South and Port Melbourne Thistle Society Lady Pipers
On Saturday 12 January 1918, during the South and Port Melbourne Thistle Society monthly concert at the South Melbourne Town Hall, the President of the society, Cr Tom Smith, made an important announcement. The society intended to enrol lady players in the pipe band. The committee had agreed to fill up the ranks in the band which had been decreasing month by month since the war began as players dropped the pipes to enlist. 1 All ladies in the society were invited to join and two ladies had already promised to join.
The Thistle Society Pipe Band were an important part of the society playing at the monthly concerts and other public occasions as well as performing at various competitions around the State. They were celebrated as a champion pipe band with the Society giving the pipers a Smoke Night in November 1915 to celebrate the band winning their fourth successive Championship of Australia at the South Street (Ballarat) Competitions. 2 At that time it was noted that fourteen pipers had already enlisted.
The response to the call for ladies to join the pipers was swift with the Standard reporting on 2 February that 25 had joined the ladies’ pipe band and Society Secretary, ‘Birther’ Robbie Young, was ‘enthusiastically certain that they will make a grand show‘. 3 That same edition of the newspaper carried a description of the proposed uniform for the Lady Pipers. 4
“A doublet of Horden grey, with shoulder plaid, kilt, and hose in McKenzie tartan embellished with bright Stewart colours, will, it is reported, comprise the costume, along with black velvet Tam o’ Shanter caps, black shoes with buckles (but no spats), and waist belts. Each cap will be embellished with plume, Stewart tartan and crest. Covered with McKenzie tartan, the pipes will be set off with Stewart streamers. Hose and Kilt will meet below the knee. As marks of distinction, the drum-major will wear a scarf of the society’s colours (red and yellow) and buzby [sic], and carry a staff.“
At the Society’s next monthly concert in the Supper Room at South Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday 9 February the Cr Smith was able to report that “the project to form a band of lady pipers was booming“. 5 The article in the Standard mentions that Mrs Jessie Young, the pioneer lady piper played with the pipe band and lists 31 ladies including Mrs Young who had put their name forward to join the ladies’ band.
The Lady Pipers held their first rehearsal at Concordia Hall in Bank Street, South Melbourne on the evening on Monday 4 March under Piper-Major J W J Senter. 6 Mrs Jessie Young and Miss Annie Beaton are identified as finished performers and it was noted they would represent the band at the patriotic fete in the city on 15 March and at the Williamstown carnival on 23 and 25 March. They would also play at the Thistle Society’s monthly concert on 9 March.
Mrs Young and Miss Beaton in kilts and plaids led the Society’s male pipe band in the St Patrick’s procession on 16 March and were enthusaiascically applauded by the thousands of spectators who lined the route. 7 From an earlier report, it appears a Miss Miller was to join them but it seems this did not happen. 8
The Lady Pipers band gave their first public performance at a Scottish Concert at the Port Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday 27 March 1918. 9 There were about 30 ladies in the band with seven, Mrs Jessie Young, Misses Miller, Ethel Roller, I Slimmon, Henderson, McPherson and Annie Beaton, in kilts and plaids with the remaining members wearing white evening dresses embellished with tartan. The Society President, Cr Smith, said “prepossessing as was their appearance that evening, it would be still more attractive when they all paraded in kilts” 10 which would happen in due course.
In he following months the band continued to play the monthly Thistle Society concerts as well as other events. Seven members of the Lady Pipers and two from the male pipe band visited Bendigo for a Red Cross carnival on 23 May. The band also organised ‘novelty nights’ in South Melbourne on June 12 and July 10 as well as appearing at a similar evening at Port Melbourne on 15 May. They also played at a concert at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on June 2. 11
On Tuesday evening, 6 August “with skirls on the pipes, the lady kilties woke up St Kilda”. 12
“The girl pipers’ accroutrements gleaming, and plaids and skirts swaying, they swung out of Wellington Street into Fitzroy Street. Miss St Kilda leaning over her gate, cried in tones of rapture, ‘How Lovely!’.” 13
The MCG hosted a huge recital on Sunday 29 September which included the Lady Pipers, the bugle girls of the Defence Department and 500 bandsmen. The rifle girls of the Defence Department gave a drill display and tens of thousands were expected to attend. The procession of participants left from Princes Bridge and the Women’s Welcome Committee took up a collection. 14
The highlight of the first year of the Lady Pipers was their participation in the welcome of the first convoy of troops who returned to Melbourne after the signing of the armistice. The band were positioned at the first strong post in the city at the corner of Market and Flinders Streets. Mrs Young played a solo of ‘Home, Sweet Home‘, her husband’s favourite tune. Sadly her husband was killed on active service and would not return. 15
The Lady Pipers continued to go from strength to strength although it appears that shortly after the war, both the men’s and ladies pipe bands separated from the Thistle Society and continued in their own right. In the report of the first Annual Meeting held in the Baptist Hall, Dorcas Street, South Melbourne, on Monday 24 March 1919 the band appears to be a self-autonomous entity. 16
As far as the men’s pipe band is concerned the present day City of Melbourne Highland Pipe Band trace their origins back to the South and Port Melbourne Thistle Society’s Band. 17 Unfortunately it is not known whether the Lady Pipes were also part of the formation of the Melbourne Highland Pipe Band.
1 1918 ‘THISTLE SOCIETY.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 19 January, p. 4. , viewed 20 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88369002
2 1915 ‘CHAMPION PIPE BAND.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 4 December, p. 2. , viewed 20 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91168926
3 1918 ‘ELECTRIC SPARKS’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 2 February, p. 3. , viewed 20 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88366188
4 1918 ‘LADY PIPERS’ UNIFORM.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 2 February, p. 4. , viewed 20 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88366176
5 1918 ‘SCOTTISH THISTLE SOCIETY.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 16 February, p. 3. , viewed 20 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88367904
6 1918 ‘LADY PIPERS’ BAND.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 9 March, p. 2. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88368713
7 1918 ‘LADY PIPERS.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 23 March, p. 2. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88369086
8 1918 ‘LADIES’ PIPE BAND.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 16 March, p. 3. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88369622
9 1918 ‘Lady Pipers.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 30 March, p. 2. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88366588
11 1918 ‘Lady Pipers’ Band.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 11 May, p. 2. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88367032
12 1918 ‘LADY PIPERS.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 10 August, p. 2. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88366697
14 1918 ‘Women’s Welcome Committee.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 28 September, p. 2. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88367124
15 1918 ‘LADY PIPERS’ WELCOME.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 30 November, p. 3. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88368476
16 1919 ‘LADY PIPERS.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 5 April, p. 4. , viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165261899
17 ‘About the Melbourne Band’, City of Melbourne Highland Pipe Band website, viewed 21 Feb 2019, http://melbournepipeband.com.au/about-the-melbourne-pipe-band/