 march. Playing it, you can feel the joy the men felt for Winchester, and, probably, the excitement to be moving a step closer to the front.

Pipe Major Halliday was only a corporal when the Battalion left Winchester and during Loos. During the battle, the Pipe Major of the 7th Battalion, Douglas Taylor, was wounded and the P.M. of the 8th Battalion,  J. Balloch was wounded and invalided out of service. Halliday was promoted to Pipe Major of the combined 7/8th K.O.S.B. after the battle.

Robert Halliday first joined the army in 1899, and was discharged in 1906. He rejoined the army in 1914. He survived the war and there are records from his service after the war. He also composed the 2/4 tune “The Borthwick Pipe Band,” which still is used here and there as a competition tune.

 

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8th Battalion KOSB Farewell to Winchester

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David Lairson David has been playing the bagpipes for over 20 years. He is an instructor and soloist with the Palm Beach Pipes & Drums and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band. David is active in the Florida competition circuit, and when he is not practicing or playing he works as a computer technician. He currently lives in sunny South Florida.

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