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Highland mess-dress uniform photo - I need help ID-ing him


headgardener
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I'm trying to identify this man, and I'm simply not getting anywhere with it. I'm hoping that someone may be interested in the image and may have some comments to make on the uniform.

It's a glossy photo printed in postcard format, judging by the reverse it looks like it was printed in about 1910. The sporran appears to be Camerons, but I don't recognize the rest of the uniform. He's wearing a diced Glengarry with what looks like a small hackle, mess jacket with badges on the lapels (can't make out what they are), white gloves and some unusual shoes (they look more like a pair of ghillies which makes me think of a highland dancer).

Does anyone have any comments? I'd be interested to know what date you think it is. He looks too well-dressed to simply be a steward, so what does his uniform tell us about his likely function? Was he a dancer or performer of some kind? Or is it just some sort of Burns Night confection....?!

post-55685-0-67456700-1420212581_thumb.j

Sometime within the last 10-20 years someone (presumably the person who stripped the photo from an album) wrote the following details on the reverse:

"Albert Spires. Played football for Fletton (pre P'boro Utd)". Sure enough, Fletton United were a pre-war football team which merged with Peterborough FC in 1923.

So, he looks like a Cameron who lived in or close to Peterborough at some stage and who played football. I can't find a likely candidate among the MIC's. There are a couple of Albert Spires' who served in the Royal Fusiliers, which makes me wonder about a Footballer's battalion connection, but clearly that's not what we're looking at here.

Any help greatly appreciated!

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He seems to be wearing a Cameron Highlanders sergeants / dancers pattern mess uniform correct for the pre-WW1 Regulations, but with the glengarry and facings of a Territorial Force (formerly 'Volunteer') battalion. Regular battalions wore a plain blue glengarry, as did pipers of all regiments.

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I would attribute this uniform to an ensemble of photographer's props. The Cameron sporran is real enough. The rest of the uniform, however, does not match. No unit of the Cameron Highlanders would have worn a diced glengarry. Further, the mess dress jacket with its shawl collar is nowhere close to the Cameron pattern which had notched lapels with buff and red showing along with blue pointed cuffs.

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He seems to be wearing a Cameron Highlanders sergeants / dancers pattern mess uniform correct for the pre-WW1 Regulations, but with the glengarry and facings of a Territorial Force (formerly 'Volunteer') battalion. Regular battalions wore a plain blue glengarry, as did pipers of all regiments.

I would attribute this uniform to an ensemble of photographer's props. The Cameron sporran is real enough. The rest of the uniform, however, does not match. No unit of the Cameron Highlanders would have worn a diced glengarry. Further, the mess dress jacket with its shawl collar is nowhere close to the Cameron pattern which had notched lapels with buff and red showing along with blue pointed cuffs.

Thank you both for your comments so far - I really appreciate your input. This is one of my 'Highland uniform conundrums' as referred to on a previous thread! I had been wondering whether it had been knocked together for a Burns Night.

So the sporran says 'Camerons' but you're saying that the other bits don't match...? What do you reckon the badges are on the lapels? And what do you make of the footwear and hose - military or non-military?

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You might be right about the ensemble possibility, but the jacket you described is an officers pattern. When SNCOs started to wear mess uniform from around the time of the 2nd Boer War, it took the form shown. In highland regiments such uniforms were sometimes also provided for dancers and pipers when entertaining at officers' mess balls and guest nights. That said, the facings do no not seem correct for regular Camerons, whose facing colour was blue. I am not as confident as you that one or other of the Cameron TF (Donside, Deeside, etc) battalions might not have worn a diced glengarry and had older pattern (roll collar introduced in the late 1890s) jackets. He is extremely well dressed and has a serious demeanour for a man in a fantasy uniform, although I do not rule it out entirely.

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You might be right about the ensemble possibility, but the jacket you described is an officers pattern. When SNCOs started to wear mess uniform from around the time of the 2nd Boer War, it took the form shown. In highland regiments such uniforms were sometimes also provided for dancers and pipers when entertaining at officers' mess balls and guest nights. That said, the facings do no not seem correct for regular Camerons, whose facing colour was blue. I am not as confident as you that one or other of the Cameron TF (Donside, Deeside, etc) battalions might not have worn a diced glengarry and had older pattern (roll collar introduced in the late 1890s) jackets. He is extremely well dressed and has a serious demeanour for a man in a fantasy uniform, although I do not rule it out entirely.

Frogsmile, are you perhaps confusing the Cameron Highlanders with the Gordon Highlanders who did indeed have VB/TF units associated with Donside (6VB) and Deeside (5VB)? The Camerons had only one VB and TF Bn.

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What's that sticking up from his left shoulder? Is he wearing a plaid brooch perhaps?

If not the scenery in the background, there also appears to be something sticking out the rosette behind the cap badge on his glengarry.

The shoes do appear to be dance pumps of some sort or other but the flashes?

Were white ties worn (even with high winged collar) with mess kit? Haven't seen that before.

Pity you can't get a close up of the lapel badges and especially of whatever is on his left lapel.

The background scenery and the diced glengarry certainly give the impression of it being a photography studio 'make up oufit'.

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A SPIRES family in 1911


24 St Pauls Road Peterboro, Peterborough Within, Northamptonshire, England


Father: George William. Age 54. Caretaker for the GN Railway Institute

Wife: Fanny (7 children born alive, 4 still living. 3 still at home, 2 sons and 1 daughter)

Also parents of father.


Son: Albert Edward. Age 9. Born Eye, Northamptonshire.
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Frogsmile, are you perhaps confusing the Cameron Highlanders with the Gordon Highlanders who did indeed have VB/TF units associated with Donside (6VB) and Deeside (5VB)? The Camerons had only one VB and TF Bn.

Yes I think I am. What does Grierson show for the former undress headwear of the VB / TF battalion?

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Yes I think I am. What does Grierson show for the former undress headwear of the VB / TF battalion?

The 1st (Inverness Highland) Volunteer Bn Cameron Highlanders actually did have buff facings (plus 42nd tartan, grey horsehair sporrans) from 1880 through 1893 at which time it adopted the full uniform of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. The glengarry throughout the history of the 1VB and 4th Bn TF from 1863 onward was plain blue; from 1860 to 1863 a grey/black shako was worn by ORs.

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The 1st (Inverness Highland) Volunteer Bn Cameron Highlanders actually did have buff facings (plus 42nd tartan, grey horsehair sporrans) from 1880 through 1893 at which time it adopted the full uniform of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. The glengarry throughout the history of the 1VB and 4th Bn TF from 1863 onward was plain blue; from 1860 to 1863 a grey/black shako was worn by ORs.

Thank you, that is interesting. I guess we will never know for sure what the OP photo shows but I am left uneasy by the fantasy theory. He is simply too well dressed with clear formal military influences.

It should not be forgotten that the mergers created by Cardwell and Childers were deeply unpopular with many regiments and lots of the antecedent units took decades to settle down with their new identity. Indeed many fiercely preserved some arcane aspect of their former dress to maintain a link with their past. Numerous militia units were far older than the regular regiment with which they were linked and some had a Royal title, whereas their regular marital partner did not, a source of some resentment. Similarly the volunteer battalions resented losing their erstwhile independence in matters of dress. In this climate it was not uncommon for the non-regular units to wear hybrid forms of dress until well into the 1920s and in some cases beyond.

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Thank you, that is interesting. I guess we will never know for sure what the OP photo shows but I am left uneasy by the fantasy theory. He is simply too well dressed with clear formal military influences.

It should not be forgotten that the mergers created by Cardwell and Childers were deeply unpopular with many regiments and lots of the antecedent units took decades to settle down with their new identity. Indeed many fiercely preserved some arcane aspect of their former dress to maintain a link with their past. Numerous militia units were far older than the regular regiment with which they were linked and some had a Royal title when their regular sibling did not. Similarly the volunteer battalions resented losing their erstwhile independence in matters of dress. In this climate it was not uncommon for the non-regular units to wear hybrid forms of dress until well into the 1920s and in some cases beyond.

Indeed, we will never know for sure. What is your thinking on the point about the unusual white bow tie? Have you ever seen or heard of that in military mess dress?

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Indeed, we will never know for sure. What is your thinking on the point about the unusual white bow tie? Have you ever seen or heard of that in military mess dress?

That is an excellent point and would have been of great concern if he had been an officer. Other Ranks wearing of that form of dress was in its infancy and had largely begun with units based in India (and some other hot stations) where tailoring was extremely cheap.

The only regiment whose officers wore a white tie when in mess uniform was the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (43rd & 52nd).

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The Spires family have run bakeries in and around Peterborough at various locations from around 1880. They are still going as a family business. The Spires from Walpole Street (John Harvey, John Harry, Ernest and Norman (an ASC baker during the war) ran various parts of the Bakery businesses. The bakery at 7 Walpole Street (now The Triangle) at Millfield is still there complete with original frontage lettering and Hovis sign!

I believe that Albert Edward Spires born in 1902 was a cousin of the bakery Spires. The father is listed as a railway engine coalman and being at 24 St Paul's Road at New England which served as housing for the men working for the Great Northern Railway that had its yards at New England. The Absent Voters List does not show anyone in the army, etc. from 24 St Paul's Road, though they could have moved between 1911 and 1918. Albert Spires born 1902 would be under-age for voting at that time in any case.

Fletton United was indeed a predecessor of Peterborough and Fletton United that was reformed as Peterborough United in 1934. Although I am a Posh fan, Albert Spires will have been a bit before my time!

Spires Bakery have held true to the traditional for quite some time so I wouldn't be surprised if they have some interest in the history of their business/family.

Steve.

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What is your thinking on the point about the unusual white bow tie? Have you ever seen or heard of that in military mess dress?

That is an excellent point and would have been of great concern if he had been an officer. Other Ranks wearing of that form of dress was in its infancy and had largely begun with units based in India (and some other hot stations) where tailoring was extremely cheap.

The only regiment whose officers wore a white tie when in mess uniform was the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (43rd & 52nd).

Thank you both for your comments. I am completely out of my depth on this, so I really appreciate your opinions. As you both say, it's difficult to interpret what exactly we are seeing here. I agree with what Frogsmile says regarding this chap's general appearance. I've found lots of photos which have clearly used photographers props but even the best ones tend to leave something out of place or something that betrays an unfamiliarity with the clothes that are being worn - this one, on the other hand, has an air of authenticity about it which is what puzzles me. The gloves, in particular, would seem to be a very unusual touch for someone who is simply dressing up. My instinct, based on the printing on the reverse of the card, is that it's a pre-war photo (although that can hardly be considered to be conclusive, of course).

Leaving aside the issue of authenticity for a moment, can I ask for your opinions as to the approximate date(s) of the style of uniform (assuming it to be genuine) as shown in the photo? And do you think the shoes could ever conceivably have been worn by a serviceman? They look a bit like dancers ghillies to me.

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A SPIRES family in 1911
24 St Pauls Road Peterboro, Peterborough Within, Northamptonshire, England
Father: George William. Age 54. Caretaker for the GN Railway Institute
Wife: Fanny (7 children born alive, 4 still living. 3 still at home, 2 sons and 1 daughter)
Also parents of father.
Son: Albert Edward. Age 9. Born Eye, Northamptonshire.

The Spires family have run bakeries in and around Peterborough at various locations from around 1880. They are still going as a family business. The Spires from Walpole Street (John Harvey, John Harry, Ernest and Norman (an ASC baker during the war) ran various parts of the Bakery businesses. The bakery at 7 Walpole Street (now The Triangle) at Millfield is still there complete with original frontage lettering and Hovis sign!

I believe that Albert Edward Spires born in 1902 was a cousin of the bakery Spires. The father is listed as a railway engine coalman and being at 24 St Paul's Road at New England which served as housing for the men working for the Great Northern Railway that had its yards at New England. The Absent Voters List does not show anyone in the army, etc. from 24 St Paul's Road, though they could have moved between 1911 and 1918. Albert Spires born 1902 would be under-age for voting at that time in any case.

Fletton United was indeed a predecessor of Peterborough and Fletton United that was reformed as Peterborough United in 1934. Although I am a Posh fan, Albert Spires will have been a bit before my time!

Spires Bakery have held true to the traditional for quite some time so I wouldn't be surprised if they have some interest in the history of their business/family.

Thank you both for these details! It's an unusual name so maybe there is a link to the bakery people. I wonder about the date of the photo, though - if it is pre-war then it couldn't be the fellow who was born in '02. If it IS the same man, then he would probably be in his early/mid 20's in this photo, placing the photo in about the mid-1920's.

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Thank you both for your comments. I am completely out of my depth on this, so I really appreciate your opinions. As you both say, it's difficult to interpret what exactly we are seeing here. I agree with what Frogsmile says regarding this chap's general appearance. I've found lots of photos which have clearly used photographers props but even the best ones tend to leave something out of place or something that betrays an unfamiliarity with the clothes that are being worn - this one, on the other hand, has an air of authenticity about it which is what puzzles me. The gloves, in particular, would seem to be a very unusual touch for someone who is simply dressing up. My instinct, based on the printing on the reverse of the card, is that it's a pre-war photo (although that can hardly be considered to be conclusive, of course).

Leaving aside the issue of authenticity for a moment, can I ask for your opinions as to the approximate date(s) of the style of uniform (assuming it to be genuine) as shown in the photo? And do you think the shoes could ever conceivably have been worn by a serviceman? They look a bit like dancers ghillies to me.

The uniform shown is commensurate with the period both before and just after WW1. The shoes are evening pumps of a type traditionally worn with 'white tie', which was the highest form of civil society dinner dress and worn at most formal dining until it was replaced for all but the highest levels of entertainment and hosting by 'black tie', which was an American import. A part of this 'white tie' formal dress was white gloves, a stiff-fronted, wing collared shirt and an often double breasted waist coat.

The jacket too is of interest. It is roll collared and of the more relaxed style that was adopted by officers (largely influenced by the Foot Guards - who had worn it for some time - and the hot climates of India and other colonial outposts) in the 1890s, and its open front exposing a white shirt and tie, created a cooler, more comfortable dress in which to eat (allowing for inevitable expansion of the waist), when compared with the earlier, more restricting, standing collared jacket. By the time of the officers Dress Regulations issued in 1900, only one of the regular infantry regiments had not adopted this form of mess jacket.

By comparison, other ranks had started to wear a form of mess dress in India and other Colonial stations in the 1890s. Like the officers, they too initially wore a high collared style based on the unbuttoned shell jacket (in the cavalry known as a stable jacket) that had been worn as evening wear for generations when overseas. There was both a coloured woollen version of this garment worn in the cold season, and a similarly shaped, white cotton drill version, worn in the hot season. The pinnacle of this form of dress seems to have been between the 2nd Anglo/Boer War and WW1, after which a financial retrenchment led to its gradual demise, other than in India (where tailoring was still cheap), until the end of National Service in the early 1960s. For a period just after the Boer War the officers were in roll collar mess dress and the sergeants still wearing the standing collar mess dress.

In Highland regiments there was a tradition of providing highland dancers for regimental functions, often using men from the band, or drums and pipes. Some units funded special, mess style jackets for the dancers to wear, while others used the more restrictive (for hand and arm flourishing) doublet. These dancers mostly wore long hose and semi-open fronted dancing brogues, tied up the instep with laces.

In sum then, what I think we see in the OP photo is a man in a Scottish form of 'white tie' formal dinner dress, of a type worn for high society dinners, including those often held annually for trade and professional bodies. Perhaps, in this case, it was for a society of bakers or City tradesmen. Why there should be a connection with the Cameron Highlanders remains unclear and the head dress, in particular, is inconsistent with that regiment's (regular battalions) known traditions. I would take a stab at the date as around 1912, but that is purely conjecture based on visible evidence whose appearance alone spans at least two decades (1900-1920).

It seems to me that another strong possibility, if at the later end of the suggested time span, is that the man is pictured at a welcome home or honouring dinner of the kind often held by municipal and trade authorities for men who had survived the war. Many of these were held in the period 1919-22. For trade bodies the dress was invariably 'white tie'.

post-599-0-42186000-1420488860_thumb.jpg

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In sum then, what I think we see in the OP photo is a man in a Scottish form of 'white tie' formal dinner dress, of a type worn for high society dinners, including those often held annually for trade and professional bodies. Perhaps, in this case, it was for a society of bakers or City tradesmen. Why there should be a connection with the Cameron Highlanders remains unclear and the head dress, in particular, is inconsistent with that regiment's (regular battalions) known traditions. I would take a stab at the date as around 1912, but that is purely conjecture based on visible evidence whose appearance alone spans at least two decades (1900-1920).

Thank you very much for this - I very much appreciate your very careful and considered opinion! Highland dress is a very tricky topic for me, despite the fact that my dad was a pipe-major! Tradition (regimental, battalion, regional) seems to be a very important factor which may explain many of the exceptions or variations to almost every 'rule' that I've come across. So I'm very interested in opinions on photos such as this. I can see now that there is a clash between the sporran and the glengarry as shown in this photo, which would appear to call the whole combination into question.

The uniform fits him well, and every part of a potentially complex outfit appears to be in the right place, so I doubt that he's simply 'dressing up' - images of people wearing photographer's props generally reveal something which demonstrates that the subject is unfamiliar with the outfit that he or she is wearing. That doesn't appear to be the case here.

It's hard to see why someone from Peterborough, and who has no obvious Scottish connections, would be photographed wearing Highland mess/'white-tie' dress. The badges on the lapels (which no-one's identified so far) seem to imply military rather than civilian dress.

My feeling is that the photo is just pre-war, which broadly fits with your own assessment, and probably wouldn't match the Albert Spires born in 1902. Either the naming on the photograph has been copied incorrectly (it appears to have been written by the dealer who sold the image to me, so that's entirely possible), or it's a completely different Albert Spires, or the actual date doesn't really match the visual evidence. The fact that there are some Spires families in Peterborough appears to match, though. Looks like I'll need to do some more research on this one (were there other people of this name, did someone of this name actually play for Fletton and, if so, when? Etc....).

Thanks again for your advice. I'll post some more Highland uniform conundrums in due course.....!

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Now if I was back at my old office 2 minutes walk away from the town library you might have an answer. Unfortunately our nice new offices aren't anywhere in range any more...

I will try and get to the library and have a look when I can (possibly at the weekend). I do have a copy of the Peterborough United history which I will dig out, but I am pretty sure the players list doesn't go back beyond the 1934 founding of the club as Peterborough United.

Steve.

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I will try and get to the library and have a look when I can (possibly at the weekend). I do have a copy of the Peterborough United history which I will dig out, but I am pretty sure the players list doesn't go back beyond the 1934 founding of the club as Peterborough United

That's very kind of you Steve - thank you! Regarding Fletton, I've had a good hunt on the net because football club histories are well-covered on account of the number of fan-sites, but I found that the trail goes cold so far as pre-Peterborough United is concerned.

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Thank you very much for this - I very much appreciate your very careful and considered opinion! Highland dress is a very tricky topic for me, despite the fact that my dad was a pipe-major! Tradition (regimental, battalion, regional) seems to be a very important factor which may explain many of the exceptions or variations to almost every 'rule' that I've come across. So I'm very interested in opinions on photos such as this. I can see now that there is a clash between the sporran and the glengarry as shown in this photo, which would appear to call the whole combination into question.

The uniform fits him well, and every part of a potentially complex outfit appears to be in the right place, so I doubt that he's simply 'dressing up' - images of people wearing photographer's props generally reveal something which demonstrates that the subject is unfamiliar with the outfit that he or she is wearing. That doesn't appear to be the case here.

It's hard to see why someone from Peterborough, and who has no obvious Scottish connections, would be photographed wearing Highland mess/'white-tie' dress. The badges on the lapels (which no-one's identified so far) seem to imply military rather than civilian dress.

My feeling is that the photo is just pre-war, which broadly fits with your own assessment, and probably wouldn't match the Albert Spires born in 1902. Either the naming on the photograph has been copied incorrectly (it appears to have been written by the dealer who sold the image to me, so that's entirely possible), or it's a completely different Albert Spires, or the actual date doesn't really match the visual evidence. The fact that there are some Spires families in Peterborough appears to match, though. Looks like I'll need to do some more research on this one (were there other people of this name, did someone of this name actually play for Fletton and, if so, when? Etc....).

Thanks again for your advice. I'll post some more Highland uniform conundrums in due course.....!

Just two things to add really. Firstly I totally agree with you that the man concerned does not appear to be in a fantasy dress or dressing up for a lark, and I stated that in an earlier post. It seems to be for an entirely serious reason. Secondly I am not suggesting that the 'white tie' effort that he has made is in any way associated with 'correct' regimental dress, the glengarry (and its badge by-the-way) does not fit with the sporran and regiments did not wear 'white tie' anyway, as it was a civilian dress. What I am / was suggesting is that this man has made a white tie effort based on formal clothing that he has been able to marshal together, some of which, jacket and sporran etc, might have some family connection (perhaps his own) with wartime service with the Camerons. He has collar badges that I cannot quite make out. The Camerons collar badge was a crowned thistle central to two thistle leaves, but the regular battalion(s) had had blue as the facing colour since being granted the honorary title of 'Queen's Own'. One can imagine a young man, perhaps from a tradesman's family unused to high society dining and the associated dress requirement, making a best effort to meet the 'white tie' that was demanded on the formal invite. This would explain the rather hotch-potch, but smart outfit, and its arcane peculiarities.

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Secondly I am not suggesting that the 'white tie' effort that he has made is in any way associated with 'correct' regimental dress, the glengarry (and its badge by-the-way) does not fit with the sporran and regiments did not wear 'white tie' anyway, as it was a civilian dress. What I am / was suggesting is that this man has made a white tie effort based on formal clothing that he has been able to marshal together, some of which, jacket and sporran etc, might have some family connection (perhaps his own) with wartime service with the Camerons.

Ahhhh...... Thanks for clarifying the point about 'white tie' being a purely civilian affectation. All very helpful to me. Finding out who he was might help in working out exactly what is going on here. Thanks again for your advice!

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"Thank you very much for this - I very much appreciate your very careful and considered opinion! Highland dress is a very tricky topic for me, despite the fact that my dad was a pipe-major!"

Headgardener....that interested me......who is your father/regiment?

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"Thank you very much for this - I very much appreciate your very careful and considered opinion! Highland dress is a very tricky topic for me, despite the fact that my dad was a pipe-major!"[/size]

Headgardener....that interested me......who is your father/regiment?[/size]

He was in the army (ww2 up to about 1960), but he was only ever a piper with civilian bands. He's long gone, I'm afraid. After the army he was a civil servant with the MOD. He was with the Southend Scottish for a while, then was PM with a couple of bands in Germany. There might have been a couple of others along the way, I certainly remember him performing at various Highland gatherings, including Richmond, but I was a bit too young to take it all in. This would have been between the mid 1960's up to about the early 1980's. I have his regalia and pipes.

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