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1/5th Seaforth Highlanders Welcome to France

1/5th Seaforth Highlanders Welcome to France


In this part of the continuing series about bagpipe tunes of the First World War we are going to discuss the tune the “1/5th Seaforth Highlanders Welcome to France.” This is a jaunty, 2/4 tune written by Corporal H. Gammock of the 1/5 Seaforth Highlanders. This tune gives us a great opportunity to discus the role of the Territorial Forces in the First World War.

The first decade of the 20th century saw a host of changes in the British Army. The second half of the 19th century included a number of wars that put a great strain on the existing system. The need for a major restructuring was apparent and the Secretary of State for War, Sir Richard Haldane was the driving force.

Haldane’s Reformes, as they came to be known, had five main features. First was the creation of an Expeditionary force, a regular army force specifically trained as a quick intervention force. There was also the creation of an Office Training Corps, to create a supply of well trained officers. An Imperial General Staff, a body to unify the military doctrine across all the British forces, and a new Training Doctrine, which created a new standard training scheme for all the forces.

The Haldane Reforms also created the Territorial Force. There was a need for a group to provide for home defense. It would also create a group of trained soldiers that could reinforce and provide replacements for the Expeditionary Forces.

The Territorial Force came into existence on April 1, 1908. However, due to the political climate in Britain at the time, the force was undertrained and underfunded. This changed in 1914. The goal was to provide for coastal defense and a mobile strike force for home defense. The members were not full time soldiers but the Territorial Force would become fully mobilized when war was declared.

The men who volunteered for the force were not obligated to serve overseas, but they could agree to do so. The battalions of each Territorial regiment were grouped by whether they would serve overseas or not. Overseas battalions numbers were given the number 1 prefix and home defense battalions had the number 2 prefix. As the war progressed a 3 territorial battalion was created that acted as a reserve for the 1 battalion.

The Seaforth Highlanders were a historic infantry line regiment created in 1881. It was created as part of the Childers Reforms through the amalgamation of two highland regiments, the 72nd Regiment of Foot (Duke of Albany’s Own Highanders) and the 78th Highlanders. From 1881 until the start of the First World War there were only 3 battalions.

Over the course of the war the Seaforth Highlanders created 17 battalions. The 1st and 2nd battalions were regular army. The 1st was posted in India and the 2nd was part of the Expeditionary Force. The 3rd Battalion acted as a reserve. The 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions were part of the Territorial Force. Each of these included a 1, 2 and 3 battalion (1/4th, 2/4th, 3/4th, etc…)

There were also the 7th, 8th and 9th Service battalions, which provided logistical and combat service support to the line battalions. Finally there was the 10th battalion, which acted as a reserve, and a 1st Garrison battalion. This was made up of the men too young or old to fight on the front lines. The would provide garrison troops for safe areas to free up the fighting battalions.

The 1/5th (The Sutherland & Caithness Highland) Battalion was formed on August 4th, 1914. The battalion was actually formed in 1859 as part of an older system. Originally they were part of the Sutherland Highlanders and wore the uniform and tartan of the 93rd Regiment of foot (Sutherland Highlanders.) They were later combined with the Caithness Volunteers to form the 1st Sutherland Highland Rifle Volunteers.

The start of the war, and the creation of the territorial force, saw the battalion renamed and numbered to become the 5th battalion. They were unique among the rest of the Seaforth Highlanders in that they wore a distinct tartan and badge, different from the rest of the regiment.

After their initial training, they spent several months assigned to home guard duty, mainly coastal defense. This became an issue with many of the men and officers who had volunteered for overseas service and wear eager to get into the fight. April 1915 saw the formal division of the battalion into the 1/5 (overseas battalion) and 2/5 (home guard battalion.)

The battalion arrived in France on May 1st, 1915 and remained their until the end of the war.

Over the course of the war, the 5th Battalion had over 30 bagpipers, including Cpl. Gammack. They also acted as orderlies, dispatch runners, stretcher bearers, and other support rolls. The tune “1/5 Seaforth Highlanders Welcome to France” was probably written in early 1915. It can be found in the book The Pipes of War published in 1920.

The tune is a 2/4 march and is quite jaunty. It contains a large number of 16th note runs. Playing it, or listening to it, you can feel the joy of the composer, and most likely the rest of the battalion, in finally being released from coastal defense duty and making it to France and the front lines.

During the reseting of tune (see link below), a few minor changes were made from the original, all in the 4th part. There were a few high As that had low G strikes along with a D 16th note. These were changed to high A grips, with a slight change to the note values. It makes it easier to play while retaining the spirit of the tune.

Of the composer, Cpl. Gammack (or Gamack as listed in Pipes of War), no other information could be found. He was listed as serving in action in the official record of pipers during the war. Gammack apparently survived the war without injury. It seems that the “1/5 Seaforth Highlanders Welcome to France” was the only tune he composed or at least it’s the only existing, published tune.

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1/5 Seaforth Highlanders Welcome to France


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.