The World Championship dispute of 1947
By Jeannie Campbell
Bowhill Colliery Pipe Band, 1947
Last weekend’s World Pipe Band Championships saw 219 bands from all over the world descend on Glasgow Green to battle it out over the eight band categories. The competition was the 70th anniversary of the year when two World Championship competitions were held. There could still be people who remember that year, perhaps playing as a young piper or drummer or attending as a child. The background was that no competitions had been held during the years of the Second World War but the World Championship resumed in 1946. The Glasgow Police under Pipe Major John MacDonald had won the World Championship in 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939 and continued its winning run with another World Championship win in 1946, making a record five in a row.
All would have been set for the Championships to continue as before but the founding of the Edinburgh Festival in 1947 intervened and someone suggested that the World Pipe Band Championship could be held in Edinburgh during the Festival. This would have been an excellent idea, but depriving Cowal of a championship which had been running since 1906 was not a good plan and one can understand how the Cowal Committee must have felt. In view of the success of the Edinburgh Tattoo (founded in 1950) which plays to sell out crowds and attracts a television audience of millions worldwide, one wonders if the Worlds could have developed into an event like this. One wonders, too, if it is mere coincidence that the Tattoo often seems to have been shown on television on the last Saturday in August, Cowal Games day.
The legendary Pipe Major John MacDonald of the Glasgow Police Pipe Band. This photograph was taken at Cowal in 1946.
The story of the dispute can be read in the pages of the Oban Times and does not require any further explanation. The bodies involved at first were the Edinburgh Town Council, the Cowal Gathering Committee and the Pipe Band Association. Later the Glasgow Council became involved as mediators. The first report appeared in the Oban Times on 8th February, 1947: "Last week the General Purposes Committee of Edinburgh Town Council agreed to make efforts to have the World Pipe Band Championship held at Edinburgh during the International Festival instead of at the Cowal Gathering at Dunoon. Treasurer James Miller commented, 'We will never get it away from Cowal.'" Next morning the Glasgow Herald reported the comments of Mr Hugh Matheson Secretary of the Cowal Games Committee. “The World Pipe Band Contest will be held in Dunoon this year,” he said. “The contest was inaugurated in 1906 and it will never be moved from Dunoon. Competitors and Associations from abroad would never recognise any other centre but Dunoon as the scene of the contest, although there is nothing to prevent other contests being advertised as World Championships.”
More followed on 3rd May under the heading, ‘World Pipe Band Championship. Edinburgh v Cowal.’ "Edinburgh is going to hold the World Pipe Band Championship and so is Cowal. This unfortunate position has been created by a decision of the Scottish Pipe Band Association to change the venue of the Championship from Cowal to Edinburgh, while the Cowal Highland Gathering Committee which holds the trophies is not going to hand these over and is going ahead with its arrangements to hold the Championship where it has been held for 40 years. A sub-committee of the General Purposes Committee of Edinburgh Town Council reported to their committee that they had met representatives of the Scottish Pipe Band Association who stated that they had by a large majority agreed to change the venue of the Championship from Cowal. It was pointed out that the Association which represented over 130 Scottish Pipe Bands had decided that if Cowal held a contest it would not be officially recognised. The Cowal Committee
"The Cowal Committee having stated that they did not intend to hand over their trophies for the Association’s competition it was suggested that suitable cups might be provided by various cities holding the contests. The Committee approved of a recommendation that the Corporation guarantee the Association against loss up to £500 on the understanding that the Association were responsible for the administration and management of the contest and met the whole expenses including prize money and fares of bands. In the event of gate drawings exceeding the expenses the Corporation would receive 20% of the net profits.The Edinburgh Championships will be held during the International Festival of Music and Drama in August and September. The Cowal Committee have written to each of the bands pointing out that the Championships have been held at Cowal since 1906 and that they were not consulted about the proposed change of venue. They have no desire to oppose the Scottish Pipe Band Association in any matter but they have no intention of foregoing a championship recognised not only in Britain but in the Empire and America."
"The Edinburgh Championships will be held during the International Festival of Music and Drama in August and September. The Cowal Committee have written to each of the bands pointing out that the Championships have been held at Cowal since 1906 and that they were not consulted about the proposed change of venue. They have no desire to oppose the Scottish Pipe Band Association in any matter but they have no intention of foregoing a championship recognised not only in Britain but in the Empire and America."
The Glasgow Police Pipe Band in 1949. The band won the Worlds that year.
The next report came on 10th May. "The clash between Edinburgh and Cowal as the rival venues for the World Pipe Band Championships was before the town council last week when it was unanimously agreed to proceed with the event in accordance with the decision of the Scottish Pipe Band Association." The General Purposes Committee of the Town Council had before them at a meeting earlier in the day a letter from the Cowal Highland Gathering Committee which stated that permission had been received from the Pipe Band Association to proceed with the Cowal contest provided it was not regarded as the Worlds Championship. The letter went on to say that the Cowal Committee were proceeding with their contests (including the Worlds Championship) as formerly. A great disservice, it stated, was being done to piping and pipe band contests by Edinburgh and that to promote two pipe band championships in Scotland in one year was grotesque. Councillor William Campbell who seconded the motion to proceed with the contest said Council officials were under the erroneous impression that Edinburgh had been responsible for the promotion. 'The Pipe Band Association approached us,' he said '“and we are only giving them the facilities.' A statement by the way which hardly squares with the decision to guarantee the Association against loss up to £500 on certain conditions and to take a share of any surplus."
The paper on 7th June continued the story: ‘Piping Championship. The Scottish Pipe Band Association are to meet in Edinburgh on June 15th to discuss the question of changing the venue of the World Championship Contest from Dunoon to Edinburgh “in view of the intense dissatisfaction which has been created following the decision at the Annual General Meeting.” It is proposed that an endeavour should be made to reach a settlement which would be acceptable to the parties concerned, the Scottish Pipe Band Association, the Cowal Committee and the Edinburgh Town Council.’
On 14th June the story continued, ‘A number of Scottish pipe bands, mostly in the west of Scotland, have protested. They include Glasgow Shepherds, Glasgow Corporation Cleansing, W.F.S., Renfrew, Clan Fraser, Johnstone, City of Glasgow Police, Mechan’s Ltd., Glasgow Corporation Transport and Caber Feidh and it is their representatives who have requested that a Special General Meeting of all bands in the Association be held for the following purposes: To consider the decision to transfer the venue for the World Championship from Cowal to Edinburgh. To reach an amicable settlement between the three parties concerned, the Scottish Pipe Band Association, the Cowal Committee and the Edinburgh Town Council.' The Association issued a circular saying it claimed the right and power to determine what kind of contest and where and when it should be held. Cowal stated they were going ahead with the contest and the Association said they were not issuing a permit to Cowal.
The Rt. Hon. The Lord Provost of Glasgow, Sir Hector MacNeill. He tried to mediate between the SPBA and Cowal.
The next report was on 21st June. "Special General Meeting Report. This was a turbulent meeting lasting two and three quarter hours. 114 bands were present out of a total of 147. 82 voted for Edinburgh and 14 for Cowal. It was said that this decision was asking Cowal to commit suicide. The profits from the contest would now go to the Association and not to Cowal. Bands going to Cowal would be liable to suspension."
Then on 13th September the Oban Times reported that, "The Cowal Contest was held on 30th August. Ten bands had defied the ban. The result of the Championship was 1. Glasgow Police, 2. 91 PTC, 3. Dunoon Ballochyle, 4. Tullibody, 5. Campbeltown." As the Glasgow Police band had won the World Championship five times in succession, and had now won again at Cowal in 1947 this would make a run of six in a row if 1947 was counted as a World Championship.
The Edinburgh contest was held on 6th September and 85 bands played. The competition for the World Championship was not confined to Grade One bands but open to all except that the bands which had played at Cowal were not included. Twenty six bands entered. The winners were Bowhill Colliery under Pipe Major Christopher Sutherland. In second place were Clan MacRae Society, 3rd Bonhill Parish, 4th Clan Fraser and 5th City of Dundee. The other bands in the open event were Pumpherston, Renfrew, Michael Colliery, Shotts and Dykehead, Edinburgh Corporation Transport, Lowland Brigade Training Centre, Edinburgh Special Constabulary, Edinburgh Police, Highland Brigade Training Centre, Newtongrange Lothian, Clan MacKenzie, Dalzell Highland, Rutherglen, National Fire Service, Muirhead and Sons Ltd., MacLeod (Dundee), MacKenzie (Dundee), Lochore and Crosshill, Airdrie Highland, Glasgow Shepherds, Glasgow Corporation Transport.
The dispute continued bitterly into the following year. The Oban Times in early 1948 reported, "This year again it appears that the World Pipe Band Championship is to be decided at Murrayfield, Edinburgh. At least Mr R. C. Whitelaw, president of the Scottish Pipe Band Association told me when I met him on Saturday evening that the Executive Committee were putting that recommendation forward at the annual general meeting on February 28 and he expects it will be adopted."
The next report stated, "Any hopes of the dispute between the Scottish Pipe Band Association and the Cowal Games Committee being brought to an early end were destroyed at the annual general meeting of the Association in Glasgow on Saturday when it was agreed to again hold the World Championship contest at Murrayfield, Edinburgh on August 28. Referring to the dispute with the Cowal Games Committee Mr R. C. Whitelaw, who relinquished the presidency to undertake the office of secretary, criticised the committee for their treatment of pipe bands. At the forthcoming meeting to be held between the Association and the Committee Mr Whitelaw said the latter body had made it a condition that bands and bandsmen who were suspended for taking part in the Dunoon Games should be re-instated. That was a matter, however, for the Association to decide, not for any outside promoting body. In reply to a question Mr Whitelaw said that the executive had suspended not only the bands but the individual members of the bands who took part in the Dunoon games. It was not for the Association to approach those bands or their members. The approach would have to come from them and each application would be considered on its merit." Another statement followed:
Another statement followed:
"The Scottish Pipe Band Association is not prepared to make any concessions to the Cowal Committee in the dispute which has been going on between the two bodies since last year. This was stated at a meeting of the Cowal Games Committee held in Dunoon last night when it was decided to go ahead with the pipe band contests in the 1948 Cowal Games the same as 1947. After intimating this decision, Mr Hugh Matheson joint secretary of the committee made the following statement:-
The Cowal Games Committee to-night considered the report of the deputation which met the Scottish Pipe Band Association on Friday of last week. On 24th October 1947 the Cowal Games Committee put the following proposals to the Pipe Band Association:
1. That membership of the SPBA should not be refused to any band for the sole reason it had competed at Cowal in 1947 and the suspension of these bands which did compete should be uplifted by the SPBA at a date to be agreed, say December 31 1947. Answer by the Association - Rejected.
2. That the Cowal Committee would run their general contests under the rules of the SPBA except that insofar as such rules might be varied by local rules applying to Cowal only and previously approved by the SPBA. Answer by the Association - Rejected.
3. That while all other contests are confined to member of the SPBA, Cowal be permitted to run an open championship, which should be open to all interested whether members of the SPBA or not and no matter from where they come. Answer by the Association - Rejected.
4. That Cowal should be allowed to run a Territorial and Army contest, although these bands may not become members of the SPBA. Answer by the Association - Rejected.
5. That all juvenile bands be permitted to compete in juvenile contests at Cowal as at present, whether they are members of the SPBA or not. Answer by the Association - Rejected.
6. That Cowal shall, as formerly, do all they can to encourage all bands to join the SPBA. Answer by the Association - Accepted.
Mr Matheson continued by saying, “The Cowal Committee consider they have gone a long way towards compromise with the SPBA but the Association is not prepared to make any concessions to the Cowal Committee, which has organised pipe band contests since 1906, and which has done more than any other committee in Scotland to further progress of pipe band music. It should be noted that while the proposals were made to the Association on October 24 last, the Committee did not receive the Association’s answer until last week. In view of the fact that the Cowal Highland Games is being held on August 28 this year and the Pipe Band Association are holding their contest on the same date, the Association was asked in the event of Cowal applying for a permit would they be given one for August 28, and the answer was they would not, as that date had already been allocated.”
Cowal Gathering, 1947. Massed Bands.
But the plans for an Edinburgh contest were not going smoothly, as the Oban Times informed their readers, ‘Because the Scottish Rugby Union “are anxious to preserve the turf at Murrayfield international ground,” the world pipe band championship will not be held in the Capital this year, but will be staged at Helenvale Park, Glasgow, on August 28. Despite the intervention of Lord Provost Andrew Murray, Edinburgh’s “Festival-minded” civic leader, the Scottish Rugby Union has not budged from their decision. Mr R. C. Whitelaw, secretary of the Scottish Pipe Band Association, said in an interview in Edinburgh today that it was quite understandable that the SRU had refused for these reasons. “But,” he added thoughtfully, “the ground has been let for the Edinburgh Highland Games the following Saturday, and will before that have been used by the British Legion some time in July. “I think Edinburgh has slept badly here,” Mr Whitelaw said. He cited last year’s 34,000 attendance figures and £1000 profit. Mr H M Simson, SRU secretary, said that the ground had been given out a lot of late and explained that the grass would have to be given a chance to grow. Murrayfield was granted free last year to the SPBA who are powerless now to stop this “flit” to the western stronghold of the “rebel” pipe band movement.’
Eventually, the Oban Times reported that, "Pipers’ War Ends on the Right Note. An amicable settlement has ended the pipers’ war. This year there will be only one world pipe band championship – in Glasgow on September 4, under the auspices of the Scottish Pipe Band Association. Dunoon Highland Gathering Association, the other party in the year-long feud over the right to stage the world event, have waived their claim. Their pipe band contest on August 28 will be for the Cowal championship instead of the World title. This announcement followed a special meeting yesterday of the SPBA executive Committee, called to consider the agreement worked out at the 'peace-talk' in Glasgow on Thursday with Lord Provost Sir Hector McNeill in the role of mediator. At the conference the Cowal side had offered to stand down, provided the date of the world championship did not clash with the Gathering. Last year the rivals staged world championships simultaneously in Edinburgh and Dunoon, And Glasgow Police Band defied the Association ban on their members competing at Cowal. Accepting the terms the Association executive agreed yesterday that “the whole incident be considered officially closed.” Giving out the news Mr R. C. Whitelaw, the secretary said: “The long-drawn-out horrible battle has ended.” He added that it was the Association’s desire to get back into membership the bands at present outwith their organisation. The SPBA would give the Cowal Championship every support – and hoped that the Cowal people would do the same for them."
The World Championship 1948 was held at Scotstoun Showground in Glasgow on 4th September and was won by Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia under Pipe Major Tom McAllister senior. Glasgow Police was second, followed by Airdrie Highland, Bonhill Parish and Rutherglen taking the other prizes. There were 25 bands in the World Championship event and another 45 in other grades.
The World Championship did return to Edinburgh again in 1949 when the Glasgow Police were the winners but in the following years moved to a different location each year, with Edinburgh hosting the championship three more time before it settled in Glasgow in 1983.
So what were the final outcomes? The Glasgow Police were deprived of a possible run of six in a row; Bowhill Colliery achieved immortality as the first SPBA World Champions; as late as the 1960s and 70s there were still band members saying Cowal was the real Worlds and preferring to go there rather than the official worlds; World title winners 1906 to 1947 are not recognised as such by the Pipe Band Association; the relationship between the RSPBA and Cowal has continued to be an uneasy one; and finally, Edinburgh never got a pipe band competition during the Festival.
* If anyone has memories of either competition or knows any stories passed to them by others who were there we would like to hear from you. Email College@collegeofpiping.org
This article first appeared in the May 2017 Piping Times and is reproduced here with permission.