Bagpipes unite past and present

Inset: Piper Donald Kennedy, 43rd Cameron Highlanders

Inset: Piper Donald Kennedy, 43rd Cameron Highlanders

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

As Angus Stanfield, 73, looks back on 2018, he says playing his family’s set of century-old bagpipes at this year’s Bells of Peace Ceremony will stand as one of his life’s greatest memories.

The moment came at sunset, shortly after 4:39 p.m. on Nov. 11, when the Bells of Peace tolled 100 times. That’s when the Victoria man put his lips to the mouthpiece, expanded the bag to capacity, and squeezed out a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace for onlookers gathered at Fort Rodd Hill. 

These are no ordinary bagpipes that Stanfield plays. Made of African blackwood, real ivory, and mounted silver, these authentic Scottish bagpipes have been in his family for over 103 years. They are the same set of pipes played on the battlefield by his Grandfather, Private Donald Kennedy for Canada’s 43rd Battalion Cameron (Winnipeg) Highlanders. Pte Kennedy served Canada at the Battle of the Somme, Passchendaele, and Vimy Ridge.

“So many emotions were going through my mind,” said Stanfield of playing his grandfather’s pipes. “I was thinking about my grandfather and how the pipes I was playing were right there on the battlefields in France and Belgium. I was also thinking about the 60,000 Canadians who were killed, with each ring of the bell representing 6,000 men.”

Remembrance Day is normally a busy time for Stanfield, who is chairman of the B.C. Yukon Legion Foundation, Cockrell House, and the Royal Canadian Legion Poppy and Remembrance Day Committee; he is also Vice President of the Dominion Command.

But he wouldn’t have missed the local Bells of Peace ceremony and the chance to honour his Grandfather. 

The Bells of Peace initiative was part of Canada’s recognition of the 100th anniversary of the day the Armistice. When the peace agreement was signed in Paris on Nov. 11, 1918, church bells across Europe tolled to celebrate an end to ‘The War to End All Wars.’

The first ringing in Canada occurred in St. John’s Newfoundland and the last was at Fort Rodd Hill.

Stanfield came into his possession of the pipes following his Grandfather’s death in 1969. Of impressive design, they are part of a set of bagpipes manufactured by famed Scottish pipe maker Peter Henderson of Glasgow and donated to the Cameron Highlanders by former Winnipeg lawyer and former Chief Justice Alexander MacDonald. On the battlefield, the bagpipes were used to boost the morale of allied troops and frighten the enemy. 

Stanfield’s set of bagpipes is one of the few cherished possessions of his Grandfather.

He remembers him as a proud and stubborn Scotsman, born in 1892 in Ayrshire, Scotland, and immigrating to the prairies before the outbreak of the First World War. He taught Stanfield to play the bagpipes when, as a young boy, Stanfield would travel by train from Victoria to spend summers on the family farm in Craik, Saskatchewan. The farmland was ceded to Kennedy through the Soldier’s Settlement Act. Stanfield remembers the land as parched, hardly arable, and virtually worthless. But somehow his Grandfather managed to raise five children on the property, and through the Great Depression.

“After my Grandfather had gone to war and came back to Saskatchewan, he was pretty messed up from what he had seen on the battlefield,” says Stanfield. “He suffered from what they called shellshock back then or what people today would describe at PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder].”

He never spoke about the war and whenever he was asked about life on the battlefield and what he saw, he would deflect the question.

“My Grandfather was a quiet man and didn’t say much about the war or anything else for that matter, but our bond was through the bagpipes,” says Stanfield.

That bond was cemented when Stanfield proceeded to win First Place Ribbons at three Highland Games bagpiping competitions, accompanied by his Grandfather, in the summer of August 1958. When they returned to the family farm his Grandmother snapped a photo of the two. It is a photograph and a memory that Stanfield has kept close.

“Winning those competitions was a proud moment for him, and I know he would be equally proud to know his bagpipes were part of this [Bells of Peace] moment.”

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